Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Work in Progress

 Cows on South Freeport Road, Maine, 2012, oil on canvas, 20" x 24"

I paint. I don't make money at it, since very few people see my work, thus very few people buy it. Nevertheless I paint, and I have no idea why.

About once every six or eight weeks I drive into Portland and go to the art store and buy blank canvases and more paint and new brushes and thinners and glazes and brush cleaners, and then I go home and cover the canvases with the paint. I have no idea why I do this, but I'm not alone: Artists have been around since the caveman days. They are hardly ever respected unless they earn a lot of money through their art, and then they become Gods and their work is considered to be good and important and meaningful. As usual, money is king. (Why is that?)

The walls of our home are covered with art--some of it my own work, others by friends and many by strangers. It just hangs there, doing nothing. I can't eat it or sleep on it or keep warm from it, but I need it anyway--not sure for what. Not everyone feels this way. Years ago I gave a gift of a painting to my friend Carol. She took it graciously, then said, "I'm not sure what to do with this; we don't have art." It was true; looking around her house, I saw for the first time that the only things on the walls were a calendar and many framed photographs of her and her husband and their two sons. In fact, their bedroom was a sort of shrine to the boys as babies, despite them both now being in their 20s.

Shown above is a painting I am working on right now. It's got a ways to go, but I think when it's done it will be quite a lot of fun to look at.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who Do You Trust

I invite those readers who refuse to accept the grim truth that the New York Times is a slanted liberal rag--just as biased, if not more biased than FOX News allegedly is in the opposite direction--to turn to page 1 of today's Sunday Review section and feast your eyes on the gargantuan pile of liberal pap disguised as "analysis." Author Gail Collins writes about Newt Gingrich's tawdry past, postulating that he will go down in history as "the politician who conclusively proved that voters don't care about a candidate's sexual misbehavior."

Huh, Gail? Were you in a coma during the Clinton administration? Do the words "blue dress" or "cigar" mean anything to you? Does the name Gennifer Flowers ring a bell? Remember how Bill Clinton and his wife appeared on TV before he was even nominated, wherein he admitted to a lengthy affair with...and how about Paula... and then there was Kathleen...and finally came Monica...but of course you know all this. But Clinton was not only elected but re-elected president, and subsequently canonized to Godlike stature among the left, where he remains to this day. And yet Gail writes, "the far right seems to be particularly indifferent to bad-behavior issues." Gail? WTF? (And let's not forget, Clinton was a sitting president at the time, not just one of 435 congressman but the lone leader of the free world.)

At the very least, one can say that Newt ended his indiscretions a dozen years ago and has since become a grandfather, converted to Catholicism, and vowed fidelity in writing to his current wife, admitting his past behavior was poor. (He's also gotten quite flabby and unappealing, leading one to assume he's lost that lovin' feeling.) The man he is today--a snooty, intellectual know-it-all who knows a lot-- is not some pervert posting pictures of his penis on the Internet. And while he's not who I want to see win the nomination, it's for reasons other than his past transgressions.

The staff and editors of the Times have gone to great lengths to get this in front of your face, just in case you missed it on TV this week. The decision to place this rehash of old news on the front page of their core section, complete with a huge --almost full-page illustration--and that's gotta cost them-- of a flirty, sexy redhead and an equally huge headline, "Newt's Real Legacy," is that paper's blatant attempt to smear a candidate on the eve of a critical election. It makes me sad and sick and tired of it all. Read the article, and be sure to wear loose clothing; you'll need it in order to perform the twisted, convoluted contortions necessary to agree with their bizarre premise.

Now, where are my pills....

Saturday, January 28, 2012

With Liberty and Justice for All

It was a lackluster crowd at best. The candidate himself was smaller than life; not much of a speaker, either. In fact, one could only wish that Congressman Ron Paul was bigger, younger, smoother and slicker in the flesh, because every word he said was true. He's just so un-presidential that he doesn't stand a chance. Still, for a chilly, blustery January afternoon, it was a respectable crowd of about 400 souls that turned out to hear him speak today on Maine Street in downtown Freeport, right across from the L. L. Bean retail campus. In fact, Paul was introduced by Linda Bean herself, standing right there atop her very own eatery, Linda Bean's Maine Kitchen.

Accompanied by his band of handlers and his little pixie of a wife, Congressman Paul was undeniably endearing, and sort of funny. He started off by saying how pleased he was to be in the very town "where freedom was invented, or so I've heard. Something like that." (I think the Chamber of Commerce cooked that one up, but who knows--maybe it's true.) He got the most applause when he said, "Americans must seek out virtue and excellence." I also liked it when he reported that, based on his talks with people he's met traveling during the campaign, "freedom is still very popular in this country." Good to hear.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Just Don't Call Me Late to Dinner

Despite graduating college with a BFA, nobody has ever called me "Bachelor Rouda." Similarly, people with master's degrees -- these days as common a species as houseflies -- are not called Master This or Master That by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Yet we must address every putz who graduated from medical school as Doctor. (Lately, even ordinary folks with doctorate degrees in other fields are starting to use the title too.) Sure, there was a time when physicians earned so much more money than other professionals and were privy to such esoteric information about the human body that we considered them as gods walking among us. But today, with the Internet serving as a superior diagnostician that makes house calls, many of them make barely enough to cover their malpractice insurance. Yet they all still demand that all of us not-doctors use that moniker; just try calling one "Mr." and see what happens!

Exactly what makes them so special? Okay, so they don't faint at the sight of blood and they are able to perform gruesome tasks without upchucking. Impressive, until you consider the possibility that many of them are closet sadists who get off on sticking their hands inside your body and playing with your organs. As for those who become gynecologists, they are obviously sickos, especially the females. (Oh please, are you telling me that spending your days with your hands inside some stranger's vagina is not icky?)

Fueling my ire is the sudden influx of all the doctors chasing celebrity status. Leading the pack are Superdocs Oz and Gupta, busy hawking their books at speaking engagements and on the evening news, whenever an expert is needed to say things like "saturated fats are bad for you" and "daily aerobic exercise contributes to overall health."

The zenith of this trend is a daily afternoon TV show eloquently entitled "The Doctors" -- that says it all, don't you think-- and starring "America's dream medical team." Four dolled-up physicians -- a hot young stud, a pretty woman, a wise one with greying temples and an average Joe -- sit in front of an audience of mostly fat housewives with nothing better to do and wow them with what they learned in med school. Meanwhile, the lesser gods claw their way up the ladder through personal websites, hoping to become the next Huffington Post. A few write columns for Men's Health or Prevention, dishing out pablum like, "If you eat beef at all, definitely go grass-fed," or, "After a few nights of too-little sleep, we see very serious consequences on our moods."

According to Jerome Groopman, MD, author of How Doctors Think, the average doctor cuts off his patient within the first 18 seconds of an appointment. Thus he suggests planning your questions in advance so as not to wander off topic. I suggest staying home and logging on to WebMD. You can stay as long as you want and you don't have to find parking.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Setting Limits

Right now it's eight in the morning and I'm in my home gym. I'm wearing sweats and a tank top, having just finished my morning workout--in fact, I'm still sweating as I write this. Just kidding--I'm actually dressed in a nightgown and sitting at the dining room table with my coffee and scrambled eggs--we don't even have a home gym. Kidding again! I'm really wearing a bathing suit because I'm going to jump into the hot tub as soon as I finish writing this. Just joshing... I go in naked and so I'm totally nude. Not really.... listen, it's none of your business what the heck I'm wearing or where the heck I'm sitting, or if I can walk while I'm talking or die when I'm walking. (That's from "Tootsie"-- my son knows.)

Do me a favor and do not Skype me, as I have not downloaded that particular modern-day horror and have no plans to do so. My husband wants me to, so we can have video chats when he's away. Sorry, no can do. The only perk of his constant travel is that I can look like hell all the time; there is no way I am getting all gussied up to talk into a computer. And this morning's paper describes a new invention called telyHD that will "transform Skype video-chats into room-size experiences." The possibilities are endless: Mitch and I could chat while I'm vacuuming or cleaning the toilet or preparing dinner and he's stretched out on his hotel room bed, relaxing and watching me work, just like he'd be doing at home but with room service.

Call me madcap, but I'm not doing it. I have embraced about as much technology as I can embrace. Skype is my line in the sand. Call me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Don't Say "I Do" When You Don't

There are all sorts of tough things in life, but nothing tops keeping silent while you watch your kids make mistakes. Drugs, alcohol, cutting classes, joining the military, college or not--these are big issues, but they pale in comparison to choosing the wrong mate; that can derail you for a long time, maybe forever. It's even worse than electing the wrong president. (If only marriages lasted four years, then came up for renewal--how great would that be?) The fact is, marriage is more than "just the two of us." It's more like the four of us, or these days, the six or ten or twelve of us, and if you don't like them or they don't like you, love may keep you together but you'll wish it hadn't. All those sappy love songs seem to gloss over that indisputable fact.

Following are the titles of some popular love songs, but with a dash of reality thrown in:
"When a Man Loves a Woman-- and Hates Her Father"
"Just the Way You Are, Except With Totally Different DNA"
"You Are So Beautiful, It's Hard to Believe That's Your Mother"
"When I Fall in Love, Let It Be With an Orphan"
"P. S. I Love You But I Can't Do Thanksgiving With Those People"
"I Want to Know What Love Is Without Your Father's Snoring"
"Maybe I'm Amazed You Sprang From Their Loins"
"I Got You Babe, and That's Enough from That Gene Pool"
"Your Relatives Should Jump Off the Bridge Over Troubled Water"
"I Just Called To Say I Love You and I Hate Them"
"I'll Be There As Soon As Your Parents Die"
"Love Me Do But Lose the Folks"
"Spending Time With Your Family is Killing Me Softly" 
"Let's Lock Your Parents Up on the Roof"
"All I Have to Do Is Dream That I'll Wake Up and They've Moved to Europe"

You get the idea. By the way, I have been married twice: The first time I had the world's greatest in-laws who I loved almost more than my own parents, and who I think of fondly to this day. The second time, my husband's mother was already dead when I met him and his father died unexpectedly, shortly after I met him one time. They were both lovely people.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

End of the Road: Yoga for Beginners

I am trying to like yoga. A craze that's sweeping the nation, many of my friends who I respect, trust and admire are into it in a big way. So I go at it again and again. After attending eight or ten classes over the last eight or ten years and finding the other students insufferably enlightened, I have recently taken to watching DVDs in the comfort of my own home. Currently I am using a program called 5 Day Fit Yoga that promises to "make every day matter" and "transform your mind and body." Who doesn't want that?

Filmed in Hawaii, the opening sequence shows a man named Rod Stryker, the only American to have earned the title of Yogiraj from another teacher named Mani Finger, which would be a great name for one of Tony Soprano's boys. Anyway, Rod appears shirtless and wearing tights, sitting on a big rock against a backdrop of fluffy white clouds, an azure sky, breaking waves and distant green mountains. The whole scene is very picturesque, and Rod seems like a nice enough fellow. Determined, I move the coffee table out of the way and plunk down my purple yoga mat, ready to do whatever Rod says in order to get "strong and centered." After stretching this way and hugging his knees and looking towards the sky and crossing one leg over the other and then stretching that way, he starts with the breathing and I start hating him.

Did you know that breathing in through one nostril and breathing out through both nostrils reduces stress and stimulates creativity and imagination? Me either. Time was I ran three or four miles a day and worked up a sweat. After doing that for 20 years I was diagnosed with an arthritic hip and told that continued running would land me in surgery. I replaced the running with thrice-weekly aerobics classes. Eventually more doctors said, "No impact, ever!" Now I'm busy closing off one nostril and breathing through the other. Just shoot me. Then shoot Rod.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hands Off My Uterus!

Poor Rick Santorum: He wants desperately to be liked, but he's so obviously clueless and out of touch with the people. Take his sweater vests, for example. Do you see a lot of other folks wearing those? Are they flying off the shelves at the mall? Are they evident in the movies or on TV? No, no and no. Yet dweeby, geeky, nerdy Rick keeps wearing them, which, while certainly his right, bespeaks a singularity of mind. This is an excellent quality in an artist or recluse but a dreadful one in a world leader.

Rick's got the same problem concerning no abortions, which he also hopes will catch on; in today's Wall Street Journal he states quite clearly that as president he would do everything in his power to overturn Roe v. Wade, which he mournfully notes enters the fourth decade since passage on this very day. He also mourns the deaths of 40 million would-be babies since the law's inception, oblivious to the fact that the very people he's courting want abortions, have abortions, and certainly won't elect him if he's determined to make them illegal.

All the babbling politicians should focus on fixing our crumbling roads, simplifying our complicated tax laws and defending us from the bad guys, and keep their paws off our private parts. (In the photo above, Santorum wrongly approximates the size of the typical uterus.) If I were running for president and had no hope of getting elected, I would suggest outlawing a few things too: All-you-can-eat salad bars, pit bulls and rottweilers, snowmobiles and jet skis, TV laugh tracks and all advertising that features talking animals, gleeful families stuffing their faces with unhealthy foods as if eating is the key to happiness, and that stupid Progressive insurance girl. Santorum's desire to outlaw abortion makes about as much sense as my list.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Author's Message

Some snotty coward who chose to remain anonymous left a comment on my blog yesterday that said, "Somebody needs to get a life!" I assumed that somebody was me, and that the fact that I write this blog means I have nothing better to do. Well guess what: I don't.

Years ago I wrote a weekly newspaper column that was similar in tone and content to this blog. The difference was that I got paid to do so, earning me a pittance plus the respectable title of "newspaper columnist." In our capitalist, money-loving, phony-baloney, superficial, dog-eat-dog society, having a job equals having a life, which is why so many unemployed people feel worthless.

Writing this blog is the best thing I do each day. It's tons of fun, I'm good at it, it exercises my brain and sharpens my editorial skills, and every once in a while I learn something new. The whole thing takes about thirty minutes, leaving me plenty of time to live a so-called "life" that Anonymous says I should "get." That life includes shopping for food, doing errands, soaking in my hot tub, feeding the cats, making art, sleeping, cooking meals, doing volunteer work and none of your damn business.

What is a "life" anyway? If you ask me, sitting in restaurants, pushing papers in an office, going out to the movies and going shopping with friends is a gigantic waste of life. The best part of mine, other than hanging with my husband and son, is writing this blog, which I will continue until I'm too weak or feeble to do so. I hope you enjoy reading it, but I don't really care.

Friday, January 20, 2012

God Help Us

A few questions to ponder: What's the deal with organized religion? Who could possibly believe that anyone has a direct line to God? What would propel anyone to give money to a regular human being, hoping he could pull the strings necessary to get them into Heaven? Who believes in Heaven? How come religion is such big business? How does it cause such destruction? What kind of lowly worm takes advantage of ignorant fools who are desperately searching for meaning in their lives? Why does the Pope wear that funny hat?

This tirade was sparked by a snippet of an interview I caught on TV a few nights ago. Oprah Winfrey, now in her "second life" and obviously no longer fussing with weight loss issues--she's fat again--interviewed pastor Joel Osteen and his bleached-blond wife, Tammy Faye. No, wait, that's not her name, but you get the point. Osteen is now one of the world's richest men, with an estimated personal worth of 40 million dollars. He lives in a 12.5 million dollar home with his slutty-looking wife Barbie. Wait, that's not her name either, but you get the point again. 

Osteen made his money as a preacher. The pathetic members of his flock, all 30,000 of them, attend weekly Sunday services at his 16,000-seat Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and I guess they give him lots of money since he has so much of it and that's his only job. They also buy his books, with titles like "Becoming a Better You" and "Your Best Life Now," and audio sermons and who knows what else, all in the name of G-O-D. The whole thing makes me want to vomit, and believe me I hate vomiting more than almost anything, except maybe Joel Osteen and his tarty wife, what's-her-name. Recently Osteen was asked if he ever feels guilty for his wealth. He replied, "I don't ever feel guilty because it comes from – it's God's blessings on my life. And for me to apologize for God's – how God has blessed you, it's almost an insult to our God."

Psssst--quick, give me a hundred bucks and I'll tell you how to become a better you. Really, my plan works, even for atheists.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Husband's Wine Friends

I don't claim to be an oenophile, I just like to drink wine. In fact, knowing the word oenophile is about as snooty as I get, wine-wise. But I know what I like, as they say, and I gotta say I like this bottle I opened a minute ago, enough to tell you all about it. It's a merlot from the Chalone Vineyard in California's Monterey County, made in 2007. It is fabulous, dahling. The label says it is "soft yet full-bodied, with rich cherry flavors and aromas enhanced by hints of oak vanilla." See, I never would have thought of that. I think it tastes delish, and is actually quite indescribable, but trust me: when it's in your mouth, you're happy. In fact, I keep it there for a minute before I swallow because it tastes so good. (That must be the oenophile in me.)

I am not one to drink cheap wine, and since my husband bought this bottle I have no idea how much it cost--could have been 12 bucks or 20. We rarely have a better bottle, unless someone died or Jim Z. brought it. Jim Z. is a friend of my husband who is deeply, severely and seriously into wine. When he brings us some, it's special. Like $65.00 worth of special, which means we'll never, ever have it again. But if you like affordable red wine, go out and get some of this Chalone Vineyard Merlot. I can't say that it's perky or too pushy or insouciant or anything at all other than "delish," which is not even a real word, I know. I guess I'm not much competition for my husband's friend's blog--different friend-- which is called Wine Zag. You should check it out (www.wine-zag.com) if you go in for that pretentious wine talk--it's full of that. And Adam Japko, the blogger of whom I speak, is a great guy who knows a lot about wine, and not a bit pretentious in person.  It's just that I think talking about a beverage is like reading a piano.

Like Me on Facebook

My breakfast this morning included two "all-natural, country style" chicken sausage links, with "a hint of sage and thyme" according to the package. The brand is Al Fresco, which they print as al fresco, all lower case. They are yummy and have only 50 calories each, which is a lot of bang for the buck if you ask me. They come fully cooked so all I do is pan-fry to heat them. Besides great taste, they get bigger the longer you cook them which is sort of fun to watch, especially when my husband is out of town.

Penis jokes aside, I like them--I really, really like them, and so does Mitch, and so we buy them often. Today, while they were heating up, I noticed something new on the package: Right next to the Gluten Free and the Pork Free symbols were the Facebook logo and the Twitter logo. Huh? What? Buying them and eating them is no longer enough; now I'm supposed to like them on Facebook and "tweet" about them too?

Of course I know the answer is yes; every one of their customers is being directed to go out and advertise for them. This blog, if it had as many readers as it got when I wrote that I wished Keith Olbermann were dead--which I still do by the way but I'm happy enough his show is off the air and he's a big, fat has-been--would be a huge advertisement. As it is, maybe one or two of you might even try the stuff after reading about it here.

In the year 2012, advertising is king. It's even going to elect our next president. Everyone is always being asked to like something on Facebook. The local spay and neuter clinic here in Freeport, Maine wants their customers to like them on Facebook. The gas station at the corner wants me to like them on Facebook, although how that would fill up my tank is beyond me, and I already like them enough out there on the corner of Route 1 and Pine. Every diner, shoe store, flower shop and savings bank now wants you to like them on Facebook, and why would you? What do you get out of it, besides an  annoying stream of advertising? And natch, Facebook and Twitter get money out of the whole deal I suppose, something to do with page clicks, and with each one their boy-genius CEOs get richer and richer.

Perhaps I should send the sausage manufacturer a link (ha) to this post and maybe they'll send me a coupon for 10% off my next purchase. As my father would say, it could happen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kudzu for President

I am not sure why kudzu gets so little press coverage. The Japanese vine has all but taken over America's southwest and is slowly moving north. The photo at right shows a house in Georgia covered with the stuff; hopefully the occupants got out of there alive.

Introduced to America in 1876 and embraced by the public as a lovely ornamental addition to home gardens, kudzu was then widely used by our government as an antidote to soil erosion during the 1930s. But it grew so fast--12 inches a day by some accounts-- that by 1972, the USDA declared it a weed. Despite its potential as an alternate source of paper, thus saving forests for future generations, it is now seen as a menace beyond control.

Love it or hate it, all agree kudzu is powerful and unstoppable. Last seen approaching the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, it's heading straight for our nation's capital. Just imagine it covering the White House, climbing the steps to the Supreme Court and filling the halls of Congress, finally silencing Nancy Pelosi's big, fat botoxed mouth; it's fun to do. Anyway, partisan politics aside, a kudzu coup in DC would certainly stop all the bickering and give those warring politicians a common enemy to attack instead of each other. It's got my vote.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Dream Day

So--happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I guess. So far, my holiday has been no picnic. It's consisted of me driving to the post office for the mail, but it was closed. Then I drove into town on icy roads in freezing temps to deposit a check in the bank so nothing would bounce, but it was closed. Then I took the garbage pails out to the end of the driveway, and the recycling can is quite large and the driveway is all frozen, but then after a few hours I remembered there was no pickup today because it's a "holiday."

Since I freed my slaves years ago, I'm at loose ends. I have no idea what to do. And I haven't even heard a word about it, either. All I've heard about today is that Jon Huntsman quit the presidential race, but nothing about this holiday that closes everything. I know, I know--he had a dream. But guess what--racism is rampant. So much for his dream.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happy Birthday to the Champ

I wrote this long ago and post it here as boxing great Muhammad Ali celebrates turning 70 on Tuesday.

It was a blistering July, and I was not happy to be spending any part of it wandering the streets of Miami Beach. Still sad over my grandfather’s death only two weeks before, I had been appointed to accompany my mother and grandmother on their quest for suitable lodgings for the new widow. While it seemed too soon for her to make such a move, just hours after her husband’s funeral Grandma had begun complaining about her plight, lamenting, “He should rest in peace, he’s dead already, but what about me, I’m all alone now!” Clamoring to get out of “that hell-hole” formerly known as her home for thirty years, Grandma was determined to spend what time she had left playing canasta on the beach with her friends who had already moved there.

With me at the wheel and my mother riding shotgun, Grandma chased her dream in a rented Buick. At first each apartment sounded perfect, but then we’d get there and Grandma would claim it was too close to the beach, or too far from the beach, or too hot, or too small or too noisy, or too quiet. By late afternoon we’d return to the hotel, have an early dinner, and then go to a movie or watch TV. At night, kept awake by my mother’s crying in the next bed, I’d carefully plot my grandmother’s untimely demise. The next morning, after perusing the classifieds at breakfast, off we’d go to view that day’s rejects, a dog-eared city map serving as our only guide.

Finally, after a week of searching, we found it--an apartment Grandma liked! It was close to her friends, on a low floor, with a nice breeze and an ocean view. We signed the lease and planned a celebratory farewell dinner that night at Wolfies’—after all, what’s not to like about pastrami on rye and a stroll down Collins Avenue when you’re happy? Arriving back at our hotel, the venerable Fontainebleau, we were just crossing the lobby when Grandma stopped walking and said, “What am I going to do here all by myself, stuck in Florida? It’s so hot here, and I’ve never been a beach person. I’m a New Yorker, after all. I think I’ll go back home with you.”

Right there, my mother lost it. It was not surprising--she and her father had been very close, and there had been little time to register his death before embarking on this trip. Her emotions spilled out, and she screamed, “I hate you, I’ve always hated you! Why couldn’t you have died instead?” My grandmother, kicking it up a notch, clutched her bosom as if she were having a heart attack, wailing, “Oy vay, I should only drop dead, how a daughter can say such things to a mother!” Everyone within earshot stood stock still. Being only 22, I had no idea what to do. I prayed I would simply melt into the floor.

Suddenly a handsome young black man in a white suit approached us. He was smiling and saying, “Ladies, ladies, calm down. What’s the problem?” As he got nearer, we recognized him as Cassius Clay—even though by then he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali—still in his prime. Reaching us, he put his arm around my grandmother and said, “Now, what’s all the fuss about?” Grandma, a world class bigot—to her, if you weren’t Jewish or at the very least white, you were nothing--looked up at him, stroked his cheek, and said, “Oy, you’re such a doll! You know, I hate all schvartzes, but you I love.” He seemed to find this comment acceptable, and the two trotted off together in the direction of the lobby bar.

The hotel physician gave my mother a strong sedative; she slept until the next afternoon. The next morning, I drove Grandma—still in fine spirits from her “date” with Ali the night before--to the airport for her flight to Baltimore, where my uncle would be waiting. (I figured, it’s his mother, let him worry about her.)

Ever since then, regardless of his wins or losses, I’ve considered Ali to be The Greatest.

Speak English

Quick, what's the meaning of chthonic? You have no idea, right? I still don't, and I just looked it up in the dictionary. But there it was, stuck in the middle of an otherwise perfectly good sentence in a review of a movie about false pretense in the good old New York Times, like a film critic is William Shakespeare all of a sudden.

I hate when a mundane writer tries to impress me with his logorrhea. It is just unnecessary, and something to be avoided at all costs, especially when you are trying to educate the masses, such as newspaper readers. If you are writing for a specialized audience, fine, go ahead with words like toothsome and puissant--otherwise just say what you mean in language I understand. After all, the goal of writing is communication. (Sorry about the logorrhea, I just couldn't help myself.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wake Me When It's Over

My husband and I are going to Florida in a few weeks, and naturally the whole ordeal fills me with anxiety. Just the very use of the word “ordeal” to describe a pleasure trip gives you some idea of my handicap, stemming from a childhood devoid of vacations. To compensate for the fact that we simply couldn't afford them, my parents implanted several messages in my still-malleable brain: vacations were a waste of time, fancy hotels were a waste of money, and that universal dictum, people were starving in Europe. They stuck, and now all these years later, despite my eagerness at visiting old friends and eating good grapefruit, I’m a little scared that our hotel will be too luxurious, causing a child somewhere in the world to go hungry. Also, besides those soaps and shampoos and conditioners and sewing kits, there’s little to take home other than feelings of inadequacy. I found that out years ago on a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, a town where shopping is a career and designer malls outnumber palm trees. After three days there I had all the self-esteem of a tadpole in the food chain.

Anticipating a few carefree days of sunbathing and possibly a lizard sighting or two, my then 10-year-old son and I had tagged along with my husband while he attended a conference held at The Phoenician, a place described in the numerous pamphlets littering our suite as "one of the Southwest's most distinctive resorts." Several things were intimidating from the get-go. For starters, all the other guests appeared to be fabulously wealthy, which was apparent from a cursory glance in the hotel’s garage. Among the Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes and Porsches, our rented Buick Skylark was an eyesore. "Maybe we should have chosen the Taurus after all--what do you think," I asked my husband. He answered with a bitter laugh as we parked in a dark corner, got out and ran.

Once safely inside ("Nowhere is the splendor of The Phoenician more prominent than in its exquisite lobby, where a stunning Italian marble entry and fountain are illuminated by magnificent crystal chandeliers"), we couldn't help noticing that the concierge, bellmen, desk clerks and chambermaids were all dressed better than we were. I panicked, but reasoned that if I just wore a Phoenician-logo robe to the Mother-of-Pearl-lined pool and stayed put, my vintage wardrobe wouldn't blow our cover. I was wrong. In a bathing suit, it was even more apparent that I was out of my league, since my one-piece Jantzen revealed the awful truth that I was packing prehistoric body parts. Bikinis were rampant, confirming my suspicion that most of the other female guests had lifted more than their suitcases before their arrival. The old ladies looked young and the young ladies - well, let's just say I finally understood the term "breast implants." I'm not sure Zack did, since he asked, "Mom, what are those things?" All I could muster was, "Honey, don't point."

While the men were away at the Golf Wars, the women killed time at The Centre for Well-Being. I didn't, mostly because you had to have planned for your well-being two weeks in advance, and I hadn't. If I had, I could have experienced one of their life-enhancing services and who knows where I'd be today. Most intriguing was the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), "an advanced technique to deal with emotional trauma and stress." Instead, I was forced to deal with the emotional trauma and stress of being there through continual doses of wine spritzers poolside.

Mealtime offered its own trials, mostly in finding something acceptable to our son, whose mantra for the trip became "Yo quiero Taco Bell." One night at dinner Zack was hard-pressed to make a selection, even though the menu said "our culinary team creates masterpieces each day with a palette of fish and fowl," and encouraged him to "raise your fork and experience these works of art." He finally showed minor interest in the spaghettini. "Exactly what is spaghettini?" I asked our waiter.
     "Spaghetti, only thinner," he answered, looking as if I had to be the dumbest person in the world.
     "Then why not just say spaghetti?" Zack asked.
     With an audible sigh and a totally visible eye-roll, the waiter asked, "Well, do you want it or not?" We picked "not," and happily jumped bail to find a Taco Bell in the neighboring real world. I must admit the Veggie Fajita Wrap never tasted better. Nestled in our Skylark, with palm trees swaying in the warm desert breeze, I finally achieved a sense of well-being and concluded that Scottsdale was pretty nice after all. But if I ever go back, I’m staying at a Motel 6.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Girls Just Wanna Run Things

And the race continues---who will make it to the finish line first? After yesterday's contest in New Hampshire, where those damn Yankees dealt a blow to that twang-talking Texan Rick Perry--yup, he's been Guvner down there for 11 years I hear tell--it looks like Mitt, or as I recently heard him called, Mittens, is still out in front. But wait, don't call it over yet--the gang at CNN and the Sunday morning pundits and all those editorial writers at the newspapers still printing have more to say. They all want more--more gossip, more nonsense, more empty calories, and so they fan the waning flames with conjecture: Maybe Newt will catch up, after all he is spending millions on negative ads against all his opponents and that's gotta hurt. Don't write off Hunstman, who came in third; despite his poor showing, according to FOX News, he's surging! And bear in mind that quirky Ron Paul has quite a strong network of supporters, all those protesters who are busy Occupying parks across the country just love him. Meanwhile, "let's keep this going a while longer," the editors whine over at TIME magazine.

Sad but true, our presidential election is a horse race and we all know that whoever wins, it will be the same old, same old within a matter of weeks. After all, the current occupant of the White House is a really smart guy who had such promise and no affairs ever, and now half the country wants him gone. The problem might be this: They're all men.

I know, I know, you're thinking, "but Michele Bachmann ran and lost." Yes, but poor Michele was a girly-girl in high heels and mascara; what we need is a strong woman who doesn't have children at home, who in fact is not even married and thus has plenty of time to do something for the common good instead of her husband's laundry.  (I'd go for it myself but I've got something on the stove.) It's time for a woman to step up and pay the bills, straighten out that mess overseas and for God's sake, clean up the hall closet; then we'll see some positive results. I mean, the guys can't even find the butter in the fridge--no wonder our country is a mess.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Next First Lady

Much has been made, by the press and by the voters, of the fact that GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Hunstman are followers of the Mormon religion. Many people see it as a "cult," which is somehow deemed less credible than a "religion," although I beg to understand the difference. Having lived in Salt Lake City for four years, I know a Mormon when I see one, and believe you me, they are pretty nutty, what with their long underwear and the no-caffeine rule which right away makes them suspect. But they're certainly not any nuttier than your run-of-the-mill religious fanatic who thinks that a white-bearded dude called God walks around in sandals and a caftan, carrying a clipboard and taking names. Quick---name a religion that is not crazy.

Lately the Catholic church has been running TV commercials to entice people to "come home to the Catholic church." They talk about the importance of family and some other stuff-- I must admit I have missed most of the narrative because of my loud laughter--but I know for sure that they don't mention the priests who molest young boys or that you might get raped during choir practice. There is also no mention of the fact that eating fish on Fridays either is allowed or is not allowed, I forget, or that the whole damn rule started as a way to sell more fish in Italy and had nothing to do with going to heaven. They don't mention birth control, which either is allowed or is not allowed this week. They don't mention all those nuns in their penguin garb who eschew men for life, which may or not be a bad idea depending on when you ask me.

The Jews, of which I am one, also cannot be accused of sanity. Bacon, which is without a doubt the most delicious food on Earth and offers a damn good reason for living, is forbidden. In fact, you can't eat anything unless a rabbi blessed it, and then anything goes--not bacon--just as long as it has a little K in a circle on the label. Dead people have to get in the ground in less than 24 hours before they start to smell. All little boys must be doctors or lawyers when they grow up. All little girls must marry them.

I will not mention the Muslims for fear of having my car explode the next time I get in it, or the Protestants or Episcopalians because they simply don't matter. You get my point: Mormon, shmormon--who cares? What really matters is the wife, and if you ask me, that Callista Gingrich is definitely not First Lady material--have you seen her hair?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Have a Nice Day While You Still Can

The recent hospitalization of one of my favorite people has me re-evaluating how I spend my time, since, being genetically predisposed towards narcissism, I take everyone's life lessons and exploit them for my own betterment. I'm not proud of this, I'm just saying that's what I do--sue me.  The patient in question is my cousin Sydney, who has has been fighting with several of her own body parts for more than the last few years, and they are certainly worthy opponents; we are not dabbling in hips or knees, we are talking heart and lungs. Sydney always manages to come out on top, despite the fact that doctors keep barging in, their rubber-gloved hands ripping open her chest cavity, performing all sorts of scary procedures to keep her ticking. No slouch, Sydney's always gotten up for the next round. But as time marches on, how can we be sure she will this time too? We can't. And with the knowledge that there but for the grace of God go I staring me in the face, my whole sorry life is again coming into question as I wait to hear if the miracle workers can perform yet another one on Sydney.

One reaction I had to the news of my cousin's illness was to stay home from a meeting this morning, one that had been called for the volunteers at the local art museum, my latest attempt at injecting meaning into my life. Meetings be damned--I hate them! I've attended enough of them to know they are nothing more than an opportunity for whoever called the damn thing to flex his/her muscles and strut around in front of a large group of employees with less power. Besides, I can't for the life of me figure out what would impel a volunteer to attend a meeting, especially when eating the donuts is not an option since I have to be in a bathing suit in Florida in less than a month. (As chance would have it, my scheduled trip is to see my cousin Sydney. Here's hoping I don't have to go sooner.)

Another reaction was to once again strongly remind myself that life is to be lived every day and one should not fritter it away in meetings or hospitals or prison or working at horrible jobs or stuck in bad relationships. And one should exercise daily and eat right, especially grapefruit and broccoli, and one should do that stupid yoga CD that's on the coffee table in the living room right now. It's a drag, that's true, but much better than being in the hospital or in a meeting.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Going Postal

Throwing caution to the wind, I opted to use the United States Postal Service to mail a package to a friend. I chose the Priority Mail option, just to be safe. It cost $10.95 for the package to go from Maine to Minnesota. It was an address I had used just a couple of weeks ago when I sent that same friend a Christmas gift. Alas, this time things went haywire, and the package was returned to me, unopened, with the dreaded "return to sender" stamp all over it, and the address crossed out with heavy black marker. I asked Angie, our postmistress, why. She said she had no idea, that she had never seen such a thing, and that because the address was blacked out I would have to pay another $10.95 to re-send it. I balked.

Angie suggested I take the matter to the supervisor of the larger post office one town over, a Mr. Jim Cressey, which I did. Jim too said he had never seen anything like it. He said I must have the wrong address. I said it was the right address. He said he couldn't read it through the black marker and so how could I be sure. I said I could read it perfectly well and it's the right address, and maybe he needs glasses. He said, "I don't need glasses anymore, I had laser surgery." I said the reason I didn't have the surgery is because I wanted to be able to see, which I can do just fine through my glasses, and perhaps that surgery isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, everyone I know who has had it squints. Then Jim said maybe the problem was that I had written #207 and not Apt. 207 or Apartment 207 or just 207, and that maybe the # sign threw the whole thing off. "Maybe that's not how they write it in Minnesota," he said. I then realized that perhaps poor eyesight was not his biggest problem.

Jim called the main post office in Minneapolis and left a message inquiring about the returned package with the mysterious black marker. He said he'll call me when he hears back from them. I noticed he was squinting. I always suspected that laser surgery sucked.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No Spitting, Unless You're a Jew

My maternal grandmother, a Polish immigrant who never learned to read or write English, had a love/hate relationship with the world. For most of the time I knew her I was too young to realize she was probably insane, and so I simply assumed she was hard to please. If I wore too much lipstick she declared me a slut. If I didn't wear any she said no man would want me and I'd die alone. (Of course, we all do anyway but she was not very enlightened.) I realized early on that almost everything Grandma said was wrong, except for this: Ultra-Orthodox Jews suck. In fact, whenever she saw one, or a clump of them as they seem to travel in groups, she would turn her head, spit on the ground, and mutter, "I spit on you!" She instructed me to do the same. I never did, since it seemed odd and extreme.

Funny thing was, Grandma was fairly tolerant of all the other groups she loathed. She was capable of saying, "I hate all schvartzes, but not her, she's a nice one." The Latino delivery boy who occasionally brought packages to the door was "a doll, even though he's a spic." And so on. But when it came to those Orthodox Jews, she took no prisoners: they were all worse than dogs and should die a horrible death.

With that kind of programming, naturally I grew up not liking them. Even now I find them a bit nutty, what with the women shaving their heads and wearing hats and wigs and ugly clothing, and the men sitting around in temple all day praying in Hebrew and doing little else, and those weird shawls with boxes hanging from them and the beards and the curly sideburns--let's just say they're not my cup of tea. But I try to keep an open mind, and if I ever met one up close I would not turn my head and spit on the ground, trust me.

So I read with interest an article in today's Wall Street Journal about the growing presence of the vermin---I mean the ultra-Orthodox--in Israel, and how they are presenting a problem to the general, non-crazy population. As more of them enter mainstream society and actually get jobs, they are bringing their own deep-rooted prejudices with them. For example, they see women as second-class citizens who must sit in the back of the city buses they use, which doesn't really fly with your typical Israeli woman. Most oppressive is their view of women in general, who they see as unclean, resulting in men-only sidewalks and separated waiting rooms at health clinics in their neighborhoods. Last week, a group of them harassed an 8-year-old girl on a suburban street: "The men spat on the girl and called her a prostitute for dressing in a way they considered to be immodest."

Again with the spitting? Maybe Grandma was onto something after all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Where's Popeye When You Need Him?

The human race, hah! That's what they call it, but you gotta wonder where they're all racing to: The finish line?

Every morning I wake up happy, delighted to have survived another night without being murdered in my sleep, what with all those nighttime home invasions in Maine. My euphoria lasts about 20 minutes on average, certainly through that first cup of coffee, until something deflating happens.

Today the good mood ended abruptly with a phone call from my husband from his comfortable First Class seat on one airline or another. He wanted to alert me to the fact that our newly renovated bathroom, the cost of which could support a small Haitian village for a year, was on the verge of disaster as the shower pipes had frozen overnight when the temps dipped below zero, a fact he had discovered at 4 am as he readied for a business trip to Chicago or Philadelphia or Dallas or Milwaukee or Atlanta--not sure which--and most especially to kick my ass into gear about solving the problem since he would soon be aloft, his favorite thing. I heard glasses clinking in the background, punctuated with high-pitched female laughter. "Ooops, breakfast is served," Mitch said, "gotta go." And with that he hung up. (Not really, but it helps the story.)

Couple of things:
1. What am I, a plumber?
2. How come a renovation that cost multiple arms and legs ends up with pipes that get frozen when you live in Maine and that is a distinct possibility each winter?
3. What about the part where the men do the heavy lifting and the women do the laundry? I do my job, in fact I've got a load in right now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Wrong Stuff

Today I stopped at the post office and distractedly grabbed whatever was inside our box, then continued on to several other errands. Once back home I was delighted to see I had gotten a small package--one of those 8.5 x 11 bubble mailers-- containing a card and something sloppily wrapped in red and green tissue paper. How exciting, I thought--just when I had finally resigned myself to not getting even one gift from anyone, here was a gift for me! I ripped it open and found a piece of folded, striped fabric too small to be used for anything, and a wooden peg rack decorated with some painted snowmen, and a homemade card depicting a smiling reindeer thanking me for a "wonderful Christmas!" And saying how great it was to have spoken with me and how we had to get together again soon, Love Melanie G___.

I decided it was a scam of some sort, a marketing ploy wherein I would Google the artist (I did) and find out all about her on her two websites (I did) and then "like" her on Facebook (I didn't) and she would have landed a whole new client for her crafts. After all, the postage only cost $2.56 and perhaps she considered it a sound investment, although the envelope added another $1.79.

After wasting too much time looking at Melanie's so-called art and deciding I had seen quite enough, I looked  more closely at the envelope and saw that it was addressed to "Andrea & Ron" with no last name at all and a completely different PO box number. It wasn't even for me, and in fact was only proof that A, our overworked postmistress Angie was still not up to speed following the harrowing rush of Christmas and B, I'm an idiot.

I was quite relieved, not at being an idiot but at not having to thank someone for that wrong stuff, even though I'm back to zero Christmas gifts this year, which kind of sucks. If you want to send me something, it's PO Box 731, South Freeport, Maine, 04078.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dark Shadows

Today is one of those days when there is nothing you can do but take pictures, especially if you just got a new camera and you have no idea how to work it. This is the reflection of the afternoon sun through the window onto the fireplace mantel in our living room. Pretty nice, huh? (Painting not by me although I wish it were.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Learn Something New Every Day

Today I read about a food craze in Trinidad called "doubles." Sold on the street by vendors, like hot dogs and pretzels in many of our big cities, they consist of a kind of fried bread smothered with chick peas and hot sauce. On Sunday mornings, the locals get up very early, like at 7 am, and go to the "doubles factory" in the town of Curepe, to get them fresh off the grill--or whatever they come off of.

I heard on the radio that flocks of blackbirds got so spooked in a little town in Arkansas last New Year's Day that thousands dropped from the sky, dead. They got all screwed up and freaked out from revelers shooting off fireworks on the night before, that they crashed into things and had little bird heart attacks and strokes, and who could blame them? Although the authorities alerted the public and outlawed fireworks in that town, it happened again today. (There's something I could have lived without knowing for the rest of my life and been happy---thanks a lot, revelers!)

I read, in a tiny little book called "Cheerful Thoughts" that we keep in the bathroom, an Indian proverb that I think offers a particularly helpful and succinct life lesson: "Call on God, but steer away from the rocks." Great advice, and it's so short you could tweet it if you are given to that sort of thing. (I personally am not.)

An article in today's New York Times Magazine suggests that after you lose a lot of weight your metabolism changes and then your body becomes your own worst enemy, preserving your fat for emergencies and causing you to gain it all back. That would certainly explain what happened to Mike Huckabee, wouldn't it?

Pretty good for one day.