Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Takes All Kinds

This morning I stopped at the post office to get my mail and had to make my way around two people who stood talking smack dab in the middle of the doorway. They were so deep in conversation, or so rude, that they didn't budge, forcing me to literally squeeze by to get inside. The woman was telling a story about someone who had come "running down the steps and out the front door, screaming like a banshee!" They both laughed heartily at that. The man had a very large handlebar mustache, making me think he must have had a difficult childhood.

The whole experience got me thinking about how people are all so different and yet all so alike. The woman had said someone was screaming like a banshee, but before she even said "banshee" and had just said "screaming like," my own brain filled in the word banshee and out it came from her mouth, even though I am clueless as to what a banshee is and why it is always screaming. I wondered if the woman knew the answer to either question.

As for the man, I couldn't imagine what possible reason one could have for walking around looking so ridiculous, and so when I got home I searched online and found that there is a club for men with such mustaches, and a Facebook fan page, and all sorts of apparatus for taking care of them. Apparently they are very popular with a lot of men both here and abroad, although I can't imagine why since they look silly and require so much care, what with the washing and waxing and shaping and trimming. It's sort of like wearing a pet on your face.

As for the banshee, it turns out it's a female supernatural being in Irish and other Celtic folklore whose mournful wailing, screaming or lamentation at night was believed to foretell the death of a member of the family of the person who heard the spirit. Or else maybe she just saw a man with a dumb handlebar mustache.

A Different Perspective

I smoked for 40 years, give or take time off for good behavior. During that time I thought it made perfect sense to carry around a pack of little tubes of tobacco and lighters and books of matches. I didn't find it at all odd to light the end of the little tube and suck the resulting fumes into my lungs. I accepted the yellowish lump on the left side of my right middle finger as no big deal. Since I finally quit smoking five years ago, all of those things seem crazy. Sometimes, stopped momentarily at a traffic light, I'll see a woman smoking in the car next to me and wonder, "what the heck is that?"

It's the same with dogs. When I owned a dog I thought it was perfectly reasonable to walk him several times a day, watching him pee on other people's flowers, all the while carrying around a plastic bag with which to pick up his feces which I then deposited back home in the trash. I never questioned the hauling of huge bags of kibble from the grocery store, or the barking at midnight at a passing squirrel, or the begging at the table or the scaring of little children or the fighting with the other dogs in the neighborhood, all of whom run free because after all this is Maine, the way life should be, even for its animals.

But now my dog is dead and I watch all these dog shenanigans and wonder, "what the heck is that?" My friend Polly, who lives across the street, got a new puppy a few months ago. Since then her life has revolved around him, what with the training and the walking and the playing and the neutering and the invisible fence with the shock collar...good thing she's retired because raising Bailey is a full-time job. And for what? Remind me.

This morning two neighborhood dogs, big black labs that are usually innocuous, raised a violent ruckus on my back deck because my cat, an elderly gentleman who can barely walk, happened to be lying in the morning sun, as is certainly his right. I arrived in time to save Gizmo from two sets of jaws and certain death, or at least major discomfort for him and a huge vet bill for me. I told those mean old black dogs to go home, although in much stronger language. And I wondered what those dogs are for, anyway.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Will You Kindly Shut Up?

This morning I attended an orientation meeting for a volunteer position at a local hospital. Besides me there were seven other volunteers and the group leader. We were seated at a round conference table and directed to, in turn, introduce ourselves and explain why we were hoping to volunteer.  Each person spoke for about a minute. Then came the guy right before me, who told us his life story and his wife's life story and all about his wife's last days and how she was his soul mate and he's retired and she had COPD and he watched her die, but at the same time he had leukemia and was on chemotherapy and she died on the last day of his chemo and now he is in remission and it was so horrible and he's not getting any younger and then about his seven grandchildren and his fourteen grandchildren and two more in the oven, until I wanted to wring his scrawny little neck, but of course I did not and nobody else did either, and despite all the shuffling of feet and looking at watches and rolling of eyes, he went on and on. I wanted to say "This is not group therapy," but of course I did not.

Some people talk too much and don't even notice that you are not listening anymore, which is very rude if you ask me.  When this happens during a phone call you can at least be productive while the person self-indulges. My friend Nancy was one of those, and when she called I would just continue with my cooking or painting or washing the floor or even watching TV with the mute button on, every so often weighing in with an "uh-huh" or a "no kidding!" and she was quite happy. Once I hinted at the problem and never heard from her again, and that was three years ago so I think she was offended. Try as you might, there's simply no nice way to say "shut up!" But when the overly verbose natter on about this and that in the flesh, forcing innocent bystanders to witness the random thoughts spilling out of their brains onto the sidewalk, it's a different story altogether.

If you know someone who talks too much, help them stop. You could even get them an iPhone App called a Talk-o-Meter that will prove they talk too much, and avoid that nasty ending I had with Nancy. Check it out at http://www.talk-o-meter.de/e/.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Going Crackers

What with the Mormons and their underwear and the Jews with their prayer shawls and the Catholics with their crackers--that religion sure is some crazy stuff. As you can tell, I'm not buying any of it. In fact, my derision of all that mumbo-jumbo ended a friendship when my friend of 30 years felt dissed by me about communion wafers.

I last saw Richard, an increasingly devout Catholic, about two years ago in Seattle, where we both had traveled to spend several days together. Most of our time was passed reminiscing in cafes and visiting all the churches in the city. Since I'm an architecture fan I didn't mind the odd tour, but eventually our conversation turned to religion. I asked Richard if he truly believed in all that "stuff." He said yes. I asked if he believed that when he ate the little cracker the priest gave him he was actually ingesting part of the body of Christ. He thought for a long time before answering and finally said, "Yes, and please don't call it a cracker." I howled. I think it was the howling that upset him. Anyway, since millions of believers go to church and eat those little crackers thinking they are the body of Christ, along with a sip of wine that is the blood of Christ, I thought I'd see where they come from. Could it be Heaven?

It's not. Instead, a company called Almy does a thriving business, with a showroom in Connecticut and a factory right here in Maine--who knew? I was stunned to learn that besides the regular body-of-Christ wafers there are now also whole wheat body-of-Christ-wafers, as well gluten-free body-of-Christ wafers. (That Jesus, he sure does keep up with the times.) On their website, they write: "Communion Bread is the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Almy offers a large selection of pure, simple wheat hosts and, also, gluten-free wafers for communicants with dietary restrictions." 

A box of 50 gluten-free body-of-Christ wafers costs $12.05, but the whole wheat and the plain white each are available in boxes of 1000. The whole wheat will run you around $24.00, the plain white around $18.00. Well worth it, if you ask me. Have them sent right to your door and you can sleep in on Sundays and still be saved. Such a deal!





Cats R Us

I'm thinking that come winter, I'm going to plunk my two cranky old cats down on an ice floe in the Casco Bay, give it a push and let them float out to sea like the Eskimos do, except they really don't--in fact, the last reported case of Eskimo senilicide was in 1939. (Oh no, you're thinking, not another post about her cats.)

The cats are both 16 years old. They are in excellent health thanks to my unwavering devotion all these years, and my reward is that I now have to withstand their plaintive wailing due to arthritis, excessive peeing due to kidney problems, and constant begging for snacks out of just plain boredom. They no longer even walk fast--forget the adorable cavorting, gamboling and frolicking. Their lives are all about meowing for food, making a mess in the litter boxes, and crying at the door to either go outside or come back in.  Throw in their mutual jealousy over who gets the most laptime and it's no picnic for any of us. But the very worst part is the daily reminder of where I'm heading, as if I need another one in our youth-obsessed culture.

Recently one of my columns was printed in our local paper, sparking a lively online political debate until I mentioned my age, at which point things turned nasty. I then became fodder for jokes about being an "over-the-hill granny" from the days of Herbert Hoover, and what the heck could I know about anything going on now? Once again, society's hatred of and disrespect towards "senior citizens" reared its ugly head, which now seems even uglier because I am one, and I'm not even old yet. I can still walk and feed myself; heck, I still frolic and cavort. How bad is it for those folks who can't?

Very old people, those well beyond the Botox years, do exist in our society. We rarely see them, except of course when they reach 100 and get a cake at the nursing home and maybe, if it's a slow news day, their picture in the paper blowing out the candles. The sad truth is if that if we live well and take really good care of ourselves, we'll surely end up being the butt of jokes and a burden to someone. Seems to me that should change. For starters, perhaps I'll go get some catnip and maybe even a can of real people white Albacore tuna for my darling kitties.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Hurricanes Kill

That mean old Hurricane Irene, a killer storm that, according to reporters who all use the same thesaurus, has been churning and roaring up the East Coast for days, is now on the wane after allegedly causing the deaths of many people.

In defense of Mother Nature, I ask--how exactly does a hurricane kill? Let us count the ways:
1. A sleeping child in Virginia was crushed by a tree crashing through the roof of his house.
2. A N. Carolina passenger died in a car crash at an intersection where traffic lights were out.
3. A N. Carolina man walking about in the storm was crushed by a flying tree limb.
4. A passenger died in a car crushed by a falling tree in Virginia.
5. A S. Carolina man had a heart attack while boarding up his windows in the storm.
6. A Florida surfer drowned in heavy waves.

Not to be too nit-picky, but it seems to me that all those deaths were suicides, except for the sleeping child. As for the surfer, rescuers aren’t sure if the blow to his head that did him in was from his surfboard of if he hit the bottom of the ocean floor; either way, it clearly was not the hurricane that killed him. Just like guns don't kill people, hurricanes rarely come after you. They do blow things around and make things fall over, but since Man comes equipped with two eyes and hurricanes only have one, we can be tricky and hide from them. So what I plan to do, as I sit in the path of that oncoming killer storm, is to stay inside. (I wish my parents were alive so I could remind them of when they sent me out into Hurricane Donna. Bet they'd be sorry.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Storm Stories

If you are fortunate enough to survive, a decent hurricane can provide you with some good stories for years to come--for example, those people who lived through the tsunami in Thailand probably don't have to think of anything else to talk about, ever. I have a storm story, although once I had a child it seemed more alarming than interesting, making me wonder how I reached adulthood considering some of the questionable decisions made by my parents on my behalf.

Hurricane Donna occurred on the twelfth of September in 1960, when I had just begun the 8th grade. I was living on Long Island, which was expected to get a direct hit. Waking up early and praying for a day off, I was severely bummed but not surprised that our schools were scheduled to be open; in Rockville Centre, nothing short of a nuclear meltdown closed the schools. Nevertheless, peering out the window, things sure looked bad to me. But my mother said, as she always did, "If the school is open you are going," unless she wanted me to go somewhere with her, like to the beach or shopping in Manhattan, at which time she would say, "You'll learn a lot more walking through Times Square than you will cooped up in that damn building all day." (And another piece of the puzzle falls into place....)

So that morning at about 8:00 AM I walked the block to the bus stop and boarded the school bus. The whole time things were getting worse outside, making me think maybe a tree would fall on me, or even a house, or maybe that nasty Miss Gulch from "The Wizard of Oz" would ride by on her bicycle, cackling. None of those things happened and I got to school safely, although quite wet. I was finally settled in my homeroom when, at about 8:45, the principal's voice came booming over the PA system that the storm was "very bad" and that we should return to our buses and go home. In the very bad, not good, terrible, much worse storm.

On the ride home, with branches flying and hitting the windows, our school bus got sort of stuck in deep water, and while trying to making a turn, fell over on its side. Kids screamed, of course, but mostly in glee; nobody got hurt since we had been going about 2 MPH. The bus driver told us to get out and go home, advising us to "Run!" (Good tip.) Now I was about eight blocks from my house and had to make my way in the rain and wind and flying debris, all the while thinking that if the wind blew a bus over, what chance did I have? It was only later that I learned that Hurricane Donna had winds of 140 mph when it hit, and that 50 people died and that damages totaled $130 million on the East Coast.

My son has accused me of making up many of my childhood stories, saying, "Nothing like that ever happened to me!" Damn straight.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Drink to Your Health

My husband's recent surgery, which took place exactly two weeks and eight and a half hours ago but who's counting, has given me a new perspective on sickness, health and the whole damn thing we call living. Ever since Mitch authorized a surgeon to cut into his shoulder and mess around, our entire life has been about nothing more than that very thing. His right arm--and he's a rightie-- is in a sling that keeps it immobilized, and thus he cannot drive or open pickle jars or feed the cats or slap around an intruder should one appear, although he swears he would rise to that particular occasion. Still, he sleeps--or more accurately doesn't sleep--in a chair in the living room, forget the marital bed. Let it be noted, however, that he can cut his food, and please God, forgive me for that one time I tried to do it.

Bottom line: We take our health for granted and complain about petty things, while everyday life for many, many, many people is so much harder than everyday life for most of us. We are busy stocking up on supplies for an impending Category 2 storm, while the residents of Haiti, many of whom lost limbs, are still living in huts and tents more than a year after a devastating earthquake flattened their country.

I am reminded me of the old adage: "I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet." I am trying hard to count my blessings, but it's hard to remember to be thankful when your once-debonair husband has trouble zipping up his own fly.


Help Me Help You

In my ongoing quest to find paying work, I came upon an ad seeking a "Self Improvement Blogger." It required a degree in psychology, which I lack, but went on to describe other attributes for the interested candidate, such as an understanding of personal development, productivity, and psychology. To further explain, it expanded:  "While the focus of the site is psychology, we're looking for someone who can can write on a broad range of self improvement topics and take a positive approach to how an understanding of psychology leads to greater happiness and fulfillment."

Now I can write on pretty much anything, with the possible exception of why Arabs and Jews hate each other, but I am drawing a blank on how psychology leads to greater happiness and fulfillment. Anyway, it got me thinking about the whole subject and my own plans for self-improvement. I got started right away by adding a hyphen between the words "self" and "improvement," which immediately made me not just feel better but actually be better, at least better than the person who wrote that ad, since correct grammar and spelling surely are high on anyone's list of virtues.

In this heightened mood, I feel like sharing how I plan to improve myself this very day:
1. Bleach hair on upper lip.
2. Call the mortgage company and tell them to ignore that check they got that was intended for my cell phone provider, who sent back the check for the mortgage they received in error.
3. Write new checks for cell phone and mortgage.
4. Vow to be more careful when paying bills.
5. Stop looking for paying work and do that thing for Rick (already)!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another Natural Disaster Heading to D.C.

There's a hurricane a-comin' and it looks big, like maybe it will be a terrible disaster and wreak havoc and cause power outages and make people keep their TVs on 24/7, which of course is what the weather people hope for, live for and dream about. This could be the "worst storm in decades" according to The Weather Channel. People are being evacuated up and down the East Coast! States are being declared disaster areas even before the first raindrop hits the ground! It might rain a lot in our nation's capital!

Along with Hurricane Irene come many questions, the most pressing one being, "Do we have enough toilet paper to last the storm?" What is the driving force behind people flocking to their local supermarkets for the stuff--could it be all that talk of evacuation? And how little toilet paper do most people stock in good weather that they will run out in a day or two? And again I must ask, why do they show bears using toilet paper in advertising? But the most important question of all is how is it possible that Governor Rick Perry, of dubious moral character by the looks of him, is already the leading Republican candidate?

Talk about your disaster areas: Irene will pass in a day or two, but the President blows hot air around for at least four years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's Never Too Late to Be a Sex Kitten

In her recent autobiography, former film star Jane Fonda has divulged her secret ingredient for maintaining a strong libido at age 73. (That Jane, we always could count on her for all the important stuff.) And she is such a do-gooder, she's out there telling us what it is, so we don't even need to buy her book to find out. In fact, it's so simple, it's a wonder I didn't think of it myself: It's testosterone, that stuff men have in spades! Jane took hers in pill form starting at age 70, around the time of her third face lift, although it's also available in a patch and a gel that you rub on, god knows where.

The good news is that, according to Jane, it's given her the best sex of her entire life! And the down side is minimal--just some pesky little side effects that wouldn't hurt a fly. So go for it, ladies--and keep me posted on how many men you find who want to sleep with a muscular, over-the-hill granny with greasy hair, zits, a deep voice and a hairy chest.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Elective Surgery: Doctors Have to Eat Too!

A rotator cuff tear is a common cause of pain and disability among adults. It will definitely weaken your shoulder, making many daily activities, like combing your hair or getting dressed, slightly painful and difficult to do. You could choose to live with this pain or shave your head or join a nudist colony, or you could hire a surgeon to rip open your shoulder and put in some pins and sew it up, and then it will be excruciatingly painful and completely useless for many months, until some time in the future when it might get better. By then something else will hurt, however, since bodies do tend to fall apart eventually, especially if you use them a lot.

You'd think that with about 40,000 rotator cuff surgeries being performed in the United States each year, there must be solid medical evidence supporting the effectiveness of that treatment. However, not so. Actually, more than 150 published medical papers conclude there is "no solid evidence that rotator cuff surgery benefited patients more than no surgery." (Please do not tell my husband about this.)

However, despite the absence of any published papers in medical journals, we can certainly all agree that rotator cuff surgery benefits the surgeons greatly.  In fact, the smartest boy in my high school class, our valedictorian, became an orthopedic surgeon in Salt Lake City, giving him unlimited access to all those athletic skiers and snowboarders and hikers, each with a couple of shoulders, not to mention hips and knees, needing repair. Last I heard he had moved to Moab, probably plugging into all those rock climbers and mountain bikers....ouch!

So if you want your kids to make a lot of money to pay off their school loans, have them become orthopedic surgeons. After all, those aging baby boomers--there are about 75 million of them alive today-- have two shoulders apiece, and that is a whole heck of a lot of shoulders.

God, Shmod

I'm getting a little tired of everyone talking about this guy named God. (I know--some people, usually lesbians, insist he's a gal.) It seems to me that with all our incredible technological advances that allow us to send cameras up into space that can take pictures of the fungus growing underneath your toenail from light years away, that someone--sometime, somehow-- would have snapped a picture of God while he was busy "saving" them.

Now don't get me wrong: I am not an atheist-- not that there's anything wrong with that. I do believe in a Greater Power, or else how could there be so many different flowers and bugs and body parts, but I'm just saying I don't think that he/she/it hears our prayers and brings us to live with him up in the clouds just because we're nice to people or give to charity or go to church every Sunday or say we believe in him on our death beds, or even our regular beds. As for his son Jesus-- don't get me started.

I write this sober stuff because around my house all Humor is gone, having packed up and moved out while my husband was at the hospital having shoulder surgery ten days ago, and taking my Muse with it so I'm not painting either. What I am doing is hauling in bags of ice from the supermarket for my husband's ice machine and watching him suffer, not always in silence. By all reports he'll be better in about six months, so I should be funny again by next February, just in time to mock Valentine's Day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What Thornton Knew

Everyone wants to know everything; being right is so important and if you are wrong you are just a dummy. The good news is that these days it is so easy to be right, all you have to do is Google it! If you have an iPhone like my husband, every fact is at your fingertips. And if you have a computer, like everyone else, you know about things you don't even know about, like Jesse is back with Kat and Kim's wedding will cost 20 million, and that new princess in England is refusing to eat, and her sister Pippa is suddenly out of favor with the press. Jen still has a hot bikini body and a 10-year-old cover girl is infuriating mothers who think it is wrong to sexualize children. Several Israelites were killed in the Gaza--what else is new. Obama's popularity is sinking along with the Dow, and Apple will unveil its new iPad in 2012 and it will be much better than the one you just bought, and get ready for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, this will be big according to Mayor Bloomberg.

But nowhere, nobody, no website, no TV station, no newspaper reporter seems to know what happens after we die or what we should be doing while we are here, and nobody seems to care-- how odd! The closest we've got is when Emily comes back to life for a day in Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town," which granted was only his personal take on life after death but it's the best I've ever come across. I will go read it again right now.


Just Elgoog It!

I have a great idea for a brand new website that should become an instant Internet sensation! It's still in the very early stages, i.e. I thought of it while I was falling asleep last night, but I believe it has great potential: It's called Elgoog, which for the slower among you is Google spelled backwards. You go to Elgoog.com and search for anything, and you will get only incorrect information. This would give you a wonderful advantage in political conversations, for obvious reasons.

In fact, I see this as a tremendous boon to civilization. Google is almost as good, but still there are those annoying nuggets of truth sprinkled throughout, which is so confusing at times. On my website, you will have the confidence of knowing immediately that everything you learn is 100% wrong. For example, if you believe me when I say my mother was a direct descendant of Cleopatra and my father owned the New York Yankees until his death in 2005 when he succumbed to Legionnaire's Disease on the QEII, just Elgoog it--if it comes up there, you know it's fake.

I just Googled "elgoog"and learned there already is a mirror site of Google that gives all the information backwards, but I'm not sure that's true. Who can live with that kind of uncertainty?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Who You Callin' Black?

Texas Governor Rick Perry, in a speech yesterday at the Iowa State Fair-- and what better place for politicians to hawk their snake oil--dubbed our national debt "a big, black cloud hanging over America."  The formerly Reverend Al Sharpton, who is now less reverend and earns his living looking for racial slurs made by Republicans, expressed shock and outrage at this blatant and ugly reference to Barack Obama, who you all may remember is black.

How ridiculous! Obviously Perry, a dead ringer for a child molester if you ask me, was talking about Sharpton himself. The confusion came from his incorrect analogy: Al is much more of a windbag than a cloud, and since his diet of a few years ago he is now quite thin, making an accurate epithet for him a "small, black windbag hanging over America."

Can't those guys get anything straight?


Monday, August 15, 2011

Ouch!

Even in the bleakest of situations I can usually find something to laugh about; at the very least there is irony or fodder for biting sarcasm. For example, at the age of 22, I was visiting with my bedridden grandfather while everyone else was off at a family wedding. He was reminiscing about "the old country" when he suddenly stopped talking and declared that he was thirsty. I left the room to get him some water and returned moments later to find him dead. Hysterical, I rushed to the phone and called my then-fiance-- who I later married and then divorced, and who could blame me-- and he said, "Boy, he must have been really thirsty!" We both laughed, even with Grampa dead in the bed beside me.

The comedy continued the next day at my grandfather's funeral service when they wheeled his coffin into the small chapel of the funeral home. I went to see him one last time, and was shocked to see it was not my grandfather in there at all, but a completely different dead person, about 20 years younger to boot. I rushed to inform the funeral home director of the error, but he insisted that I was wrong. "Grief does that to people, you're confused, " he said. "And besides, people look very different in death." While he nattered on about how I was mistaken, a woman in the neighboring chapel began wailing and screaming about how much older her dead husband Morty looked. "I'm pretty sure she's got my grandfather, " I said to the funeral home director.

Funny stuff, those dead grandfathers. So much funnier than shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff, which my husband underwent three days ago and which resulted in his two-day hospital stay, swallowing enough painkillers to choke not just one horse but all the horses in the Kentucky Derby. I have nothing funny to say about that. In fact, forget I mentioned it--just read the dead grandfather stuff again. And have a nice day. :)



Thursday, August 11, 2011

News You Can Use

This morning I woke up happy and, coffee in hand, sat down to see what's new in the world. Stocks plummeting, people throwing bombs at each other in foreign countries. Three brothers on a crime spree were arrested after shooting several people; their parents must be so proud. A killer of eleven women, all found buried in his backyard, got the death sentence but his lawyer is trying to get that changed to life in prison without parole. More men want handbags: "The Coach customer is young, or at least appears young," says that company's head designer. President Obama is either a fool or a god. Many high-end department stores, like Saks in New York City, employ personal shoppers to pick out clothes for their customers, saving them the trouble. The typical female client who employs this service spends $250,000 annually on clothing.

I might try not reading the newspaper for a while. Turning instead to my bookshelf, I pulled down my personal bible, "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth," by nutritionist Jonny Bowden,  and learned some interesting facts that might actually do me some good. For example, cantaloupe is loaded with potassium and can greatly reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Who knew? (Not me, and I have high blood pressure--I must have missed that page.) It is also loaded with vitamin A and beta-carotene, thus boosting your immune system. Apparently, eating just a cup of cantaloupe cubes a day--or a wedge or juiced or however you like it--can ward off a cold, not to mention cancer. And those ladies at Saks might be interested in knowing you can also make shoes out of them. (See photo.)





Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dismayed in America

All was calm and still in my neighborhood, so I was stunned to enter downtown Freeport, less than three miles from my front door, and find the streets literally clogged with people and traffic at a standstill; it looked more like I imagine downtown Tokyo than rural Maine. Undaunted, I used my "insider" knowledge to find a parking spot and ran into L. L. Bean's to purchase a gift for a friend. Inside was even worse than outside; it was all but impossible to move, reminding me of Woodstock but without the LSD. Determined, I joined all the other shoppers in their quests for something that was Maine-made and with an L. L. Bean label, since that is so classically American.

Here's what I found:
L.L. Bean Classic Logo T-shirt, Made in China
L.L. Bean Stowaway Backpack, Made in Viet Nam
L.L. Bean Women's Backpack, Made in Viet Nam
L.L. Bean Mens Knit Shirts, Made in China
L.L. Bean Hooded Logo Sweatshirts, Made in India
L.L. Bean Aluminum Bottle Canteens, Made in China
L.L. Bean Infinity Jugs, Made in China  
L.L. Bean Helix Fishing Waders, Made in China
L.L. Bean Fishing Shoes, Made in China
L.L. Bean Flannel Shirts, Made in Viet Nam
L.L. Bean Tassel Loafers, Made in El Salvador
L.L. Bean Men’s Chino Pants, Made in India
L.L. Bean Men’s Chino Pants, Made in China
L.L. Bean Logo Flip-Flops, Made in China
L.L. Bean Dockers Shoes, Made in China
L.L. Bean Men’s Boxer Shorts, Made in Sri Lanka
L.L. Bean Towels and Facecloths, Made in Turkey
L.L. Bean Large Duffel Bags, Made in China
L.L. Bean Women’s Coats, Made in Bangladesh 
L.L. Bean Women’s Fleece Jackets, Made in El Salvador
L.L. Bean Women’s Raincoat, Made in China
L.L. Bean Men’s Blazer, Made in Viet Nam 
L.L. Bean Women’s Jeans, Made in Mexico
L.L. Bean Runabout Classic Cruiser Bike, Made in China
L.L. Bean Student Monogrammed Book Bag, Made in Viet Nam

I freaked out and pushed through the crowds to the exit to get some fresh air. Outside, I plopped down into a Classic Maine Adirondack Double Wooden Rocker to catch my breath, confident that at least that was made here. Only it was made in Viet Nam. Really.

Whence the Weather?

Early this morning I had two appointments in opposite directions. Each was about a half-hour's drive from my home, which meant that getting from the first to the second involved almost an hour on the road. When I left my house it was just starting to drizzle, but when I turned onto 295, the drizzle turned into major rain which lasted all morning, drastically cutting down my visibility on the highway. Throw in a couple of 18-wheelers and some road work complete with orange cones and Jersey barriers, and the whole thing was a total drag. At times I could barely see. Occasionally things would improve momentarily, then start in again.

The rain finally stopped as I pulled into my driveway four hours later. Now that I am indoors and planning to remain indoors for the rest of the day, it's nice out. The sun is shining, in fact it's a beautiful day for a drive. Even though this is the sort of thing that happens to me frequently--really, a lot--I am trying not to take it personally and instead think of it as a coincidence.

Alternatively, I could hang out a shingle and pass myself off as a Weather Prognosticator, certainly with as much credibility as some other "professionals" out there. Last week I came across a website for an online psychic who promised to answer one free question to illustrate her expertise and gain my trust. "Ask me anything, anything at all," she boasted. I asked, "Should my husband have the surgery?" The answer came back in a few hours: "I advise you to follow your doctor's advice on this."

As for my weather-forecasting service, call me if you're planning an outdoor wedding and I'll try to stay home during it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Curse of Creativity

Every morning as he's leaving for his short drive to the office or his long drive to the airport, my husband asks me, "What are you going to do today?" This question stymies me, unless I am lucky enough to have a doctor appointment or a dentist appointment or I need to go to the bank or buy some cat food--something concrete. Otherwise I draw a blank and have no answer, at least not one that would pass the "doing something" litmus test. I do not go to an office where I will answer phones and make appointments and send out faxes and open mail or enter data into a computer, perhaps with a birthday party up on the fifth floor in the middle of the day, or a Mexican burrito lunch to celebrate someone's arrival/departure/retirement. I am not flying to Chicago for a business meeting. I am not going to work at a hospital where I might save lives or draw blood, along with all the paper work and insurance forms and disinfecting of bedpans. Instead, I work at home and my job is an artist, and let me tell you, it's harder than it looks.

Artists never know what they're going to do until the Muse shows up. Sometimes she's gone for months at a time, and then suddenly she's back, having arrived under cover of night, and you wake up craving oil paint and clean brushes and blank canvas and you're instantly deep into that whole painting thing. This feeling lasts for a few days or a few months until one day, it ends. The Muse packs up and leaves, sometimes right in the middle of a brushstroke which is really annoying since you certainly can't finish it alone. You're nothing without her. You're just a regular somebody. You putter around, maybe write a few blogs, work on the novel. Send off a letter to the editor. Do some laundry, clean the studio, submit slides to an art gallery, apply for editorial jobs. Go buy art supplies, you'll need them someday. Go to the museum for inspiration, maybe you'll run into the Muse there.

When I least expect it, she's back and demanding we do something, anything, immediately. Look over there, what about that, what are those for? Next thing I know I'm gluing tiny beads onto a porcelain ball bought for that express purpose over a year ago--it's finally time. And so I glue beads onto this ball for hours and hours, to what end God knows, but when it's finished people will ooh and ahh and ask how long it took me, and I never tell the truth, that it took an eternity and all that time they were out for lunch with friends or at the movies with friends or lying on the beach with friends or hanging at Starbucks or shopping for clothes at the mall, doing all the things I don't do but my husband wishes I would so I would seem more normal. "Go shopping with friends," he suggests. But I'm not normal, I'm an artist, and when the Muse shows up, I drop everyone and everything to hang out with her and only her. She brings out the best in me, and really isn't that what friends are for?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lose Weight and Gain Self-Respect

We've all seen those once-tubby actresses who come on TV looking thinner and thinner and tell you to "Call Jenny today!" Gee, that Jenny sounds great! Besides being my personal weight-loss coach, she'll even send me packaged foods all ready to eat!

News flash: there is no longer a Jenny. She sold her business years ago: "In May 2002, Jenny Craig, Inc., was acquired by MidOcean Partners, a New York and London-based private equity investment firm, and ACI Capital, a New York-based private investment firm. On June 19, 2006, they announced the signing of a definitive agreement to sell the company to Nestlé in a transaction valued at approximately $600 million. The company is now operated as part of Nestlé Nutrition."

Here's another news flash: The United Nations estimates that more 11 million people in East Africa are affected by the worst drought in 60 years, with 3.7 million people in Somalia among the hardest hit because of the ongoing civil war in that country. There is no water for the people or the animals or the crops, which means there's no food now and won't be anytime soon.

Compared to those starving masses, even the thinnest Americans are obese, let's not talk about the true fatties who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on weight-loss programs. So before you call the huge corporation once owned by a woman named Jenny Craig, or pay Weight Watchers, another international conglomerate, to let you stand on their scale each week and enter the number into one of their note pads, why not reflect for a moment on how much gruel your money could buy instead, perhaps nourishing a baby born into the hellish reality we glibly call "the Third World." If you still insist on calling Jenny, just ask her to send all those frozen packaged meals to Mogadishu instead of to you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Film Review: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Choosing today, a rainy Sunday, for one of our rare trips to the movies, my husband and I saw the latest blockbuster movie raking in dough for its producers. Even though the popcorn wasn't great and the theater smelled sort of funny, we were not disappointed: Rise of the Planet of the Apes grabbed us from the first frame, and we stayed pretty much grabbed until the final credits. It's not all just monkey business, however, so leave the little kids at home. Besides the intense violence and considerable bloodshed, most of which I missed because my hands were over my eyes, there's a tearjerker of a script that is heartbreaking, having to do with letting go of your children and watching your parents die. I saw the film two hours ago and I'm still sniffling.

It's all about an adorable baby chimp that grows into a not so adorable and very pissed-off ape, capable of despicable deeds and yet with a heart as big as Texas, reminding us that the movie was made in Hollywood after all. Despite all the phony baloney, of which there is plenty, you buy into it because so much of what transpires is true: Money-grubbing pharmaceutical companies really do render animals helpless and perform hideous experiments on them, all for man's benefit. Manufactured weapons really do allow us to dominate creatures that are naturally stronger and more powerful than we are. Animals are kept caged in zoos across America, living wasted lives of quiet desperation, all for man's enjoyment. It's tough to watch. I'm pretty sure I am now a vegetarian.

The fun part is the ape prison break, during which the hateful human guard who enjoys torturing our hero finally gets his comeuppance via a water hose. Free at last, all the computer-generated monkeys storm the Golden Gate Bridge on their way to eternal peace and happiness in the great outdoors, intent on climbing those giant redwoods in the California sunshine--at least those who aren't killed by San Francisco's finest shooting at them from helicopters. When it comes right down to it, apes are just like people: All they really want is to have a nice day.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Bachmann Brand: What's the Dizzle?

Borders Books & Music was a wondrous place in its day, and its day lasted 40 years. It was the perfect antidote to the blues, especially if you weren't in the mood to put on makeup. You could wander the aisles for hours, browsing travel books promising adventure and excitement or skimming diet books promising a new you. The children's section offered picture books and teddy bears, and likely a Lego table or Brio train station open to all ages. Hang out reading magazines or just make a beeline for the cafe for a coffee and a scone, screw the diet. There was no place better at Christmas, with its seemingly endless rows of greeting cards, wrapping paper and calendars. And for severe depression, you could slap on some headphones in the music aisle and hear the latest tunes from your favorite artist.

This is all in the past since Borders has closed, squeezed out by advancing technology. Now you order up that trashy novel on your Kindle and read it on a flat screen with an eerie glow, perhaps while you're huddled over your laptop at Starbucks, answering email and texting on your iPhone at the same time. Oh well, at least I have memories of great times and great days: Crosby, Stills and Nash, Marrakesh Express, Beach Boys, Poco, Jackson Browne's unbelievably sweet fountain of sorrow harmonies. I can always imagine John Lennon, instead of the angry, criminalistic, blingified, out-on-bail rappers proclaiming, "I got a living room full of fine dime brizzles, waiting on the pizzle, the dizzle and the hizzle." (Whatever that means.)

Nowhere is our cultural downward slide more evident than in politics, where anyone can run for office as long as there's a sharp PR firm on the payroll. Today's Wall Street Journal talks about the "Michele Bachmann brand" being honed to a razor's edge by her team of image consultants. It involves kissing babies and signing t-shirts and hugging teenagers and yakking with farm wives. She makes an emotional connection with her audience, so what if she's against abortion and gay marriage? She's down-home! She's warm and fuzzy! People love her! That's great if you're looking to hire a kindergarten teacher and possibly even a president--maybe of the PTA, surely not the USA. Come on, people, what's the dizzle with that?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Does This Beer Can Make Me Look Fat?

Sales of Budweiser beer have been slipping for the past two years, both here in America and abroad. Naturally the company's leaders are hoping to turn things around, seeking to save a brand that has kept college students happily drunk since 1936.

So to attract new customers and keep the old ones, they have decided to:
A. Change the recipe to improve the flavor
B. Alter the ingredients to make it more effervescent
C. Add more hops so it pours smoother with more foam
D. Change the design of the can so it looks cooler 
E. Skimp on ingredients to lower the cost to the consumer

If you guessed D, you're right. The top dogs at Budweiser have decided that how the can looks to others while you're holding it is more important than how the product tastes, reminding us once again that superficiality reigns supreme in today's fast-paced world. The redesigned can sports a red background instead of a blue one, and that's certainly a plus in some political circles, although I'm not sure which. Either way, that bold new color is bound to perk up the dullest outfit.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Finding Dr. No

Concerning my arthritic hip, several doctors have suggested installing an artificial one as the only fix, so when I went to the alleged "best hip guy in Maine" earlier today I expected to hear the same thing. Instead, miraculously, he said "no." This was an earth-shattering event, at least in my experience, since other surgeons I have met with in the past concerning other body parts have warned that if I did not have surgery right away-- i.e. the next available hole in their schedule-- I would get sicker and possibly develop cancer (if I didn't already have it) and die, or else just be really miserable forever until, of course, I did die. Naturally, being a sucker for feeling good, I've always caved, and thus have had two surgeries that were declared unnecessary after the fact by the very same practitioners who swore I needed them in the first place.

So I was delighted, amazed and relieved when Dr. No (not his real name) said I did not require his services. Eliminating the possibility that he is overbooked and on the verge of a nervous breakdown or that he has all the money he needs, I concluded that there actually are some altruistic doctors out there. He still kept me waiting long enough to read the entire Car Issue of Consumer Reports and find out that my brand new Saab 9-3 is not even rated because their editors think it sucks so much, so it's not like he's a total saint. However, my faith in the medical establishment has been partially restored. Plus I get to keep my own hip, at least for now, and really, isn't that all we ever really have?


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Keeping the Peace and Alienating the Public

So far today, the fish guy at Hannaford's supermarket, a receptionist on the phone at my doctor's office and two waitresses where I had lunch all wished me well. The first said, "have a good one," the next said "have a nice day," and the last two wished me "a pleasant evening." These days, it seems like every time you turn around some stranger is telling you to enjoy yourself. Unless, of course, that stranger happens to be a cop, and then it's a whole different ball game: They not only don't wish you a nice day, they try to ruin as much of it as possible as fast as they can.

Last week a friend of mine, a distinguished-looking adult in his mid-fifties, was arrested for the crime of sitting in his car around midnight and talking on his cell phone. In order to make his call safely and not block traffic, he had pulled off the road into a parking lot in front of a small business. Within minutes a police car approached, and the officer informed my friend that he was on private property. In Pleasantville, the cop would have suggested he kindly move on, then gotten back into his patrol car and with a friendly nod and maybe even a wink, driven away.

That is not what happened. What happened is the cop demanded to see my friend's license and registration, perhaps assuming the car was a stolen vehicle. Then, because he smelled alcohol lingering from the one beer ingested not long before the incident, he asked him to get out of the car and walk a straight line. Since my friend suffers from a mild inner ear disorder that affects his balance, he failed that test. Before you could say, "Beat it--the fuzz," the cop slapped some handcuffs on him, threw him in the back of the patrol car and took him "down to the station" for a breathalyzer test. Five hours in a jail cell later, having passed that test he was free to leave and try to come up with the $140 in cash to get his car out of the impound lot.

I thought that was a sad story until I heard from my son who, short on cash and long on attitude, received a $50 ticket for disturbing the peace in Burlington, Vermont because he had snarled at some nosy old coot to "stay out of it," the geezer heckling from the sidelines as the cop was lecturing my son about the biking ban on city streets. That seemed sadder since, by the time you're middle-aged you know the cops suck but in your early twenties you still have time to form a positive opinion of the men in blue.

Ahh, life in these United States...ain't it grand?

Emergency Stash

The reason we moved to Maine is known by all our friends, but I repeat it here to make a point. Three years ago my brother-in-law went over the handlebars on his bicycle, landing on his head. Had he been without a helmet, he would have died instantly. Instead he spent a couple of months in a coma and a couple more in a Boston rehab facility. We moved here to aid his recovery, which involves him often beating the heck out of me at Scrabble. Despite that, he still has memory and balance issues and minor, but still plenty annoying, impairment of his sight, hearing and taste.

All this explains my recent distress over seeing a random Internet photo of my very own son perched on his bike without a helmet. Granted, he is only 23 and they say the human brain is not fully formed until age 25. Let's hope his gets there.

Working against mothers is the state of Maine, which does not even require motorcyclists to wear helmets! This is just plain dumb, and goes hand in hand with the recent declaration of the whoopie pie as the state treat. Maybe those bikers, including my son, should just pile a few whoopies on top of their heads when they're out riding. Not only would those cakes soften the blow in an accident, but the ambulance drivers could snack on them on the way to the ER.