Saturday, October 31, 2015

Some Silly Scary Stuff

Alas, my jack-o'-lanterns always turn out happy.
I am mildly relieved to learn that Boston has just been named the city most likely to find a cure for a zombie virus and thus stave off a related apocalypse. Thus, the residents of surrounding areas such as New Hampshire and Maine have a strong likelihood of surviving such an event. I say am only mildly relieved because I seriously doubt the zombies will get me, at least before so many rather commonplace things might. In no special order, I worry I will die sooner from one of the following:

1. A plane crash (duh)
2. Food poisoning contracted from that contaminated crap they sell in supermarkets that is always being recalled
3. A bite from a poisonous spider
4. ISIS gets here (since apparently nobody is stopping them)
5. Dropping dead if Hillary Clinton gets elected president (but then why live)
6. Soaring blood pressure causes my body to boil over
7. Some maniac crashes into me on the highway
8. Choking on food
9. A rabid pit bull eats me alive (I know they are really sweet dogs it's all in how you raise them)

So let the zombies come. At least it will be interesting.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Imagine There's No Hillary

Go ahead: bask in the glory of that thought for a while.  
In fact, while you're at it, imagine Bill's gone too. 
Nice, isn't it?
 But then what? 
What would the Democrats do? 
Who else do they have? 

Better imagine Chelsea gone too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Farewell to A Friend

Today was the first morning in the last two decades, barring vacations, that I did not awaken and find my best friend and most fastidious housemate waiting patiently for us to start the day together. She always greeted me joyfully, partly because she couldn't figure out how to make her own breakfast but also because she really, really loved me. She never thought I was "too loud" or "too cynical" or "too sharp-tongued" like some of my other housemates have. (I won't mention any names but they are humans and that's all I'll say.)

Anyway, the one who liked me the absolute most was a cat, surely one of her best qualities. Her name was Daisy and she entered my life when I lived in Salt Lake City. She liked it there but willingly pulled up stakes and moved with me to Washington, D. C. and then again to Maine, with nary a complaint about having to leave her good friends and favorite hiding places behind. She was happy just to be with me.

Now she's gone and I feel like shit. I guess I will just have to feel this way until I don't feel this way anymore.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Who Really Knows Anything?

Don't you have those days when you're just sick and tired of hearing that other people know for sure the absolute best way to do something and you're doing it wrong? Often it turns out that they're wrong but never in doubt, which adds to the frustration and embarrassment of it all. Almost as bad is listening to legitimate experts drone on about the one topic they have mastered. Sometimes I wish everyone would just shut up and go about their business, like woods animals foraging for food. You don't see large groups of them clustered together on a smoke break, spreading misinformation and outright nonsense. Usually they work alone, and silently, like Picasso or Mark Rothko or Hemingway or Jame Joyce.....

I'm thinking all this because of a little book I stumbled upon last weekend in a quaint "5-and-10-cent" store selling nostalgia in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As my husband accurately observed, the place was more like a five and ten dollar store, but alas, times have changed. Anyway, I bought a book, the kind you might leave in a guest bathroom as entertainment. Mother Knows Best: The Truth About Mom's Well-Meaning (but not always accurate) Advice shattered the few intact remains of my youth in just 140 pages.

I certainly hope the author, Sue Castle, knows what she's talking about since she pulled the rug out from under me on many fronts. For an investment of just $12.95, I now know that everything I was taught growing up is wrong. And although I already had a vague feeling and some concrete knowledge that much of my mother's "teachings" were a load of well-meaning crap, still I held onto some of it like a favorite childhood teddy bear missing half his stuffing. Surely there was some truth somewhere? Come to find out: no.

Following are some of the delusions I have been living under all my life, and I'm pretty old already. You may still have time to smarten up:
1. Don't read in dim light, you'll ruin your eyes.
2. If you get stung by a bee once, the next time will be worse.
3. Black coffee sobers you up.
4. Put butter on a burn right away.
5. Yams and sweet potatoes are the same vegetables.
6. Feed a cold, starve a fever.
7. Don't go out with wet hair, you'll catch cold.
8. Don't put plants in a sick room, they use up oxygen.
9. Don't store food in open cans in the fridge, it will spoil.
10. If you don't move, you won't get stung by a bee.
11. Shaving makes your hair or beard grow back thicker.
12. Eating too much sugar gives you diabetes.
13. Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.
14. If a dog's nose is hot and dry, he's sick.
15. Don't have sex before a competition, it saps your energy.
16. The best way to stop a nosebleed is to tip your head back.
17. Don't go swimming right after eating, you'll get cramps and drown.
18. Milk is good for an ulcer.
19. You have to suck the poison out of a snake bite.
20. Brown sugar and honey are healthier than refined white sugar.
21. Fish is brain food.

I am sticking with #7, I don't care what anyone says.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Getting Your Lard On

So my Jewish Granny had it right all along: Bacon really is bad for me.

According to an announcement released yesterday by the twenty-two scientists at the World Health Organization, bacon, hot dogs and other processed meats greatly increase your risk of cancer, just as much as smoking and breathing diesel-engine exhaust. Naturally the news has been met with dismay by all those who earn their living from hawking dead pig meat and other sorts of red meat as well. But they needn't fear since America loves its bacon, and I'm betting the possibility of contracting cancer would be considered a small price to pay for continued enjoyment of the following foods:

BLT sandwich
bacon pizza
bacon and eggs
bacon wrapped fried Oreos
bacon burgers
PB and bacon sandwich
bacon pancakes
bacon chocolate-chip cookies
bacon jam
bacon quiche

Besides the obvious and ordinary foods listed above, lately clever chefs have been sneaking bacon into all sorts of things disguised as "lardons." The formerly healthy Brussels sprout is typically served laden with these little fried devils. And my favorite salad at a local restaurant, an iceberg lettuce chopped wedge with tomatoes, radishes, onions, cukes and a hard-boiled egg, which seems healthy enough at first glance, is now loaded with lardons. Just what are these, I wondered, scarfing them down as fast as I could without choking. Turns out it's the French term for small, matchstick-cut pieces of bacon.  

Mon dieu and oy vey!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The No-Vagina Monologues

Many average Americans find it odd that Donald Trump -- real estate developer, big businessman and TV celebrity -- is running for president. Not only running, but leading the polls on the Republican side. Many more of them find it despicable, laughable, shameful and pathetic. They call him a clown, a joke, a disgusting person. To those people I say: Wake up and smell the latter days of 2015.

Oh please.
The Trumpster running for president (and hopefully getting elected--what a laugh riot that would be) pales in comparison to another recent development of our nutty popular culture: Glamour magazine, that bastion of fashion, hair and makeup devoured monthly by teeny-boppers and perhaps even some dim-witted young adults has just named Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner as its "Woman of the Year." Yes, that's right ladies, you no longer need to have a vagina to qualify as female. All you need is a couple of boobs -- fake ones are fine -- manicured fingernails, long hair and a bathing suit.

This all makes perfect sense, since many women who actually have vaginas inside their undies could surely be named "Man of the Year." In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if one day soon we see Hillary Clinton and Rachel Maddow duke it out for that title.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Putting Things in Perspective

Today I am thrilled to not have two fractured ribs, or even one. I am not feeling dizzy or faint. I do not have plantar fasciitis in either foot and can walk freely about. I didn't just have cataract surgery so don't need to put three kinds of drops in my eyes three times a day, and I can basically "see," albeit not as well as before the surgery but that's a different blog post. I am not scheduled for a colonsocopy and so am drinking a delicious cup of coffee instead of that rat poison they make you take to prepare for that dreaded examination.

I'm thankful for all of this, since each of the preceding conditions have lain me low in the recent past. But I survived, and my only affliction today is the aftermath of a silly little tick bite on my scalp. Ticks are quite common around these parts, and thus getting a bite is considered no big deal.

Only it is a big deal. I got the bite two days ago. Dutifully, I swallowed the magic bullet prescribed by the doctor to avoid developing Lyme disease, and yet.... And yet my life has been derailed. My thoughts are now consumed by the toxins released into my body by a creature the size of an uncooked buckwheat groat. My regular head now has another, smaller head on it. It is swollen. It itches. I put ice on it. I apply cortisone cream. I try not to think about it but fail miserably. I hate it.

I tell myself I should be happy I don't live in Mexico where they had a powerful hurricane yesterday, so powerful it was described by the folks over at the Weather Channel as literally THE MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE EVER RECORDED IN THE HISTORY OF THE PLANET, with sustained winds of 200 miles per hour. Scary stuff! And yet, despite the downed trees and power lines and smashed houses, the storm caused not one death. That's good news for sure, but still odd, making me wonder how so many people have died in much lesser storms in the past.

I must conclude that not everything with grave potential will have grave results. On the other hand, sometimes little things can cause big problems. (Like a tick bite.) You just never know.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fall Photo Album


Some days are too special to stay inside. Today was one of them. With October nearing a close and the trees aflame in New England, leaf-peeping was definitely in order.  Besides the autumn colors and the stunning vistas, we saw many covered bridges once we ventured into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We even saw a house inside of a covered bridge, which must have taken some doing. It was all quite a cliche, but worth seeing in person. Hard to believe this was all made by the same God that made ticks.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What Was God Thinking?

My first husband, also known as ex-husband which sounds better and less like I am planning on a third, was a student in his second year of law school during our first year of marriage. His work load was ridiculous, and pretty much our only date was going out for ice cream on a Saturday night. To help him out, I did much of the reading for one of his courses, called Torts I believe but maybe not. (That was years ago and what are torts anyway?) The only thing I remember was a famous case wherein a consumer discovered a tiny mouse head floating in his Coke bottle. Of course he sued and won a huge settlement on the grounds that he was now "permanently disgusted," becoming nauseated anytime he saw the ubiquitous Coca-Cola logo. I feel that way today, but I have nobody to sue.

Last night I discovered a tick in my head. Actually, it was in my scalp, or trying to get in, but I stopped it just in time. This being my first tick experience, and freaking out as I do over any member of the insect world, I became somewhat hysterical. Nevertheless I managed to extract the disgusting creature (see photo) and save him for further inspection by my husband (a tick expert who enjoys tramping through our woods and cutting down trees) by slapping a piece of Scotch tape on top of him (the tick, not my husband), a trick I learned from my friend Louise who is the World's Greatest Veterinarian and thus wise in these matters.

I then called my son who is even more of an expert on these matters since he lived with them in the Maine woods for two years. He said I wouldn't get Lyme disease since the ticks that carry it are so tiny they are all but invisible, and since I could see it clearly I had nothing to worry about.

Still, being me, I worried. I took a shower and washed my hair. I applied ice to the site. I went to bed miserable and dreamed about ticks all night. This morning I'm still grossed out. The thought of eating is appalling. My head still hurts. I took another shower. (My hair is really clean today.)

Such a tiny thing, yet so destructive to such a huge thing as myself. I wondered why they even exist, and so did some research and found out they exist almost exclusively as food for other disgusting insects. Here's what I really want to know: Were there two ticks included on Noah's Ark? If so, wouldn't that have led to an Ark-wide infestation? Why would God make a tick anyway? Once again we see evidence of His sick sense of humor.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Donald vs. The Barry

The Political Establishment thinks it's so smart. It thinks it knows everything. It conducts daily, sometimes hourly, polls and then proclaims "reality" based on that particular poppycock. But it doesn't really know everything. For example, it doesn't know what I think since I have never been included in any poll. So here's what I think.

Stupid (I'm betting fat) nobodies sit at home on their sagging butts on their sagging couches in front of their computers and mouth off online about Donald Trump being an asshole. Being stupid. Being a jerk. Being a hideous person. And those are the compliments.

I have never met the man so I can't speak from personal experience, but what I do know from reading about him is that he has been extremely successful at Life. He is exactly my age (actually ten days younger) but far more accomplished. He is fabulously wealthy, has a beautiful wife and raised five great children who all seem to adore him. He has seven grandchildren. He doesn't smoke or drink or do drugs, and claims to love the Bible, as if that matters but I guess it does to some people. (I've never read it.)

He has written and had seventeen books published. He had his own TV show which was quite popular I've been told. He has a great sense of humor. He hates Rosie O'Donnell, and for that he gets extra points.

I wish those nobodies sitting at home with their bags of Fritos and their Bud Lites would critique the current occupant of the White House and tell me why he's any better. I'd love to know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Film Review: THE WALK

Phillipe sets out on his famous 140-foot walk.
Unless you live in a Third World country, which you probably don't since you are reading this which means you have a digital device and some kind of power source, and are not busy fleeing a brutal dictator or escaping the clutches of ISIS, you would surely agree that ordinary life here in America is often mundane. This would explain things like pizza with bacon crust and the rise of Donald Trump. So, what to do? For one little Frenchman, walking on a wire strung between two opposite points is his antidote to crushing boredom. Seeing this movie about how he does it just might be yours.

Director Robert Zemeckis, the magical maker of Forrest Gump, Cast Away, The Polar Express, Romancing the Stone, and Back to the Future, has done it again: He grabs your brain and messes with it for a couple of hours, and when he gives it back it is somehow changed. In his latest, The Walk, a fictionalized version of a true occurrence that made world headlines, he offers a rare opportunity to experience what it's like to straddle a thin cable strung between the Twin Towers, 1,362 feet above the streets of New York City.

Philippe Petit, a Parisian sprite of a man who spent his early life as a street performer, juggler, and eventually freelance wire-walker, had a burning desire to walk between the towers, then nearing completion in 1974. He set about assembling a team of helpers to get the job done. Since the planned caper (called "the coup") was most assuredly illegal, suddenly it's like we're in on a bank heist and rooting for the bad guys. We see it all come together, privy to months of intricate logistical planning and the solving of technical requirements. By the time the big day rolls around we're on the edge of our seats. And even though we know the coup was a success and that our little hero did not plummet 110 stories to his death, still we hold our breath and wonder: Will he make it? The movie is that good.

It's also funny and charming, with endearing performances by all of the actors, none of whom I recognized except for Ben Kingsley who has a small part in which he shines, as always. Throughout it all the glittering musical score enhances the stunning and often perplexing visuals: Just how did they recreate the towers so perfectly? It's simply a great film, and leaves you with two thoughts: First, now what? Your old life simply will not do. And second, gee I miss those Twin Towers. They sure were beautiful.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Strange Fruit

I ate a strange fruit from this Kousa dogwood tree and lived to tell the tale!
Last Sunday I finally did something interesting. Okay, yes, my life is boring, I admit it. Same old same old: Where should we eat. Do the laundry. See a movie. Feed the cats. Work on my book. Promise to start a new painting but don't. Then suddenly there was new stuff going on right in front of me I knew nothing about, and it was downright fun, even more fun than getting stoned and watching The Hangover again. And part of the joy of learning something new was the fact that the teacher was a pretty cool guy.

A walking tour of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland, specifically to find what are termed "wild edibles," was conducted by my son Zack, who has begun sharing his considerable knowledge about the natural world gleaned from several years of study at a local living school nestled deep in the Maine woods. Wild edibles are plants that grow naturally in this climate and bear fruit, leaves or roots that are edible. Just like apples and peaches and pears and all the rest of the common things we buy in stores, there are lesser-known fruits all around us that can be eaten or cooked to be used in jams, jellies and candies. In many cases they are even free for the picking.

Included on Zack's tour, which encompassed perhaps a square mile, were crab apples, acorns, milkweed and numerous kinds of berries hanging in heavy clumps off vines and bushes. One dark purple mini-grape tasted more like grapes than store-bought grapes ever taste, in fact they tasted exactly like grape Lifesavers. And a certain kind of dogwood tree was laden with a weird-looking fruit that resembles a miniature medieval weapon (See photo). Scary at first, it turned out to have a sweet, tangy, mango-like flavor once I got the courage to squeeze it open.

I'm smarter now, but I might need a refresher course because I'm pretty sure I forget which ones look perfectly fine but are actually poisonous. (There were several of those look-alikes, so don't try this on your own without a very knowledgeable guide.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

It Wasn't Me

Fortunately these do not go off by themselves.
Things are bad all over. War, typhoons and mudslides are all bad. But even worse: A six-year-old boy in Chicago shot and killed his three-year-old brother "by mistake." What was the mistake? Was he really going for his mother and missed? The gun was said to have been on top of the refrigerator. It belonged to the father, a gang member.
Whose fault was this? I wonder, could it have been my fault? Certainly the lefty witch Rachel Maddow could spin it that way, and probably will.

I am now well into my sixth decade on this planet and have never held a gun. I've never even seen one up close. There was never a gun on top of our refrigerator when I was six, or any age. But then, my father was never a gang member, unless you count his Thursday night bowling league.

Taking responsibility for one's actions instead of looking around for who else to blame -- the NRA, Republicans, George W. Bush -- would change so many things. Try it. Start within your own family. (I hope my husband reads this.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Whither the Proud Parent?

Someone's perfect grandchild.
I have often mentioned my fascination with how a doctor can be your gynecologist for eons, and then when you get pregnant he morphs into your obstetrician. You no longer call him your gynecologist, and nobody else does either, he is your obstetrician and that is that. His whole concern in life is that baby inside you: He tells you what to eat for the baby and to rest in bed for the baby and don't gain too much wait for the baby. Forget asking him about anything else. But right after you give birth, like a minute later, the doc magically turns back into your gynecologist and has nothing to do with the baby, and some staffer is immediately dispensed to find a pediatrician to check out the newborn.

Similarly, the very same thing happens when grandchildren arrive on the scene. Right up until that little one is born, we hear news about their son or daughter from the proud parents. "My son just graduated, my daughter got a job, my son is getting married, my daughter is pregnant," etc. We see pictures of the children as they grow and prosper. Then the grandchild comes along and it's like the kids died. You never see or hear about them again. All the photos are of the baby, the baby, the adorable baby, oh here's another one, now there are two babies, and then three. But never another word about sons or daughters.

The epitome of this trend showed up on my Facebook page today. A woman I knew back in high school posted pictures of a cute little baby nestled in the arms of an adult woman and adult man. The caption underneath read, "My adorable grandson Ben, with his parents."

I had to ask if she were related to his parents in some way. After all, perhaps the child had been kidnapped or given up for adoption. I did not want to assume, because you know what happens then, but you'd think she might have mentioned which of her adorable grandson's parents had once been her own adorable child.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

There's No Right Way to Die

A friend recently asked, "How do you want die?" Without skipping a beat I replied, "in my sleep." But then he pointed out how things might not be ready, and what if you didn't have a chance to say goodbye to your loved ones, and several other disadvantages of just drifting off and never waking up. We then discussed other options and never agreed on any as satisfactory. Little surprise there, for Death has such a bad rep.

On the other hand, I did come up with lots of ways I don't want to die. The leading contenders are listed below, and are all ways people have died that have made the news:

1. Being eaten alive by a rabid Doberman in the hallway of my apartment building, right outside my own door.
2. Falling out of a window from a high floor in an apartment building.
3. Jumping from a high floor of a building instead of being burned to death.
4. Being eaten alive by sharks after my deep-sea diving excursion boat mistakenly leaves without me.
5. Getting run over in my own driveway by my father.
6. Being doused with gasoline and lit on fire.
7. Driving along the highway and having an 18-wheeler fall on me from an overpass.
8. Contracting fatal food poisoning from watermelon at an All-You-Can-Eat salad bar.
9. Being electrocuted at my kitchen sink while doing dishes during a thunderstorm.
10. Getting trampled by other people on the way to a prayer meeting (or a rock concert or at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday.)

What's Your Title?

This is what my husband might call me.
If Dr. Ben Carson becomes our next president, will he be referred to as Dr. President Carson? Or perhaps Dr. Mr. President, or Mr. Dr. President Ben Carson? Just how will that work? And besides, he is retired but we still have to call him doctor. Why is that?

It's odd that certain titles stick forever, even in the case of a fool and even if that fool only held the job for a little while. One fool that pops into mind is Sarah Palin, who was the governor of Alaska for a 20-month period ending in 2009, yet she is still called "Governor" today, six years later.

I never earned a title other than "Mrs." and "Mommy," later shortened to "Mom." Even though my son is closing in on twenty-eight, I have not retired from either position, still doing my husband's laundry and offering Zack advice and chicken soup when requested. So from now on I shall be Mrs. Mom Andrea Rouda, despite what my husband mutters under his breath from time to time. (See photo.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Movies I Missed

Even though I started out life just like everyone else, I have ended up different in ways that keep me from truly understanding what the heck is going on much of the time. I have often wondered why this is the case, and suddenly it came to me: I missed too many of those big movies that come along every so often and unite everyone. Naturally I never get the inside jokes or references from these films that so many people share. This may be my whole problem! This is an exciting thought, and I am considering watching all of them over the next few weeks and seeing if maybe then I like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Following is a list of the films that got by me. Sure, I've seen snippets and trailers and I know who starred in what and sort of what they're about, but really, I have no idea what happened. How about you--are you in the loop?

Risky Business
Forrest Gump
Citizen Kane
Pretty Woman
The Dark Knight
Funny Girl
Brokeback Mountain 
The Color Purple
Any Star Wars movie
Any Harry Potter movie
Lawrence of Arabia
The Exorcist
The Shawshank Redemption
Reservoir Dogs
Any Lord of the Rings movie
Saving Private Ryan
National Lampoon
A Clockwork Orange
The Deer Hunter
Last Tango in Paris
High Noon
Any Hobbit movie
Animal House

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Right If You Think You Are

Pirandello explores the need to be right!
This morning a friend of mine posted a video on his Facebook page entitled "Life is Beautiful." It tells the story of an 82-year-old Frenchwoman, Francine Christoph, who spent time in a German concentration camp as a young girl. Her story, told in French with subtitles, moved me to tears, as I'm sure it did many other viewers. It went like this:

Francine's mother, also held captive, had hidden away some chocolate as a surprise for her daughter when things got too hard to bear. But a woman in their barracks was pregnant, and as she went into labor amid the surrounding horrors of the Holocaust, Francine's mother asked her daughter to forfeit her treat in order to ease the burden of the woman giving birth. Francine readily agreed. The baby was born and six months later the war ended. They all went their separate ways.

Many years passed. Now an old woman, one day Francine attended a lecture on the mental damages wrought by the Holocaust. The psychologist giving the talk approached her afterwards, asked her name, and then handed her a bar of chocolate. "I'm the baby," she explained.

This video being on Facebook, naturally it received scores of comments. More than a few of them were focused on the fact that Francine, in telling the story, had referred to the baby as "he," but it turned out to be a woman. What happened? Were the subtitles wrong? Was the translation incorrect? Was the story even true? The debate raged on.

It caused me to wonder why so many people are so intent on being right at all costs, despite there being greater issues to consider.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Learning from Kim Kardashian's Butt

Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook. These computer apps are often referred to as examples of "social media." Actually, I believe that is an erroneous description, as they all lead to anti-social behavior. This can be seen in any restaurant in any city at any time of day or night, where diners across from one another sit with their heads bowed, texting or scrolling their iPhones instead of talking to the person sitting directly across from them. Eye contact among young people is quickly becoming obsolete, and with many of them considering it unnecessary or downright rude.

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about how businesses can "learn from the stars" how to market their brands using social media, citing Kim Kardashian as someone to emulate. "Being well liked on social media can enhance a star's career, with many celebrities openly admitting their careers have been significantly aided by the likes of Instagram," it advises. Since joining Instagram in 2012, Ms. Kardashian, she of the no talent and huge and mostly artificial butt, has posted more than 3,180 images. I'm guessing quite a few of them were of the aforementioned butt. (See photo above.)

I usually like to stay current to keep up with my 20-something son, but my line in the sand stops at Facebook. All those other websites seem like nonsense. And when I meet my good friend for lunch later today to celebrate her turning sixty, I'm certain we will look right at one another and not at our phones. Just that fact alone makes up for all the wrinkles.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Go Your Own Way

I guess he sent a postcard? Or maybe a text?
I have recently met a new friend who was raised inside a religious cult but found the courage, in her mid-fifties, to break free after a lifetime of indoctrination. Another old friend of mine was raised in a religious cult and found the courage to break free when she was just 18. I applaud both of them, since the decision to join those groups was, in each case, made for them by their parents at birth.

I have never understood the appeal of behaving a certain way while you are here in this life, the only one we know for sure is real, in order to possibly have a better time in the next one which nobody knows with any certainty exists. Still, joining a flock remains quite popular. Here are just a few worldwide statistics concerning the most popular cults:

Mormons: 15 million
Jehovah's Witnesses: 8.2 million
Church of Scientology: 40,000
Unification Church: 1-2 million
Catholic Church: 1.25 billion
Hasidic Jews: 90,000 to 100,000
Amish: 128,700

It's a mystery. I can barely find someone who wants to see the same movie as I do, yet here are all these folks who follow the same set of complicated rules every day of their lives and are happy to do so. On the plus side, I guess those church members never have to see a movie alone (if they're even allowed to see movies).

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Aging Symphony

Yesterday afternoon my husband and I had a rare and wonderful experience, even rarer since moving to Maine. We attended the symphony and heard some honest-to-goodness, authentic classical music. The program included Dvorjak, Beethoven and Berlioz. There were several choirs on hand for a grand finale, and about 40 violins, 15 violas, a grand organ, a harp, the whole shebang. It was like a dream.

The only odd note, no pun intended, was the fact that the audience looked like the cast of "Cocoon." The tip-off was the eight or ten mini-vans unloading people in wheelchairs out front of the Merrill Auditorium. The vans were emblazoned with logos for communities like Sunset Grove, Pine Point Manor and Breezy Shores.  It took forever to get to our seats, as you might imagine; while not everyone was in a wheelchair, plenty of patrons were using walkers or canes. It certainly was a different crowd than the one I was in several weeks ago to see Dave Chappelle (at the same venue), when I might have been the oldest person in the whole place. But infirm or not, we all shared one important thing: a love of classical music.

The lady sitting next to me admitted to being 97, and while she had a sprightly personality, she looked so frail I was afraid she might not last through the concert. She explained that her husband had died in May at age 99, after which she moved up here from the Connecticut house she had occupied for 73 years to be near her "kids," who are 70 and 73. She doesn't welcome Maine's tough winters, but she's happy not to have to do any snow shoveling this year, as her assisted-living community takes care of all that for her. Since we both have season tickets, as we said goodbye I said I would see her again next month. She replied, "Hopefully."

With such an aging fan base, I worry about what will become of classical music after the last dinosaur dies off. That should just about coincide with Kanye West being sworn in as president.

Back Off!

There are plenty of bad people in the world. Fortunately, the lion's share are caught and sent to prison, which is good since it keeps them away from the nice people. But many of the worst of them roam freely among us, threatening our safety and sanity and eroding our feelings of good will toward all.

These people are heartless and stupid. They lack the ability to reason, yet are granted unlimited power. Chameleon-like, they hide their true colors until they are seated behind the wheel of a car, positioned right behind you. They are the tailgaters.

We all know what they do; there is no reason for me to explain it. Our only weapons against them are the car horn and the brake, both of which have the potential to hurt us more than them. It's a bad situation with no solution.

As Sgt. Esterhaus told his men each week on TV's greatest cop show ever, Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there." (God, I miss that show.)

Friday, October 9, 2015

F**K Hillary Clinton

Imagine if the headline above appeared in an article in a national publication with a circulation of 953,320 instead of just a personal blog with a few dozen regular readers. Heads would roll. (In fact, I wish Hillary's head would roll, right off her fat neck.) But somehow the churlish Democrats think it's fine to denigrate Republicans in the most outrageous ways, as is done to Dr. Ben Carson in the current GQ magazine by an author whose name I won't mention because, like all those crazy shooters, I wouldn't want to glorify him.

I wonder, can politics get any uglier (than Hillary's face)? Let's just wait and see.

Ask the Racial Ethicist

Big fat white pig: Never an appropriate moniker.

Dear Racial Ethicist:  Last week, a Democratic black professor at the University of Pennsylvania called Republican Dr. Ben Carson "a coon," and now everyone is in an uproar over her supposedly racist comment. But I thought that was allowed, since all those rap singers call each other "nigger" (or is it "nigga"), and they never get in any trouble and in fact usually get tons of Grammys and other awards. It's all so confusing. I read that the definition of coon is "an offensive term for a black person." Can't you ever say anything offensive about black people? Doesn't the,"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me," rule also apply to them? How should we handle this touchy situation? --Perplexed in Peoria

Dear Perplexed:  Apparently the rule goes like this: "When a white person calls someone a coon, they are slurring all black people, but within the black community, the term is not a racial slur, and it’s not interchangeable with the multi-purpose n-word." So says a Liberal watchdog website devoted to such matters. Since the female professor who tweeted the insult is black but is also fairly fat, I suggest that Dr. Carson retaliate by calling her a "fatty," or maybe even "a big fat pig." (See photo.) That should fix her wagon. After all, most women would choose to be a size 8 coon than a big fat white pig any day.--R.E.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

I Love My Mantra

Beatle George Harrison in guru attire.
I used to think it was all so complicated: Meditation and mantras and yoga and all that Eastern stuff. It seemed like it would require trips to India, something I refuse to do because of the long, uncomfortable flight packed inside a tiny tube high up in the sky. So I was doomed to never really "get it," not in the same way the Beatles "got it" after they hung out with their guru in India for awhile and George went all "Hare, Hare, Krishna, Krishna" on us.

I felt stuck as an American, with cruddy American ideals and habits filled with shopping malls and advertising and TV laugh tracks and celebrities and junk food and Starbucks and all that other crap that makes us the greatest nation in the word, ha ha ha.

But then I started reading books by certain people who made it easy for me to "get it," and after enough reading and enough practice, now I've "got it," and it's not complicated at all, not even a little. It's all just a way to stop thinking terrible thoughts or obsessive thoughts or any thoughts and just be, breathe and accept, without judgement or expectations.

The mantra is nothing more than a word or group of words to think over and over, instead of thinking, "I might have a brain tumor, he never called me back, that woman drives me nuts, I forgot to mail that check, that guy is a total asshole, am I wasting my life, is that a new mole, I need snow tires, these pants make me look fat, am I fat, could it be cancer." It's much nicer and calmer to think, "Om mani padme hum," over and over and over and over until all the bad thoughts are beaten down into a slimy pulp you can just wash down the drain in your shower.

The best part is you can do it right here in America. I love it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Messed Up, But Nice Nails

Admit it: Everywhere you look these days, things are messed up. In addition to Donald Trump leading in the Republican polls despite having the most "unfavorables," and Hillary Clinton leading among Democrats even though 60% of them find her "untrustworthy," I read about a nail polish manufacturer named Julep that earned $20 million last year. Or it might have been billion, I always get those two confused. The point is, you get my point. Nails are big business.

Refugees swarm the borders, people are hungry the world over, entire families are sleeping in their cars, random gun violence is up, and still women (and some men) are spending upwards of $14 a bottle for nail polish, and much more than that for professional manicures so they don't have to put the stuff on themselves. Pedicures are also rampant, which I find even more insulting. Your feet are utilitarian tools for walking and usually covered most of the time; must their tiny, little nails sport bright colors? To what end? Apparently, to be photographed for foot selfies that end up on Facebook.

So, feeling out of the loop, last week I gave myself a manicure using a bottle of nail polish I got at the CVS for $2.99. The color is called "Nervosa." (It spoke to me.) And here I am ten days later and it's all chipped. I haven't removed it yet because that nail polish remover smells so bad, so before I do I took a couple of my own selfies. Shown above is one of my right hand.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Beethoven's Fifth, Country Style

The following story takes place in Bryans Road, Maryland, a truly magical hamlet akin to the mythical Brigadoon. Here, where the Potomac River intersects with a tidal tributary called the Pomonkey Creek, anything can happen. It was written by Carrie Staples, a dear friend and accomplished author with an eye for the unusual and an ear for the unexpected.

Mr. Greene moved into a house down the road and almost immediately set up a chicken coop in a corner of his expansive driveway.  He bought hens and a rooster from Marcy and Rick, the local farmers who sell fabulous eggs and produce jams and jellies. I walk twice a day, so I pass Mr. Greene's house four times each day.  Soon after the hens arrived I was greeted with a fabulous rooster call unlike any I had ever heard. He called, "Ta, Da, Da, DUH!" It sounded just like the opening to Beethoven's Fifth (Symphony), so I named him that. 

I listened attentively for his call whenever I passed and smiled joyfully each time. Then one day, he didn't call. I heard a rooster but it wasn't the same dramatic crowing. First I assumed Beethoven's Fifth had a cold or a sore throat. But he never 'got better'. My uplifting morning and afternoon melodies were gone.  For many months I thought sadly of him as I walked past the Greenes' residence.
Meanwhile the Mustang collector, on the circle around the corner, built two chicken coops in an area much smaller than Mr. Greene's. And he has three tiny, yapping dogs. Added to the barking dog racket were the rooster crows, causing me to wonder how their poor hens could possibly lay eggs under such stress.  All this thinking about hens took up a large part of my walks.

Then one morning, out of the blue, the unmistakable sound of Beethoven's Fifth rang out once again, coming not from the Greenes' chicken coops but from those of the Mustang collector!  His song followed me around the circle and part of the way home. I was thrilled. I assumed the Greenes had returned the overly vocal Beethoven's Fifth to Marcy and Rick and eventually the Mustang collector acquired another rooster from Marcy and Rick. And while I wish his living conditions were more hospitable, still I celebrate the joy his song brings to my walks. "Ta, Da, Da, DUH!" 

I don't know if this is what happened. It is my fantasy.  I have never actually seen Beethoven's Fifth, the rooster, only the hen houses from a distance. And my husband says I need a hearing aid.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking to Fly A Little Higher

Wingsuiting seems too extreme.
On this beautiful October morning here in rural Maine, which is about as nice as life gets, at least my life, since I don't own a house in Provence or a villa on Lake Como, I am wondering if it's possible to get sick of yourself. Because if it is, I am, and utterly. Sick of my pesky medical problems that have no diagnosis, and especially sick of my increasing boredom with things that many others find interesting. It's time to turn in my brain and get a new one. I wonder where and how one does that, short of having a lobotomy which I definitely do not want.

So, since common wisdom defines stupidity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I guess I'll have to do some new things and see what happens. I am not going as far as wingsuiting, that relatively new sport that is becoming quite popular, but I may try to push my own envelope at least a little. Something's gotta give.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Film Review: THE MARTIAN

Here's what you need to know: Watching Ridley Scott's latest film, "The Martian," is tons of fun, and might even warrant a second viewing. (Next time I'm going with the 3-D version.) Except for a gruesome scene early on where he performs surgery on himself, actor Matt Damon is his usual cheery self despite horrible odds in this fairy tale about an astronaut who mistakenly gets left behind and presumed dead on Mars.

Matt Damon channels Clint Eastwood as he surveys his new digs on pretend Mars.
As Mark Watney, a brilliant botanist facing four years alone on the red planet until the next scheduled NASA mission could possibly rescue him, his preposterous problem-solving abilities would put physicist Stephen Hawking to shame. In addition to his surgical skills, Watney figures out how to grow food and make water, thus staving off certain death. (Chances are if he had enough time he'd figure out how to remove a rib and make himself a woman.) And besides saying the F-word several times, he maintains a positive attitude throughout that is almost too hard to believe. But then so is the whole movie, where everything always works and if it doesn't, a little duct tape fixes it right up. (Smiley face!)

Never fear, there's more to this story than life on Mars. Back on Earth, a puffy-faced Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA leads a team of kooky, nerdy scientists bent on bringing Watney home after a random ping on a computer alerts them to the fact that he's still alive. And led by a dour Jessica Chastain as their boss, his original crew mates, now heading home on their super-cool Lego spaceship, scrappily jump at the chance to participate in Watney's rescue, even though it means another 500-plus days away from their families. But hey-- no problem, what with all the video chatting, time literally flies by.

There are lots of floating astronauts, giant computer screens at NASA headquarters and enormous panoramas of a desolate landscape that looks like a cross between certain parts of Utah and a video game. And despite an underlying feeling that something bad is about to befall our hero, it doesn't. Complicated equipment that has lain buried under the sand for years springs to life in minutes; all you gotta do is dust everything off and plug this tube here into that hole there, and voila--it's a Martian miracle! Nope, it's just Hollywood at its finest, and definitely worth the price of admission.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Potentially Historically Funny Post

Right now I am drinking a cup of potentially life-threatening coffee in my potentially life-threatening living room. There are potentially dangerous winds outside, and any one of them could shatter a window, sending shards of glass into the room that could lodge in my heart and kill me. Or else tiny pieces of broken glass could land in my coffee cup and I could drink it and that would be that. At least according to the writers at Huffington Post, who see the potential dangers in everything and say so in their headlines.

For example this morning, the expected and downright hoped-for hurricane not making its way to the East Coast is turning out to be quite a disappointment to all those weather forecasters who live for these situations. Still, they manage to spin it to sound bad, saying things like, "Even though Joaquin is very unlikely to make a direct hit on the U.S., rich tropical moisture will still be involved in the soaking setup in the East." Well, at least that!

Here's how it usually goes: It starts with a bit of wind somewhere, which is then termed a potential tropical disturbance. Even ordinary rain can lead to saturated soil which in turn leads to potential flooding, which is always life-threatening. That graduates into a potential tropical storm, then a potential Category 1 hurricane, and if all goes well, a true Category 4 hurricane the likes of which nobody, nowhere has seen for lo these many years. The jackpot would involve words like "serious, severe, destructive, dangerous," and, the most revered of all, "historic."

The thing I don't get is this: Isn't everything historic once it happens?

Friday, October 2, 2015

No Wonder We're All Fat

If the news doesn't improve, and soon, I'm going to need a whole new wardrobe by Christmas. Just today I ate a glazed stick from Dunkin' Donuts, something I never, ever do except under great duress or if I lose a bet. This culinary debauchery came close on the heels of a huge bowl of popcorn (if a bowl of anything can be said to have heels), sprinkled liberally with grated Parmesan cheese. Now I feel sick to my stomach and am filled not only with junk food but also guilt and remorse.

It's all that damn shooter's fault. As the gruesome facts of another mass murder on another college campus slowly come to light, one can hardly do anything but try to assuage the pain. For me it's with food, which is so dumb: Clearly, my eating out of control does nothing for anyone, even me. But it does help to understand why the whole world is getting fatter by the minute. Following are the latest statistics from the World Health Organization as of January 2015:
  • Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980.
  • In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults 18 years and older were overweight. Of these, over 600 million were obese.
  • Most of the world's population live in countries where being overweight kills more people than being underweight.
  • 42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2013.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

America's New Normal

Happily the following instructions do not apply to people in Maine, our state motto being "The Way Life Should Be." Since it's October, all you Mainers should get outside and enjoy this most glorious month of the year. Rake leaves, clean up your gardens, place your pumpkins and mums artfully about your property. But for all of you in the lower 47, unless you absolutely have to go out, stay in your homes.

Besides it being hurricane season, young children are getting transgender surgery at an ever-increasing rate, Iran and Russia are plotting against us, flooding and forest fires are commonplace, mass murders are rampant, Donald Trump is running for president and Hillary Clinton lies like a rug. All the newscasters telling us about everything look exactly alike, the women with long blonde hair parted on the side, sporting large dangling earrings and low-cut, brightly colored polyester dresses showing a lot of leg, the men in suits, ties and hairpieces when necessary.

While you're at home, stay away from the windows. Keep the shades drawn. Turn off the news, bake a pie, make some popcorn. Do exercises, read, clean the fridge. Wash the floors and windows. Watch DVDs of old comedies. Listen to doo-wop. Wait for the all-clear from your local authorities.