Thursday, June 30, 2016

Look Out, Here Comes Summer

Iced tea has been a favorite since the days when women wore dresses and men did the grilling.
For folks like me, summer is a burden. Recently a friend confided that he "hates the sun," asking if I understood. I did, all too well. A sunny day precludes such options as feeling down, being depressed, or even mildly upset. If it's  a beautiful day, you damn well better enjoy it or there's something wrong with you. Underscoring this message are all those TV commercials for iced tea where everyone is young and beautiful and having a blast, grilling burgers and playing Frisbee with golden retrievers and lounging on hammocks without a care in the world. Nobody is fat or sick or disabled, at least not in summer. Instead they are the epitome of health, luxuriously tanned and oblivious to world events. Forget about the recent bombing in Turkey, but slather on more sunscreen since summer's worst worry is a sunburn.

Even though the season snuck in with little fanfare about ten days ago, the real kick-off to good times is this very weekend, commonly called the Fourth of July despite the calendar date. Now you're talking! Family picnics, fireworks, barbecues, sailboat races and all that other summertime fun reaches a fever pitch in celebration of America's birthday (or founding or something like that), fueled by beer, wine and whiskey.

 Hadlock Field, home to the Minor Leagues.
Always eager to catch the spirit, join the crowd and be all he can be, my husband is taking me to a baseball game this evening. He scored some great seats and it promises to be a fun outing, although I doubt the contest between the Portland Sea Dogs and the Hartford Yard Goats will be one for the record books. Then again, Hadlock Field is far less likely to suffer a terrorist attack than Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, so good for us. And in case you wondered, Hadlock Field was named in honor of Edson Hadlock Jr., baseball coach at Portland High School from 1950-1978.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Sad, Steady Decline of the Caesar Salad

Once upon a time a Caesar salad was a beautiful thing. Comprised of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, a raw or coddled egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, and lots of fresh black pepper, when ordered in restaurants it was prepared by a chef right at the table, an experience I cherished growing up in New York.

According to Wikipedia, the glorious dish was invented by an Italian immigrant named Caesar Cardini who operated several restaurants. Legend has it he invented the dish one busy 4th of July holiday when his kitchen was depleted and he ran out of ingredients; flying by the seat of his pants, he threw in this and that. The first documentation of Caesar salad dates to 1946, when popular newspaper gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote: "The big food rage in Hollywood—the Caesar salad—will be introduced to New Yorkers by Gilmore's Steak House."

Caesar salad being prepared the way God intended.
Caesar salad-wise, those indeed were the good old days, unlike now when the bastardized version is on every menu of every place that serves food, from crummy lunch joints and lowly diners to those 5-star "farm-to-table" establishments that take themselves so seriously, as if all food doesn't come from a farm and end up on a table. Today I ordered one for lunch at a pretentious local restaurant which pretentiously has the word bistro in its name even though we are in Maine and there's nothing European about it, except of course for the pretentiousness. 

To be kind, the salad sucked. It was nothing but a bowl of chopped up romaine lettuce adorned with four or five slivers of Parmesan cheese and some bottled dressing slathered on top. There was not an anchovy in sight, forget a raw egg or any of those other things, like God forbid a million times, croutons!  (Our waitress finally remembered and brought some in a little dish.)

Making matters worse, today's pretend Caesar salads give the diner the option of adding on some sort of grilled protein slab, like salmon, chicken or steak. (Chef Cardini must be spinning in his grave.) This steady decline in the recipe is just one more example of how much worse life is for my son than it was for me. I swear the next time he comes for dinner I'll fix him a real one, right at the table. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Selling Fear on the Internet

I woke up with my usual worries clattering inside my brain: Will my blood pressure skyrocket, will I contract a staph infection from my pedicure later today, and what is that huge bump on my head -- the result of a bug bite or a brain tumor? I got up and made some coffee; caffeine would put an end to all that nonsense. Then I opened my computer to see if my son who is away had posted anything overnight and was instantly assaulted by a whole new set of things to worry about, including:

Crepey skin (I already have it but I try to forget.)
Lung cancer (I was diagnosed with it once and they were wrong.)
Racism (It's rampant and I'm Jewish.)
An AMTRAK train crashing into my car (One comes right through our town and I drive over the tracks many times each day.)
Getting shot dead by my husband with a crossbow (Mitch is always talking about wanting to take archery lessons and in fact owns a crossbow.)
Being caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone bad (There was one of those in Augusta, Maine yesterday, in a Walmart parking lot. Good thing I never shop there.)
My pet getting trapped inside our home in a fire (Could happen any time which is why I always have to go back and check if I left a candle burning in the bathroom whenever we go to a movie.)

Some days staying in bed seems so appealing.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It's Never Too Late

Most of the time I am quite out of it. This was not true years ago, when I was always very with it. But things have gotten away from me. For example, I don't binge-watch anything. To me the very word binge implies Entenmann's chocolate-chip cookies. I don't know anything about "Game of Thrones." Is it a movie? A TV series? A video game? Books? All of those? I have never heard Taylor Swift sing. In fact, I have never seen her do anything except attend all those award shows and date different men, then break up with them. Is that her talent?

It all started with those damn Harry Potter books. When the first one showed up our son was ten years old, and so my husband and I thought one of us should read it to make sure it wasn't too weird or crazy and possibly a bad influence. Mitch offered and plowed through the first one, said it was fine and that was that. Zack read them all and didn't seem any different, and so I saw no reason to follow suit. But then suddenly it seemed like everyone was talking about hogwarts and muggles and a wizard school in England and I was out in the cold without a sweater. (Is that even an expression?)

I'm going to start that first Harry Potter book today. Who knows where it will lead.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Most Unwelcome Immigrant

We are all God's creatures, that much cannot be disputed. But some of us were made on a a day when God was in a good mood, possibly a Friday, while others were obviously made on a Monday at the start of a grim work week when He was not yet up to speed despite his preceding rest the day before. (I hope this is not the case with my orthopedic surgeon since my upcoming hip surgery is scheduled for first thing on a Monday morning.) 

Anyway, the browntail moth caterpillar is surely a Monday creation. It's bad through and through, and this year in Maine things are even worse than usual with double the population of the little buggers, something about last winter being relatively mild. (A clear example of how there's no such thing as a free lunch.) 

What makes them suck so much are their invisible-to-the-naked-eye poisonous hairs that cause a blistery, itchy skin rash on sensitive individuals. This is a result of either direct contact with the caterpillar or from contact with their airborne hairs, which are dislodged from the living or dead caterpillars or from cast-off skins when the caterpillar molts. Put plainly, the damn hairs are everywhere there are trees, and if you've ever been to Maine you know we have plenty of those.

Most people develop a localized rash that can last for a few hours up to several days, but on some sensitive individuals the rash can be severe and last for several weeks or longer, as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs has been reported and can be serious, especially affecting people with asthma. These days an annoying cough can be heard throughout the state.

Which reminds me, we coughed up $250 early this spring to spray for the moths on our property. Almost all of our neighbors did the same, so we are living in a somewhat safe zone on our street. Alas, many things cause me to leave our street, for example going to buy food or see the dentist or dine out or go to a movie or to the doctor or to visit family or to pick up the dry cleaning -- you know, living my life. Being a sensitive type I currently itch from head to toe all the time and have for weeks, except when I'm in the shower or sleeping.

Not a native, the invasive browntail moth arrived in the United States in the 1880s in a shipment of roses from Europe. They then spread through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia before the population collapsed, and are now only found in North America on the coast of Maine. They obviously have never heard Maine's state motto, The Way Life Should Be, 'cause this sure ain't it.

A Brexit Exit

Why can't we have one of these? (Benjamin Netanyahu, Angela Merkel, David Cameron)

Brexit, shmexit -- all I know is that David Cameron is resigning his position as Prime Minister and I'm bummed about it. Besides being so handsome, intelligent and articulate, he's always great fun to watch on C-Span when they broadcast the British Parliament having a rowdy time of it, which is just about always. Now I will likely never see David anymore after next October and I will miss him sorely. My list of "World Leaders I Admire" has been cut by a third, and neither one remaining is American. But of course you knew that already.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Who's That Smell?

If Dogs Were People
It's taken decades but I finally know what's wrong with my life: I have not yet figured out my fragrance statement. According to a newspaper article on the subject, this is key to knowing who you are and letting other people know who you are too. No wonder nobody pays any attention to me and my one and only child does not answer my texts -- I never use perfume or cologne. I always buy unscented deodorant, laundry detergent and shampoo. In fact, my goal has always been to have no smell whatsoever. (Unless you are in a bakery, smells are bad.)

Bottom line: I have no fragrance statement. Put another way, I lack a fragrance statement. Thus, I am lacking. Wearing a fragrance can fix that, since according to this particular article, it gives you a "quiet confidence boost." It goes on to say that "there are fragrances available for people who want to own the room." That's never been a goal of mine, but it would be nice for people to acknowledge that I'm actually in the room. I wonder if they make one of those.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Art of the Deal

Always stressful, but grown-ups don't cry until they get home.
While I understand that my head is a blank canvas for the person who went to beauty school and got certified and now creates in hair for a living, I find that unacceptable. Thus, for much of my adult life I have cut my own hair. This practice has had varying results, soliciting a range of reactions from "Ooh, cute haircut!" to "Jeezus, what the heck happened to you?"

For me, having feral hair is far less painful than enduring the small talk with the stylist, the Naziesque brutality of the shampoo girl, and the final indignations of hair spray application and painstaking blow-drying of the mass of protein filaments growing from follicles in the dermis of my scalp into something it will never, ever look like again, just for the sake of "art."

But then I found At Last Salon. (Aptly named, to be sure.) My stylist, Denise, was a dream come true. She actually did what I asked at the outset and my hair ended up looking fabulous. She spoke very little, and when she did her observations were intelligent, meaningful and interesting. We didn't chit-chat, we conversed. Since I was having my color done too and would be there for awhile, and it being lunchtime, I was offered food! An appetizing array of salads from a nearby health restaurant was proffered, much like those rolling dessert trays in fancy restaurants; I chose the yogurt with fruit and nuts and bottled sparkling water.

Now I'm hooked. I already made my next hair appointment, and even one for a pedicure, something I haven't done in at least fifteen years since seeing a report on 60 Minutes about a woman who contracted a staph infection from a pedicure and eventually had to have her leg amputated at the knee. I shared this story with Denise and she swore up and down that I would be fine, taking me on a tour of the facilities and showing me how they sterilize everything between customers. Her final promise won me over: "If you do have your leg amputated because of a pedicure you got here, I promise I will come to your house for the rest of your life and cut your hair." Now that's what I call a deal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Hope and Change

I am looking out at my pansies on the side deck. I have pots and pots of them in lavender and yellow and deep purple and blood red. Colors aside, what they all have in common is everything: I certainly couldn't pick one out of a police lineup should such a thing be necessary, under what circumstances one cannot even imagine but you get my point. People, however, are all different in hundreds of ways, maybe thousands, which makes comparing ourselves to others dumb, or at least fruitless.

Nevertheless, there I was last evening trolling the Internet for evidence on just how horrible or maybe really easy my upcoming hip surgery will be. I hit pay dirt on a medical website that asked patients to rate their experiences; each of perhaps a hundred respondents had the exact surgery I will be having. I settled in and started reading. About 45 minutes later my husband walked in the room and asked why I was crying.

One patient described having no pain at all following surgery, she simply felt great! Two days later she was walking on her own, no cane or anything, and she's 80! The next wrote about how his new hip failed after a couple of weeks and he needed a second surgery and he's still a mess and now it's months later and he simply doesn't know what he'll do. A third said it was the best experience of her life and she wished she had done it sooner. Another reported excruciating pain and his operated leg is now shorter than the other. This man got an infection, that lady went to a second surgeon for hip revision. Then another one......

Which one am I?, I wondered. Then I realized that I am me and the only me, and what happens to me hasn't happened yet so of course I won't know in advance since it's not written down anywhere. Pisses me off, but I guess I'll just have to let things play out and hope for the best. That's the hardest part, since as we all know thanks to Obama's last campaign, hope is a pointless exercise and change is a sure, but not always good, thing.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Truth About Aging

It's difficult to understand or even accurately imagine what being old feels like until you get there yourself, since the fantasies fed to us through TV commercials and the Botoxed, tucked, lifted and implanted Hollywood elite gloss over the harsh realities. Having turned 70 fifteen days ago but who's counting, I am happy to tell you the truth about a few things based on my own experience and that of my peers.

1. You Can Run But You Can't Hide: Yes, many oldsters can still run. You see occasional news articles about them following marathons, those 96-year-old ladies or 88-year-old men who defy comprehension out there on their skinny stick legs, still going strong. Good for them! But I'd hate to see them that night, or the next day, or the day after that and the day after that. Our bodies don't lie even though other parts of us do, and I'm here to tell you that when arthritis comes a-callin' somewhere around your 60th birthday, then moves in around 65 and starts redecorating, things start to go downhill from there and I don't mean on the ski slopes.

2. Not Tonight I Have a Headache: Or a backache or heartburn or a hernia or hip surgery or knee surgery or gum surgery or my tendonitis is acting up not to mention my bursitis, so let's not have sex right now, check back with me next week. Or don't. I am not naming names but based on my independent research I can report that many older women would way prefer to binge-watch "House of Cards" than get naked in the same room with their husband, or even your husband.

3. The Good Old Days Really Were Better: Everyone knows that. So even though the caption under the photo says, "Goldie Hawn, 70,  rocks a bikini on her St. Tropez vacation last week," if you don't have cataracts you can clearly see that she does not, whereas the old Goldie, meaning the young Goldie, did.

The new old Goldie.
The old new Goldie.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

F*** Facebook, Again and Forever

Wow, am I late to this party! This morning, for no reason I will identify, I concluded that my Facebook account -- actually I have two -- was adding to my unhappiness rather than expanding my life in any positive way. Once I was sure about this I deactivated both accounts. I have taken that bold step before but always returned, feeling sure I was missing out on something. But today I  researched the subject and found, to my amazement, literally dozens of articles about how spending time on  Facebook exacerbates, and in some instances even causes, unhappiness, depression and even suicide. And not just in impressionable teens and young adults but older people as well. Who knew?

I certainly don't need to go into the reasons here; just Google it and find out for yourself in articles written by psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts in the mental health field. They're out there for the picking. As for my decision, I simply got tired of reading about how much fun everyone else is having, making my own limited existence seem bleak by comparison. Even though I know that people often fake it to make their lives enviable, still there were enough nuggets of truth infiltrating my "newsfeed" to increase my feelings of inadequacy.

Last week I visited a friend confined to a mental facility who is currently enduring a really bad phase in her life. No details, but let's just say things suck for her right now and will likely continue to suck for a very long time, barring a miracle. She no longer posts anything on Facebook.  I left feeling deeply sorry for her plight and much better about my own. I'm not proud, but it's a fact: We compare and contrast our lives with others automatically. So all you folks who are out there having a ball and living the good life, go right ahead. I just choose not to know about it anymore.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Growing Pains

Vegetables have feelings too.
As he has each year for the past fifteen, my husband planted a vegetable garden in early spring. When we lived in Washington it was a small plot located in a community garden some distance from our home, but here in Maine the garden is on our property, right outside our living room windows. Right now Mitch is out there checking on things and I can hear him talking to his vegetables, saying things like "Good morning, how is everyone?" and "You're looking good!" I once found this practice alarming, but have since understood that it's no different than me talking to our cat, except we won't eventually eat the cat.

Starting last week the lettuce and radishes have been ready for harvest, and so we have had a lettuce salad for dinner every night, like it or not. With radishes, of course, mustn't forget them. When I complain that I am sick of lettuce, Mitch warns, "Too bad, there's plenty more coming." I moan in despair. Hoping to comfort me, he says, "God wants us to eat lettuce right now." I say God has nothing to do with it. We discuss this over salad.

There's bok choy that has to be eaten today! Soon enough it will be peas that we have to eat -- bushels of them -- and then beans and squash and kale and carrots and peppers and tomatoes and chard. I flatly refuse to eat chard, and that's final. Mitch says it will be ready "very soon" and I should "mentally prepare." Sometimes I wish he played golf instead.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Eating Naked Across the Pond

I read about a restaurant in London that just opened. Billed as "the first naked restaurant" in that famed city, it already has a waiting list of 46,000 excited diners. I found that odd since anyone can be naked at home and invite people over for dinner anytime, so I'm not sure why they would choose to line up at a certain designated spot in order to strip down and eat in the altogether with a bunch of strangers. And considering that so many people have such unappetizing bodies -- in London, 75% of adults are classified as overweight or obese -- what's the appeal?

Certain crabs are good.
I asked my husband, a huge fan of nudity in most circumstances, if he would ever dine at such an establishment. He thought it over for a minute and then said, "Maybe, but I'd be worried I might get crabs." I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about the kind you eat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Things Fall Apart

Woman who refused hip replacement surgery out for a walk.

We are not our bodies. Or at least so say the Buddhists. We are souls, spirits. Our essence is ethereal. Blah blah blah. Normally I buy all that but not today, or at least not so soon after scheduling hip replacement surgery. I'm pretty sure that on that particular day the doctor will be expecting my body on the operating table, which he will proceed to cut open and muck around inside of, and not just my spirit. Heck, if they just needed my spirit up there I'd have had all sorts of work done by now.

Having recently turned old, despite people saying that "seventy is the new fifty," naturally many of my peers have been through this surgery and swear by it, claiming it gave them a new lease on life. Two of my friends have had both hips replaced, and one went so far as to say she's sorry she doesn't have another leg so she can do it a third time. (I think she may have taken too much acid back in the day.)

All their rave reviews don't make me feel any better, but still I'm going for it since the alternative seems far less appealing. Besides, after looking at my most recent x-ray my doctor said, "Someone would have to be retarded not to get this fixed." Okay, so he's a tad politically incorrect, but by all reports he's a great surgeon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What's Your Distraction?

Over the last few months I have relied heavily on the podcasts of a spiritual teacher named Jonathan Foust. His wife, Tara Brach, also earns her keep by teaching people how to live more meaningful lives in accordance with what Buddha said. They hold classes in Washington, D.C. at the Insight Meditation Center, as well as retreats at various spiritual centers around the country and abroad. Each of them has, at one time or another, been an effective life preserver when my strength, courage and resolve were AWOL, replaced by fear and anxiety.

This morning I listened to a talk by Jonathan entitled "Practicing at Your Edge and Your Path to Balance." In it he focuses on the power of truthful self-assessment and the importance of identifying your patterns of resistance. He says if you are committed to transformation, to becoming happier and having less anxiety, it all boils down to these two words: "Keep going."

I can't praise him enough, but as I listened to Jonathan this morning, in the wake of the horror of last weekend's Orlando shootings, I realized that really what he offers people is distraction. And there is so much we all need to be distracted from, it's not funny. I can only speak for myself but I am willing to bet you too are sick and tired of hearing about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Islamic terrorism and four more years and third party candidates and suicide bombings and the NRA and the FBI and guns or no guns and all the rest of it. Then too, there is the "Big One" we all need distraction from, which is our own death and the death of everyone we know and love, which will surely happen in no particular order and at any time, like even in the next ten minutes. (Better hold onto the railing going down the stairs.)

Finding distractions from life's certain truths pretty much occupies us every minute of every day. Yesterday I bought a bag of potato chips for the first time in like ten years just to see if it would do the trick. It didn't. Either did the ice cream cone last night after dinner, just because it was a lovely night and the corner custard stand is open until nine in summer. Clarifying for myself that food is not the answer, I am about to get into the hot tub for a soak, then start a new painting. If those activities don't work, there's always another podcast or yoga class or massage or meeting to attend or report to write or movie to watch or dinner to cook or bike ride or road trip or video game or mountain to climb or 10K to run or room to redecorate or sailboat race or bridge tournament or .....well, you get the idea.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Is Nothing Sacred?

I was not at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando over the weekend when an Islamic terrorist who happened to be a practicing Muslim (sorry Obama) opened fire and slaughtered forty-nine people, maybe more. But all the TV reporters and their producers and station owners and all the newspaper publishers wanting to make me feel just like I was have dedicated themselves to bringing the dread, horror and outrage straight into my quiet little house in rural Maine. I realized this right away when I turned on the TV this morning looking for the weather and instead got an eyewitness account of the blood and gore inside the club.

I turned it off immediately and instead listened to one of my meditation podcasts, then went to the gym to work out and forget. Hours later I logged on to check my email and without warning saw a visual of a text from one of the dead sent to his mom right before he was killed: "he's coming, I'm gonna die." For reasons beyond my comprehension, the mother of that young man decided to share her final horrific private communication from her son with the world.

It's gotten so people put everything and anything up on social media. I'm thinking I may write a blog about the color, size and texture of my poop, since that is a major concern of mine these days now that I am a senior citizen. (Still mulling it over.) Until then, here's this poster which amazingly enough I found by simply Googling "poop."

My Next Time

Even though it's a crapshoot, I am really looking forward to reincarnation. With any luck, my next time might be a whole lot better. I'm hoping I will be one of those people who love yoga and drink blueberry-kale smoothies every morning and can say "Namaste" without feeling like a damn fool.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

More Trouble on the Homefront

I'm sorry, but for the time being please don't ask me to "keep an open mind" when it comes to Muslims, or in fact members of any religious group. While I am confident that there are many fine people among them, I am currently not interested in getting to know them, feeling their pain, traveling on an airplane with them, living next door to them or going out clubbing with them. Sue me.

The latest ISIS-inspired terror attack, which took place last night and ended the lives of forty-nine innocents inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, was, for me, the last straw.  My slowly-closing mind had still been a teeny bit open, but now it's slammed shut. If I see something I shall say something, but I'm sure I won't see something since from now on I will likely remain at home as much as possible, and keep my head down and eyes averted when I am out in public. I have suffered too many weird illnesses and undergone my fair share of pain and sorrow to suffer a random death at the hands of a misguided lunatic.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sympathy for a Devil

A few minutes after four o'clock this morning I was awakened from a really pleasant dream by a skunk. No, the skunk did not tap me on the shoulder or whisper in my ear--nothing like that. Fortunately he remained outside, one floor below my open bedroom window, and made his presence known odorifically, if that is a word. If not, it should be, because that's what happened.

At first I thought the smell was gas escaping and that I had mere moments to get out before my house exploded. Lest you think I am overly worrisome, that exact same thing did happen to a house nearby just two years ago, killing its only occupant. (It was a big story, even making the national news.) And just yesterday a repairman came to fix a broken burner on our stove. After messing with it for some time he concluded it needed a new part, which was ordered. I asked him about exploding houses and he assured me that if my house were about to explode, the whole place would smell strongly of gas as a warning. So naturally when I woke up to the skunk gas I was momentarily alarmed; surely you can see how that would happen.

But soon enough I figured it out. By then it was too late to get back to sleep, so the new day was begrudgingly begun and coffee was made. I was annoyed, not only because of the interrupted dream but also because I will be out very late tonight and so likely will be dragging at some point. But then I remembered when I lived in a second-floor New York City apartment and was awakened by noisy garbage trucks and police sirens and street traffic early every morning, so I sent the skunk some positive vibes. In fact, I wondered what had scared him so much that he had released his only weapon. It must have been something fierce, since skunks carry just enough of the chemical for five or six uses – about one tablespoon – and require some ten days to produce another supply.

I hope he's okay.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Non-Granny Rant

I know you've heard this before, that thing about how "there are two kinds of people in the world, the kind that does this and the kind that does that," and it's always different stuff, and usually it doesn't really hold water, at least not for everyone. But I'm pretty sure this one does: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have grandchildren (TWHG) and talk about them incessantly and think people are interested and those without any grandchildren (TWAG) and who are not the least bit interested in yours.

Forgive me, but TWAG are getting really sick and tired of hearing from TWHG about how cute the little ones are and about the adorable noises and funny faces they make and what they did at their first birthday party and what their teachers say about them and how they are starring in their school plays and how you bake cookies together and how they are such talented artists and all the rest. The truth is that the whole entire time you are going on and on about the precious carriers of your DNA, whoever is facing you, pretending to listen and smiling with a glazed expression, is actually plotting their getaway. Just so you know.

Really, it's nutty and sometimes downright rude. A new baby is one thing when it's your very own and we're good friends, but a grandchild is a different animal altogether, especially when I've never even met the kid's parents and hardly know you. Besides, even though I am among TWAG, I still matter! Ask me a question about my life, why doncha? So stop with the stories and enough with the pictures and let's focus on more important matters, like the fact that both of the people running for president are currently being investigated for wrongdoings and may be facing legal tribunals before either of them gets elected. Now there's a topic worth jawing about.

It's a Wonderful Life

Yesterday in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, a pickup truck that had been seen driving erratically for some thirty minutes slammed into a group of bicyclists, killing five and injuring four others. Later, two Palestinians fired randomly at crowds in a Tel Aviv market, killing four people in a cafe and wounding five others. After reading that I feel better about our upcoming trip to Israel in the fall, since my odds of survival are better over there than right here at home, or at least in Michigan.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Presidential Private Parts

Does anyone else see how ridiculous things are or is it just me? All the news is about how Hillary Clinton has "made history" by being the first female nominee for president.  She has broken the last glass ceiling! Finally, a female president! At last, we can proudly join with several other countries and say "Madame President."  Oh how long we have waited for this day: "Think of the suffragists who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848 and those who kept fighting until women could cast their votes," Clinton bellowed to her adoring fans last night as the final votes were tallied putting her over the top, thanks to all the people who voted for her just because she is female.

But hold on just a minute -- I thought gender doesn't matter anymore. Now everyone is just a person, not a "he" or a "she." People are lining up for transgender surgery to become the sex they are not naturally. Bathrooms are up for grabs: pee wherever you like, depending on how you feel inside. No more little girls playing with dolls or little boys playing with trucks; in case you haven't heard, we are all just humans!

To plagiarize from Wikipedia: "Bigender and androgynous are overlapping categories; bigender individuals may identify as moving between male and female roles (genderfluid) or as being both male and female simultaneously (androgynous), and androgynes may similarly identify as beyond gender or genderless (postgender or agender), between genders (intergender), or moving across genders (genderfluid) or simultaneously exhibiting multiple genders (pangender). Limited forms of androgyny are common (women wearing pants, men wearing earrings) and are not seen as transgender behaviour. Androgyne is also sometimes used as a medical synonym for an intersex person. Genderqueer identities are independent of sexual orientation."

Nevertheless, the voters and the media are going bonkers over the possibility of having our first woman president! Go figure.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Sad Story About Racism

It started out innocently enough: A woman bought a mask of a creature called Chewbacca. I have to admit that I had no idea who Chewbacca is although her t-shirt had a Star Wars logo. (I am not up to speed on my make-believe monsters, so my bad.) She posted a video of herself on YouTube sitting inside her car, staring into her phone which was the recording device, putting on the mask and then laughing wildly each time the mask somehow made a roaring sound that she found utterly hysterical. This went on for like five minutes.

I watched the video because it was "trending" and as we can tell from the preceding paragraph, I need help in that area. So I watched it but did not laugh. Not at all, in fact I was somewhat horrified, but okay, people have different ideas about humor. But then this morning I read that the laughing lady has received more than $420,000 in goods including college scholarships for her kids because her video "went viral" and made money for the mask people. She also made more than a few appearances on TV, all those morning shows where they have to fill air time between the weather and the news with something, often some bit of meaningless fluff.

It's a crazy world and I'm not sure of how to succeed in it, but I do know you have to be willing to put yourself "out there" and that's something I just can't do. The thought of being in a video seen all over the world by total strangers makes my skin crawl. So I suppose the mask lady is to be congratulated, having brought joy to millions with her silly video, but now many people are angry and are calling her success an example of "white privilege."

The end.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Film Review: THE LOBSTER

Don't believe the hype, the reviews, the trailers or the posters telling you this is a laugh-riot. Depending on your sensitivity, you will spend at least some time averting your eyes, covering your ears, and looking at your watch as you squirm your way through 118 minutes of The Lobster. Billed as a satirical take on society's obsession with coupledom, this challenging film is set sometime in the not-too-distant future (since everything looks just like now) when being single, or a "loner," is seen as an outright threat to civilization.

David and his brother in happier times.
The fantastical premise, which sounds like it could be sort of fun and funny if done right, is that if you are alone for whatever reason -- death of a spouse, divorce or just plain ugly -- and can't find a compatible "partner" in 45 days, the State will have you transformed into an animal of your choosing. Recalling some of my past significant others, I would have jumped at the chance to be a cat instead of me. But I digress. Our pathetic hero, David, played with incredible finesse and a surprisingly assertive paunch by Colin Farrell, has chosen in advance to be a lobster should things get to that, which they don't.

In fact, there is not a speck of seafood or shellfish to be seen anywhere. What there is are lots of disturbing images one hopes will not leave permanent imprints, like a dog, once the brother of the protagonist, beaten to death and lying in a pool of his own blood. And a man screaming in agony as his hand is stuck inside a toaster by the authorities as punishment for masturbating, which is of course against the law. Toss in some random animal cruelty (including dead bunnies) and lots of human cruelty, both emotional and physical, and there you have it. Every character is a complete wacko; there's not a normal person anywhere, except maybe sitting next to you in the movie theater, and I said maybe because who would go see such a film?

To say The Lobster is bleak is like saying Hitler had a mean streak. I can honestly say I regret seeing it. Good thing I wasn't at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it won the coveted Jury Prize. Had my opinion been found out I might have been stoned to death by an angry mob of married people.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muhammed Ali, R.I.P.

Oy--such a doll!
Yesterday the great Muhammed Ali died at the age of 74. He was one of my heroes, inspiring the following essay years ago. I offer it again here for the stray reader who hasn't read it.

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 tagged to accompany my mother and grandmother on a 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 lobbying for 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 the past 30 years, Grandma ached to spend what time she had left playing canasta on the beach with her friends who had already moved there. Making matters worse, we had to take the train from New York to Miami because Grandma wouldn't fly. Twenty-four hours of her complaining about the broken air-conditioning and the bad food and how she couldn't sleep a wink on the Amtrak Special, with my mother huddled in a corner quietly sobbing into a wad of tissues, primed me for what was coming.

Once there, I was put in charge of it all. With me at the wheel and my mother riding shotgun, Grandma chased her dream in a rented Buick. At first, going through the classifieds, 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 sobbing, 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 probable rejects, a dogeared city map serving as our only guide.

Finally, after a week of searching--glory, hallelujah--we found it! A one-bedroom unit with a dining alcove, not too expensive, it was close to her friends, on a low floor, with a nice breeze and an ocean view. Grandma took one look and said, "What's not to love?" We signed the lease and planned a celebratory farewell dinner that night at Wolfies’—after all, who wouldn't celebrate such a thing with corned beef on rye and a lovely stroll down Collins Avenue? My mother was finally happy, mentally counting the moments until she could literally kiss off her mother for good.
Arriving back at our hotel, the venerable Fontainebleau, we were just crossing the lobby when Grandma stopped walking and said, “What do I know from Florida? It’s so hot here. And the beach--feh! What, I'm going surfing all of a sudden? I’m a New Yorker. Maybe 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 exploded out of her, and she screamed, “I hate you, I’ve always hated you! You should have died instead!” My grandmother, kicking it up a notch, clutched her bosom as if she were having a heart attack, wailing, “Oy vey, I should only drop dead this minute, 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 for salvation.

Suddenly a handsome young black man in a blazing 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 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, I've considered Ali to be The Greatest.

Friday, June 3, 2016

3 Steps to Happiness!

I keep reading about how unhappy everyone is. There are new books coming out every day based on turning this around and making us all happy. I bought one of those recently called "Uncovering Happiness" and it didn't. In fact, it made me feel even worse about myself because it turned out to be such a piece of crap but yet it got published by a reputable publishing outfit, while my latest novel cannot even land an agent to show it to any publisher, even a disreputable one.

People are unhappy for all sorts of reasons, but aside from terrible physical problems and debilitating illnesses, the main cause seems to be Having Less Than Other People Who Seem to Have It All. We usually learn we are suffering from this chronic condition by reading magazines and newspapers, watching TV and logging on to Facebook. I try to cull some of these outside influences before they bring me down, throwing out those "special sections" inside every Sunday's New York Times that are brimming with lavish spreads on fabulous houses and fantastic journeys to exotic places populated by beautiful people, that sort of thing. You know, things I can't afford and have no bearing on my life. I usually take the offending magazine and close my eyes so I can't even read the cover lines, then grope my way to the recycling bin in the garage and dump it in.

Today I realized I will have to cancel our home delivery of the Wall Street Journal because we are simply not rich enough to continue reading it. I won't go into details about which one of several articles detailing how the filthy rich squander their money while African babies with distended tummies barely survive on mud pies sent me over the edge because I don't want to bum you out. In fact, like every other freelance author out there, I want to make you happier! And so here's my prescription for happiness in three easy steps:

1. Stop comparing yourself to anyone but yourself. 
2. Be grateful if you can walk, and in fact, get outside and walk. 
3. Forget about how your outsides look and be grateful your insides still work.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Grateful for Bananas

So far today I have been awake about four hours and nothing terrible has happened, unless you count my random blood pressure spike of 207/90, determined by my home blood pressure monitor, which in turn brought on intense dread, fear and loathing, tears, dizziness and a deep sense of hopelessness. Unwilling to give in to it, I popped a few meds, ate a stalk of celery, downed a glass of water and turned on a Buddhist podcast from Tara Brach entitled "Happy for No Reason," figuring my current situation certainly fit that description. Tara helped, instructing me to recognize what was going on, allow it to be there, and focus on the things for which I am grateful. (Turns out much of Buddhist teachings are a variation of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music singing "My Favorite Things.") I started to feel better quickly, but the real magic bullet was the banana.

Bananas are almost mystical in their powers. In addition to their sweet taste, silly shape, amusing packaging and easy availability, they are filled with potassium and fiber and thus instantly cure much of what ails you, within reason. Be it high blood pressure, high cholesterol, intestinal problems, low energy or depression, bananas fix them all. It seems quite sensible to enjoy two a day. In fact, if I were a young Hollywood starlet with a baby on the way, I would name that baby Banana. After all, there's already an Apple running around Rodeo Drive.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Too Harsh for the Mainers, Even in Summer

Turns out today is one of those days when having my own blog comes in handy. Following is a short essay I wrote for the bimonthly magazine published by AAA, the car people. It was to run in a reader-written column called "On My Mind," which occupies the last page of their New England edition, officially titled Northern New England Journey. It was a freebie; I just wrote it for fun. The magazine's Editor-in-Chief, an agreeable sort named Al who lives in California, happily agreed to run it if I cut it to fit their allotted 750 words. I made a few edits and it was good to go next month. 

This morning Al called and said that the local Portland editor axed the story, complaining  that it "made her cringe" and "might be offensive." A laid-back Californian, Al was perplexed by her decision, saying, "I don't know, I've never been there, but maybe those people in Maine are a little thin-skinned. " Gee, yuh think? Following is the rejected article, not worth a dime to me or anyone:

Born in Brooklyn and educated at New York University, by the time I was thirty I thought I knew it all. You could have asked me anything and I’d have an answer on the spot, or at least within 24 hours. But this is no longer true because two things happened, one causing the other: I moved to Maine and I stopped caring.

Don’t get me wrong, I still know things, but now they’re different. Like where the best seaweed for mulching my vegetables washes ashore. And how to boil a lobster alive without crying. I can shuck a clam, tap a maple tree, and snowshoe up a mountain.

Since moving here seven years ago, I’m a different person. Not saying better, just different, and a far cry from that little Brooklyn girl.

That’s good and bad. Some of the bad is that the natives in my new state are tight-lipped and aloof. They keep it close to the chest. They have family over for Sunday dinner where they likely talk badly about people from “away.” (I’m guessing, having never attended one of these dinners.) And all their clothes come from L.L. Bean, which makes it hard to tell them apart when you see them at the post office.

Mainers talk most about the weather, the black flies, and how the fish are running. As for culture, the art is mostly paintings of boats, rocks, and surf; or surf crashing on rocks with boats in the foreground; or lighthouses. The theater is amateurish and movies that open simultaneously all over the country don’t open here, finally showing up when they’re old news.

That’s the bad, and it’s not too bad. The good, however, is very, very good. The city of Portland is an up-and-coming, award-winning foodie town, with many restaurants serving the same pretentious things you never heard of in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Beside the ubiquitous and affordable lobsters, the halibut and haddock, fresher and tastier than anywhere else, fairly jump onto your plate. They are downright habit-forming.

Along with great deep-sea and lake fishing, there are scenic hiking trails along the coast and far into the mountains. North of Portland, the terrain changes dramatically, becoming craggy and full of necks, and mountains are crashing into the sea by the time you reach Acadia. Hundreds of islands flung out in the ocean offer more of the same, only better.

In the winter, tons of snow delight skiers and snowboarders. Otherwise, it gets dark early so it’s best to do things like read or clean the basement. Or shovel the snow; there’s always that.

By any measure, the winter of 2014–15 was rough. It snowed for seven months, burying the fall leaves in early November. It was well below zero many days and nights. My husband and I came to the same conclusion: We’re outta here!

Then spring arrived and we came to our senses. With so few people—Maine’s population is 1.329 million—there’s virtually no crime and hardly any traffic, except for car dealership lots and in the summer, when the “out-of-statahs” come. And houses are twice as nice at half the price of some others elsewhere.

I’m lowering my hoity-toity standards concerning “theater” and “art” and sleeping soundly at night. I may not know as much about the world as I once did, but since nobody asks, it hardly matters. We’re all just busy smelling the flowers.

Food for Body and Soul

It's finally happened. I thought it might someday but not this soon. My head is empty. I have no new ideas, nothing to write about that hasn't already been said, either by me or someone else. Alarming as this sounds, it may actually signal a positive development, at least according to one Buddhist tale I heard recently from spiritual teacher Jonathan Foust at a weekend retreat last month. He repeated a famous story of a monk from Asia visiting the United States who spoke only two words of English.  Everywhere he went he would bow, then smile and say, “Empty Empty, Happy Happy.” That's it. Nothing more. Somehow those two words were enough to convey the fact that an empty mind is a happy mind, or something like that. If that's true, then I am ecstatic today.

But just so you have something for your troubles, and since Buddhism and vegetarianism often go hand in hand, here is a recipe for a dynamite dish from the old WHFS-FM Cookbook. This dates back to the 1970s when I first moved to Washington, D.C. The reigning hippie-dippy radio station is now defunct but this delicious casserole lives on. And I promise that when your plate is empty, empty you will be happy, happy.

The layers:
2 medium or 1 large white potato
1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash
3 medium tomatoes
1 cup mushrooms
1 large onion
1 green pepper

Mixture for between each layer:
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup any other kind of cheese
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup wheat germ
12/cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and cut all vegetables into fairly thin slices.
Layer in large greased casserole, beginning with potatoes and ending with green pepper, spreading mixture between each layer and on the top.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water on top.
Cook at 350 degrees for one hour or until vegetables are soft. If green peppers start to dry out, cover with foil.
Serves five ravenous vegetarians.