Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Remember Them?

Remember Gabby Giffords--you know, the one who opened her eyes and got Obama a standing ovation? Any thoughts on her lately? She dominated the news and our thoughts for weeks just a month or so ago, I can't remember when. Now, nothing. No more daily updates from the doctors about how she swung her feet over the side of the bed or smiled at one of the nurses. No long, weepy editorials. And no crazy pictures of Jared, the "demented" shooter. FYI, Gabby is still in that hospital, and Jared is still in jail, and those other people are all still dead. But time marches on and now the word of the day is Gadhafi.

Fresh horrors sweep away everything in their past, just like that tsunami in Japan. (You still remember that, right?) Meanwhile someone few remember, film actor Farley Granger, one of Hollywood's first gay/bi film stars who I loved deeply and sincerely during my high school years, died this week at age 85. Rent Hitchcock's "Rope" to see him at his peak.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Think for yourself, why don'cha?

I am not a Republican, but I do watch FOX news some of the time! And guess what? There was a tsunami in Japan on FOX too. Apparently they have the same news that all the other news channels have.

I am so sick of people saying that FOX news is biased! Question: Which news organization is not? MSNBC? Oh please. How about Chris Matthews with those chills going down his leg whenever Obama speaks? Gee, I wonder what his political leanings are.  (I often ran into him in the Safeway when I lived in D.C. and let me tell you, he is a nut job if there ever was one. He would spout his stuff to anyone who would listen, be it the teenager working in the produce department or perhaps a large watermelon after that kid backed away.) CNN? Wolf Blitzer is ridiculously openly Democratic, and Anderson (Biceps) Cooper.... hmm, I wonder if he's a Republican?

Grow up people! The only way you can learn what is going on in the world is to watch all the news stations and read all the newspapers, not just the friggin' New York Times but all of them, and then make up your own mind, which if you go looking for it will be found tucked inside the large round thing located above your neck.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tick Tock

Ever since I saw the fabulous singing oldsters yesterday, I can't stop thinking about the fact that I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning. This brings things into sharper focus than usual, and I am contemplating how I want to spend my remaining years. Who knows, I might live another 30, but even if I do, I'm not sure selling used furniture to affluent, bored women out shopping for recreation is what I want to do with the bulk of my time.

How about you? What did you do today? Do you want to do it again tomorrow?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

All We Have Is Now

Today I saw a concert given by a musical group with the ability to transport you to another time and place: Your own old age. The group is Young@ Heart, and if you have yet to see them, drop everything and arrange to do so; upcoming concert dates are posted online at If none of those work for you, then get the documentary film about this outstanding group of folks aged 73 and older. (The average age of the current crop--naturally it changes often due to death of the members--is 87, so do the math and you'll see we are talking old.)

Here's the deal: Y@H is a batch of very senior citizens, a few in wheelchairs and several using canes, who sing rock songs. Sounds like it might be played for laughs, but it's not. Instead the singers are simply and stunningly good, very enthusiastic, and most of all, approaching this late stage of life with passion and adventure. Watching them makes you feel stupid for doing anything less yourself and panicked when you realize that they are you in the not so distant future.

The guy who puts it all together is a comparative spring chicken named Bob Cilman who started the group 25 years ago. He does the arranging and pushes the participants through their rigorous, choreographed paces. He's got some wild taste in music, including songs like the "All We Have Is Now" by the Flaming Lips, and The Ramone's "I Wanna Be Sedated," which when sung by this group is, one has to admit, pretty funny--and they know it.

It's compelling theater that's over all too soon. This afternoon, a great time was had by all, with the audience--mostly oldsters themselves--on their feet, hooting and hollering, as excited as any I've seen over the years at Woodstock or the Fillmore East. Trust me: This was my third time seeing Y@H, and the experience keeps getting better and better. Or maybe it's just that I keep getting older and older. Whatever the reason, seeing them is a trip, and also a poignant reminder that the one we're all on ultimately ends.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sugar Shock

Recently my husband and I drove about four hours to visit our son in Vermont. We stopped halfway at one of those highway rest areas--not the Jersey Turnpike kind that makes you hate being an American, but the other kind you find on small highways--helpful, offering the weary traveler bathrooms and maps. I wasn't hungry, but since on car trips I use food as a buffer between myself and the huge 18-wheelers that I fully expect to fall over onto us every time we pass one, I entered a separate building marked "Vending Machines" to see what edible drugs, if any, were for sale.

Mitch scoffed at the prospect of finding anything healthy in a mechanical, unrefrigerated coin-operated box, but I believed that, with a careful eye, something with nutritional value might be discovered. Aha--I found it! A new choice displayed among the Doritos and Twizzlers and Oreos: tuna salad and crackers. Or, if one preferred, chicken salad with crackers. How cool is that? I had to have it. It was only two dollars, and besides, it was so cute. (See photo.)

Back on the road I busied myself with opening my treat. The packaging job was stellar, raising my expectations, and inside I found a package of six little crackers, a mini can of tuna and a teeny plastic spoon. I dug right in. By now you've already guessed that it was disgusting and inedible, even though it was Bumble Bee, a perfectly respectable brand. Still, there was something odd about it.  A glance at the ingredients revealed it contained fructose and corn syrup. Now, I don't know about you, but when I make tuna salad at home I do not add sugar. So why would they do that for the general public?


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Doing the Crawl

I can remember when the news was delivered by serious men like Walter Cronkite. Now it all runs along the bottom of the TV screen in the same size type--no headlines here--while airheads above it interview celebrities about their latest movies or chefs demonstrate how to make a cassoulet. (It's French for casserole; tastes the same, sounds fancier.) It's up to us to decide what matters.

Just this morning I learned: Iran is still making nuclear weapons. A Palestinian woman is dead after a bombing. Obama comes back from Latin America and is locked out of the oval office. Violet-eyed actress Elizabeth Taylor dies and Elton John is sad about it. The whoopie pie is now Maine's official state treat and the blueberry pie is the state dessert. Unemployment has dropped 11% in the past seven weeks. The medical marijuana business is booming, with sales reaching $1.7 billion. US invades Libya. Rich women get melanoma more than poor women. The water in Tokyo is now considered unsafe for infants following the nuclear reactor disaster in Japan.

As for Liz Taylor, I never saw the whole "violet eyes" thing. They looked regular to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Now Playing

I WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD when I saw "Them," the first alien bug movie to tap into our collective paranoia. Naturally I developed a fear of giant ants. All these years later, I think it's time for a remake: replace the ants with bureaucrats, call it "They," and you've got a pretty scary movie about life in America circa 2011.

Online, offline and just about everywhere in between, Big Brother is watching. These days, even Macy's department store is snooping into your life; their mail order catalogs are now tailored to your specific desires. (Just the ones they sell, of course.) By "mining the data in the records of purchases," the retailer has a better chance of capturing your cash in the future.

This development is reported in today's Wall Street Journal as if it's news, but what's so new about it? We are each tracked from birth with that teeny little thing called a Social Security Number. I remember being shocked on my 50th birthday to get an AARP membership card in the mail. Ditto on the day my son turned 18 when he received a birthday card, with a handy registration form, from the Selective Service. Funny, They seem to know everything about everyone.

I know, I know, this is the land of the free, but if you ask me, America is just like every other country: Lots of people need to be controlled lest chaos prevail. Here in the USA, They keep us off the streets with TV and movies, fast food joints and shopping malls, amusement parks and mandatory schooling from ages 4-16. I'm not complaining, since it's light years better than many alternatives. But still, let's be real: They are watching us, and I don't mean Macy's.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Morning After

Word to the wise dieter: Do not eat Chinese food.

Last night my husband and I threw caution to the wind and entered a Chinese restaurant, something we have not done in two years. We figured, what the hay...we'll order carefully. (And besides, if I have to eat in one of the four restaurants in Freeport one more time I will go on a bloody rampage.)

The China Rose was a totally new place for us even though it's next door to the sushi place we frequent, right in the center of town. It was all so exciting--the glittering Christmas lights, the Buddha statuary, the fake pagodas, the murals--it seemed like we had gone on vacation to a foreign land!

We did order carefully--broiled jumbo shrimp and chicken with veggies, no battered anything--but still, the waitress brought those crispy, fried-calorie noodles and we all but snorted them like coke addicts after a dry spell. Then there was the salty and glutinous stew, I mean the hot and sour soup,  which was really, really good. And of course rice, of which I partook liberally and which Mitch rejected. (He is so strong.)

This morning we each had gained three pounds. One question: How come Chinese people are so thin?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shopkeeper's Lament

It's too late now, but I really should have become a psychiatrist. (Hey, my own shrink told me his problems.) People are always dumping all over me. I am talking about total strangers. Right now as I write this there is a customer nattering on about how sad she is that she moved here, seven years ago, because her husband got a new job and she hates Portland and she is very shy (gee, I hadn't noticed) and has a hard time driving in all the traffic (hah!) and misses her friends back home (it's been seven years) but again her husband is so happy even though she is not. All I want to do is say, "We'll have to pick this thread up next time; now shut up and buy something!" Is that wrong?

It is constant. They come in, walk around the store, ask how much things cost now because of course what adult can figure out how much something is after a 15% price reduction, bend my ear for twenty minutes, then tell me as they walk out the door how GREAT my store is, how much they loved everything, and how they really wanted to buy this or that, but:
1. They have no place to put it. (I have a suggestion, but it may hurt.)
2. They aren't sure if it will fit in a particular spot in their home. (Put it somewhere else.)
3. They need to check with the husband. (Like he cares.)
4. They have to wait until the next paycheck. (Then why are you out shopping?)

Finally they leave, promising to come back (who needs you) and to definitely tell all their friends about us.

Tip of the Day: Retail is not for sissies.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Tile Guys

It's a leap of faith to hire unknown workers to do jobs inside your home and then leave your home with those workers inside it. I took such a leap today when three young men in their twenties arrived to tile our bathroom. They were polite and friendly, and had been hired by our contractor--why worry? All seemed in order and I left for work. When I stopped back home for a quick lunch, I reflected upon the wisdom of that decision.

I entered the kitchen and found what looked like a setup for either a TV game show or a high school science experiment. There was a huge bucket in the sink, filled to the top and overflowing with water. The faucet was turned on and buried deep inside the bucket. The bucket all but filled the sink and covered the drain, so the sink had filled up to the brim with water. In approximately 30 seconds, by my estimation, the water would overflow the sink and flow directly onto my made-it-myself hand-painted canvas floorcloth, which, once flooded, would never flatten out ever again for the rest of time.

I surveyed the scene, shut off the faucet and yelled for the workers. "Hey guys!" was the best I could do. No response. Loud music coming from the second floor bathroom, where the work was taking place. "Hello, what's going on?" I called again. Nobody. Finally, one of the lads strolled in and, obviously surprised to see me, said, "Hey, what's up?" Then he saw the situation and said, "Oh shit, I guess somebody forgot to turn off the water. Good thing you came back."

Yeah. Good thing.  Just this morning, someone told me there is no such thing as coincidence--it's just God working anonymously. (FYI, the tiles came out great.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Physician, Heal Thyself

For the six Americans diagnosed with "superior autobiographical memory," or hyperthymesia, which is the ability to recall every moment in the past with crystal clarity, including the weather or the headlines or what you wore on any given day, most memories never fade; for the rest of us, most do. But this morning, while waiting for the optometrist to arrive for the 8AM appointment I'd made solely on the promise, "You'll be my first patient of the day so I won't be late" and it was already 8:15 with no doctor in sight, I recalled a similar experience 23 years ago as if it happened yesterday.

Awaiting the birth of our first child, my husband and I were interviewing pediatricians. We were seeking one within a reasonable distance from our home who we felt would take special care of our precious baby, i.e., not kill it. That morning my husband had arranged for an hour off from work, no easy task for him back then, so we could both meet with a doctor who came highly recommended.

We arrived early and after waiting almost an hour, during which time Mitch had several conniption fits, were ushered in to see the Dalai Lama, I mean Dr. Bashian. Naturally we inquired whether, should we join his practice, we could expect him to run this late all the time. Perched behind his desk like a fat Buddha extolling advice to his followers, he answered quickly, "definitely." We then inquired whether we could call the office to see how far behind schedule things were running and adjust our arrival accordingly. The doctor answered emphatically, "No. I need you here, in the waiting room! I can't wait for people to come time is far too valuable." He then explained how his time was indeed more prized than that of his patients, since there was only one of him and many of us, at which point Mitch all but climbed over the desk to grab him by the collar and pummel him about the face and neck. I stopped him, of course, something I still regret, but the doctor's arrogance had been duly noted and we chose a different physician. (After a year of that guy being late all the time, we went back to His Holiness, figuring we might as well be pissed off by the best.)

This morning my eye doctor showed up, sans apology, at 8:20. I still wonder, how do they get that way?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Singing the Tsunami Blues

As Huey Lewis put it so well, and to music, years ago: I need a new drug. Food doesn't do it for me anymore. What else is there? I gave up smoking cigarettes four years ago and wouldn't have one if you tied me to a railroad track. Hard liquor makes me nauseous and wine is fine, but after about a glass and a half I get sleepy, but no less sad.

Time was I was awash in endorphins from running--until my hip went south. Pot does not agree with my high blood pressure, and I draw the line at other drugs because you just never know what crazy thing might happen to your brain. Thus, ever since I murdered my dog over a week ago, I have been using food as a buffer between myself and me. Okay, so I didn't murder him, I chose to end his life with dignity and spare him future pain. But still, it was not a natural death and I'm the one who made it happen.

And so I eat. Last night it was the Peeps, and tonight there would have been more Peeps except, as luck would have it, those Girl Scout cookies I ordered arrived this afternoon. I bought them weeks ago from the little neighborhood girl to be charitable, never intending to eat them myself, but then came the dead dog and the ashes in a can and my husband is out of town, and the next thing I knew I was tearing into a box of peanut butter sandwiches. The good news: in an effort to be healthier they now suck, and thus after inhaling only six or seven--they're small--I chucked the whole box into the garbage.

It's not just my recently-dead dog. It's all of Japan. One minute those people had houses and cars and crops and clothing and photo albums and children and kitchens and beds, and the next they were thrashing about in an ocean of gasoline and diesel fuel and getting hit in the head by trucks and farm equipment. If they survived, now they have nothing. If they have intact homes, they have to seal themselves up inside them because of the radiation from nuclear reactor fires. How anyone can complain about anything after seeing that horror on TV, especially from the comfort of their home, eating Girl Scout cookies and drinking wine, is beyond me.

I think that worked. I feel better.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Secret Addiction

I love Peeps. I am a purist, only buying the yellow ones. I know they come in purple and green and blue, and that there are versions shaped like bunnies, but I am talking about the yellow chicks. They come out only once a year. I am not at all religious, but I love Jesus because he came back on Easter and brought us Peeps.

I bought a three-pack yesterday and promised myself (and my husband, who since joining an exercise cult and losing 50 pounds has turned into the Food Police) that I would only look at them. They are, after all, adorable. Then last night, suddenly, watching the horror and destruction following the tsunami in Japan, I carefully ate all five occupants of one of the packages, along with 140 calories of sugar and food coloring. Now two packages, or ten Peeps, remain. (Here in the house, that is--there are thousands out there in supermarkets and convenience stores.)

Rest assured, I will buy more soon.

The Distant Future Is Getting Close

Who's gonna run, when will they announce--the next presidential contest looms. What I wonder is why it's such a big deal--why does anyone want to be president? Is it for all the free stuff? The state dinners prepared by fabulous chefs and you don't have to clean up? The Secret Service guarding you? The having anyone you want come over and entertain you at home? The not going into a supermarket for at least four years and with any luck, like if you're the least bit popular and get reelected, four more? The jetting here and there without having to make a reservation and then go through security and take off your shoes and empty your pockets and put your computer on the conveyor belt and then walk ten feet and put all your clothes back on, only to have the damn plane canceled at the gate?

That last one must be it. Actually, when you think of it, who can blame people for trying? The cabinet secretaries and the speech writers do all the work, leaving you free to walk your dog inside your house (see photo). So how hard is it, really? After all, George W. Bush did it for eight years and everyone said he was a dummy. And Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford--both clearly dummies. But honestly, when I heard on the radio the other day that Michele Bachmann is considering throwing her hair--oops, I mean hat---into the ring, I almost crashed my car.

Exactly how low are we willing to go? Once again I urge you to rent the movie, "Idiocracy," which imagines life in 500 years, after humans get a whole lot dumber and elect a total moron as president. We are almost there.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Family Politics

Like some old photos, childhood memories are often blurry. Case in point: my husband's fond memories of his much older cousin Bob. He remembers, when he was about 13, visiting Bob and his new wife Ilona.  She was Finnish and the couple had built a sauna on their Wisconsin farm. Mitch remembers rolling in the snow, then going in the sauna, or was it going in the sauna and then rolling in the snow? Either way, for a Bronx boy it was thrilling. Since then he has seen Bob several times. A few months ago, he went out of his way to do so, getting up at 4AM for an early flight that would allow him to meet Bob for lunch at a nondescript gyro joint. Today, Bob excoriates Mitch publicly for daring to disagree with the party and family line.

Bob, like the other members of my husband's family--and by that I mean relatives who share his blood--suffers from Democratic Dementia (DD). In a freakish twist, another one of Mitch's cousins also has Facebook Tourette's, wherein all she can say in her news stream is things like "FUCKING REPUGNICANS!!!" and "OMFG!!!!" and "greedy SOBs." She says this repeatedly, day in and day out. Assorted other family members, all with milder forms of the dreaded illness, support her and agree. She recently wrote, "it's in my blood" and "I was born this way."  A desperate cry for help? (It's sad, really, when you stop and think about it, since there is no cure.)

My husband, thank God, escaped this terrible fate and does not share the DD gene. Instead, he is thoughtful, reasoned, and independent. He is able to approach each political candidate on his or her own merits. He is not locked in to certain doom, but free to evaluate, consider and weigh. For that he is shunned by the other family members, not to mention mocked and cursed, or worse. Here is a comment written by his very own nephew on Facebook: "I often tell people that there are two distinct types of Republicans. There are cannibal Republicans and stew meat Republicans. I never understand why the stew meat are so enamored of the cannibals." I wonder which kind he thinks his uncle is? 

So although blood may be thicker than water, political affiliation trumps both in the Rouda clan. Thankfully, I am one in name only.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Are Friends For?

This morning I turned on the TV and CNN was displaying Facebook pages as its source of information. No longer a college dating service, Facebook has hit the big time: it is now a source of news. But still, I can't quite take it seriously because of two odd things. Number one is "poking," a service they offer and one which completely mystifies me. What's it for? I get poked daily by my husband--and I mean in the Facebook sense--and nothing changes in my life. Then I poke him back because he gets slightly offended if I don't, causing him to say on occasion, "I poked you on Facebook, did you see?" Not wanting to hurt him unless it's absolutely necessary, I return the poke. The cycle continues.

The second oddity is the whole "lets be friends" thing. If you use Facebook, you know that when a friend of yours gets a new friend, Facebook alerts you to this fact. Like you care. Then it asks if you want to be friends with that new friend. What the heck? Half the time I don't even want to be friends with my friends.

Why is Facebook so hot for everyone to be friends with everyone else's friends? What's in it for them? How does that put more money in their pockets? While these questions do not keep me up nights, they do plague me during my waking hours. Well, not plague, exactly, more like the flu. I certainly would like to understand it. Having seen "The Social Network," the smash movie that alleges to recount the true story of how Facebook came to be, and wherein friends treat each other like shit in order to make more money, I figure money is involved.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just Say Dead

On Monday of this week our 11-year-old miniature schnauzer was put to sleep at the vet's office. This is Thursday and he still has not woken up. In fact, they just called to tell me his ashes have been returned and I can pick them up at my earliest convenience. So much for him "sleeping."

Death is one of the few topics that people cannot talk about sanely. I learn this truth anew each time someone close to me dies. People are stymied as to what to say, and given that the words dying, died and dead are off the table, it's understandable. The most popular euphemism is "sorry for your loss." I find this odd, since loss is something that happens to keys, wallets and weight rather than people you will never see again. Similarly, saying someone has "passed" is confusing. I immediately think of kidney stones, trucks on the highway or final exams in college, not someone that once breathed and now does not.

About my dog--I received several sympathy notes from friends, which I appreciate, believe me. Unfortunately, none of them made me feel better-- in fact, some made me feel worse. "Your hearts must ache and your home seem empty without him" is not exactly an upper. Ditto "I know little Rufus leaves a big void and that you miss him terribly." (Hey, tell me something I don't know.) One creative neighbor sent an email saying she had heard that Rufus had "bid adieu to his world of pain," and no, she is not French.

Here's a tip: The next time you encounter a newly-dead situation, just say "I heard your (whatever) died. I'm so sorry, is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" Works every time, for all species.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Say Baaaaa If You Hate George Bush

Back in 1964 my high school principal signed my yearbook, "Thank you for being an individual and not one of the sheep." I am still not one of the sheep, and let me tell you, it's lonely outside the flock. But I have no choice in the matter: we are who we are. (Sort of a play on "it is what it is.") Bottom line: I am an independent person, thinker and voter. I pick my battles and choose my candidates willy-nilly, always from a gut feeling and often for the wrong reasons. For example: I love George Bush but hate Sarah Palin! I voted for Perot (twice) but worked for the Democratic National Committee! I think Obama sucks, but I'd vote for Hillary in a heartbeat!

This ability is rarely present in a Democrat. They are all sheep and vote accordingly. The typical Democrat finds out who to like and who to hate and proceeds to do so, often quite passionately. Years ago an old friend--let's call her Nancy--helped me see this quite clearly. When I asked her what newspaper she read, she replied, "I don't have to read any, I just ask Marty (her husband) what to think. He reads the Washington Post every day." This same woman would argue to the death over politics, publicly stating her strong opinions at the slightest provocation, all of which were based upon hearsay. But hey, back when I lived in D.C., 91% of the citizenry was Democratic, making Nancy safely in the right by being on the left. Her always unsubstantiated beliefs won her many more friends than mine did me.

Naturally our friendship is defunct, but Nancy is not rare. Many friends have followed in her footsteps, offering parrot-like repetition of punditry instead of carefully considered opinions. This is distressing, and makes it less fun and less worthwhile and less interesting to talk with them about politics.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wanna Smell Like This?

You've got to wonder about some of those advertising folks. This morning I read that Zippo, as in Zippo lighters, will begin manufacture of other products since smoking is so politically incorrect and their sales are slipping. Sounds reasonable, but is Zippo cologne the right answer? Their marketing director swears it doesn't smell like lighter fluid, but I can think of roughly one million other fragrances I'd buy first, were I shopping for such an item.

But who am I to judge? I'm no "marketing expert," whatever that is and however they get that way. I am just a lowly consumer, and thus not privy to the meetings behind closed doors in which they decide onthe wisdom of such things as talking mops and geckos hawking insurance. "Commercials, who needs 'em, I say. But apparently many people do and respond positively, which is why they proliferate. Maybe if we all just stop buying those items we see advertised we could get some relief from the constant noise suggesting we try, buy and use all that indispensable stuff we don't need yet can't live without.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Me First

Why am I so sad over the death of a dog? He was a dog and he was ill and he was old, at least in dog years. But still, I am sick over it. Add to that the fact that I ordered his death, believing it to be the most humane course of action, and guilt compounds my grief. Did we spend enough money first? Did he get sick enough? Some friends advised we wait longer until Rufus was worse, so we could be absolutely sure we made the right decision.

Today life is bleak. I keep crying, not steadily of course but from time to time and at random, and frequently. However, I am not sad over the deaths of people I read about in the paper every day. Like today, for example, in the Wall Street Journal, I learned the following: In central Florida two motorcycles collided, killing a 48-year-old male, the driver of one of them, and a 46-year-old female passenger on the other. I read that without flinching. I didn't care at all. In fact, if pressed I would probably say, everyone knows motorcycles are dangerous.

Yet I don't tell myself, everyone knows dogs die sooner than we do. Sooner than we want or expect. Leaving a hole. Why does his death hurt me so much more than that of the two motorcyclists? Is it because he was my dog? Am I so much more important than others? I don't think so.

I am not unusual in this department: Most people care first and foremost about themselves, their friends, their families, their pets, and then slowly move out to caring about friends of friends and business associates and someone they met for ten minutes at a party and even Charlie Sheen, much more than about strangers like me, mourning my  dead dog. Why is that?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What's It Worth?

Last week I posted an ad on Craigslist on my husband's behalf. Mitch has a great idea for a book and wants me to write it, since I have the time and he doesn't and I'm a writer and he isn't. I won't, because he's a political animal and I'm not. I can't imagine spending my time fleshing out a dastardly scenario involving warring Democrats and Republicans. Instead I suggested finding an interested writer who might be willing to get involved.

Our ad read: "I have a well-developed, detailed idea for a book I believe will be hugely popular and profoundly meaningful, with big movie potential. It deals with our volatile political climate, conjuring a believable and horrific future. I am a professional executive in a large company and have no time to put my thoughts on paper. This is where you come in! I am looking for a partner willing to do a 50/50 share of all the work for the same split of all the proceeds. I am eager to talk to experienced writers with published credits only."

Since posting the ad I have received about ten replies from alleged "professional" writers. Two registered anti-Semitic sentiments. Three others were quite respectful and very interested in the project. The other five wrote incredibly snide, sarcastic and hateful comments about the fact that we were advertising a project and offering no pay. Several of the respondents wrote back repeatedly, one three times. Then today we received an apologetic note from Craigslist saying our ad had been "flagged as inappropriate" and removed.

Jeez...what gives? It's not like we were twisting anyone's arm or anything. Why do people always think the worst right off the bat? Why do so many people hate strangers? What was so offensive about that ad? Wanna write a book?

"I'm No Expert" Advice

According to recent scientific findings, a one-hour cell phone conversation stimulates areas of your brain closest to the phone's antenna. Is that good or bad?  "We don't know whether this is detrimental or whether it could have some potential beneficial effects," said Dr. Nora Volkow, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Studies need to be done to see if there are long-lasting consequences. It's an important question."

You're damn right it's important, since everyone past the age of nine seems to be walking around with a phone plastered to his or her ear. Other important questions: Is drinking alcohol or taking estrogen or eating eggs and fat and salt and red meat and farm-raised salmon and chocolate good for you or bad for you? Who knows, if not the experts?

When I was pregnant in 1987, the experts at the American Pediatric Association (APA) reversed their longtime recommendation and flatly stated that it was inadvisable to circumcise newborn males, citing future problems. I immediately vowed not to have it done to my own sure-to-be-perfect baby. As a Jew, this incensed everyone: my family, my doctor, my rabbi. (Actually, I didn't have a rabbi but if I had, you can damn well bet he would have been incensed.) Then, one week before my son's birth, the APA again reversed its position: newer studies suggested that it was far more beneficial to circumcise newborns--in fact, terrible things could happen if you didn't!

And now, 23 years later, my perfect-at-birth son talks on his cell phone constantly, often while smoking a cigarette or salting his burger and fries. As for his foreskin, ask him.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sharing the Wealth

Last night I received an unusual phone call from a stranger, calling from a certain charity to make sure I was happy. She asked, "is there anything troubling you about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, anything you would like us to do differently?" Wow, was I happy!  "Yes, in fact there is," I told her in no uncertain terms: "Stop with the mailing labels!"  Not to mention the note pads, pendants, stickers, greeting cards and window decals, which thankfully St. Jude does not send, but others do. She understood. Then she asked if I would like to hear from them less often. "You bet," I replied. She put me down for junk mail--oops, I mean solicitations-- only twice a year, in February and August, and NO PHONE CALLS. Now that's what you want from your charity, a little respect.

I choose my charities at random based on how guilty I feel when the pitch arrives in the mail and what diseases my friends and family endure. This does not include Bill's psoriasis or Aunt Tillie's cataracts--I am talking the big leagues. When my dear friend Noreen was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, that foundation got all my money for the next few years and even more after she died, donated in her memory. Then my cousin got breast cancer, so I sent some cash to the pink ribbon people. She was cured, so I stopped. When my high-school pal Judy started up a private school in Haiti, I of course supported her worthy endeavor. But then the big earthquake hit, and since everyone and their mother was throwing money at Haiti, I took my paltry offerings elsewhere. Most recently St. Jude's caught my eye because, hey, it's kids with cancer, come on--who can say no to that? Besides, I loved Danny Thomas and "Make Room for Daddy" when I was little. (Or maybe it was "Make Room for Danny," not sure.)

Each charity helps a discrete group of sufferers, but to cast a wider net, look into Farmers Feeding the World. Their stated goal is finding permanent hunger solutions for over 140,000 people each year globally through agricultural development organizations like Heifer International, and five million people here at home through programs like Feeding America. (

Check it out if you've got extra cash or extra guilt. There's no better way to spend your time or your money.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Food for Thought

From a book review in today's WSJ about a celebrity chef, wherein the author describes the "most astonishing meal" of his life, ingested at a Chicago restaurant called Alinea:

"The 24-course dinner, called the Grand Tour, lasted a dizzying five hours...intricate, jewel-like creations, so delicate they're plated with tweezers, came to the table on prongs, pins and antennae or were hung from small metal trapezes. They were brightly colored, edible works of art."

Meanwhile, back in reality, 15 percent of US households, translating into 17.4 million families or about 50 million people, were too poor to buy adequate food last year, according to a new report from the US Department of Agriculture. More than a third of these households, with as many as one million children, were missing meals on a regular basis, the study found.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Epiphany

I am thinking of all the things I have done wrong in my life, some worse than others, but the worst of all is my cat Gizmo, who I may have screwed up. He stares at me all the time. I'm talking all the time. Like right now I am lying in bed writing this and he is sitting next to me-- not curled up in a fluffy little ball like a normal cat, but sitting straight up like he has a rod inside him and staring at me. And when I open my eyes in the morning he is there, sitting and staring. I go to the bathroom and he races ahead, getting there first, so when I am on the toilet he is sitting and staring at me. When I eat breakfast--sitting and staring, rod-like.

Now I am not a veterinarian but I think I am correct in stating that this is not normal cat behavior. What has gone wrong? Did I mention he is 15, so his physical health is not a problem, he's just mentally ill. Have I done this to him?

Gizmo is the opposite of my son, another creature I raised who never sits and stares because he is never around. And I remember from when he was around that he never sits up rod-like, in fact he slouches. Besides the point, I know, but still I mention it. Anyway, my son rarely calls, never emails, barely texts. I see him hardly ever, and this in a way makes me happy while making me sad, since I know that it means he is living his life, he has flown the coop, I did a good job. It would be terrible to have him behave like the cat.

Still, if only they each were a teeny bit more like the other, including posture, that would be good.

Freedom of Speech Is a Good Thing, Oui?

Our bathroom renovators are two great guys working for a very professional company. They are actually fun to have around, and since we are now going forward with a second bathroom, they will be for some time. Recently one of them remarked that it was a pleasure to work for us, unlike a former client who was "one of those obnoxious and pushy New York Jews-- you know the type." I told him I know the type very well indeed, since I am a New York Jew and so is my husband. He said, somewhat flustered, "No, not really! You two aren't like that."

I forgot about it until last week when I posted an ad on Craigslist for a writing job I am seeking to fill. Looking for someone willing to help me with a certain task for a 50/50 split of the profit, I composed an articulate ad and hoped for the best. Out of five respondents, two answered angrily that the poster--that would be me--"must be a kike." I wondered what had tipped them off; was it the lack of errors in the ad? The big words? Again, I moved on.

Until today, when I spied a story in this morning's Wall Street Journal about the documented return of anti-Semitism.  Seems the Christian Dior line of frocks has fired its top designer, John Galliano, for saying "I love Hitler" and "People like you should be dead" to strangers sitting next to him in a trendy Paris bar. (This was somehow caught on video and is now playing on the Internet in your neighborhood.) But losing his job is not the worst of it: making anti-Semitic remarks is illegal in France and punishable with up to half a year in prison.

I'm certainly glad it's not illegal here, since I would hate to wait six months for my bathroom renovation.