Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: Heidi Ayala

Every new day brings an opportunity for growth. 
It's still early; don't blow it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Speaking Out for Married Women Everywhere

I can't keep quiet about it any longer. First it was Roger Ailes. Then Bill O'Reilly. Now it's Sean Hannity! It seems that powerful men all over the place are being accused of sexual harassment by frightened women who have kept quiet about it for 15, 20, maybe even 30 years. Well, now it's my turn, and I'm ready to speak out for all married women across our land: My husband sexually harasses me and has been doing it since the day we tied the knot in 1986.

He's constantly wanting to get me into his bedroom, which is also my bedroom so that makes it tricky to know when he's actually harassing me and when I go in there of my own free will. By the way, this goes on nearly every night! Anyway, even outside the bedroom he tells me how attractive I am. Like when I'm cooking or vacuuming, he'll say things I won't repeat here in case there are children reading this. He constantly notices my hair, or a new outfit, often making extremely suggestive comments, especially when we are taking a shower together. Admittedly we are both naked, and I entered the shower willingly, but still, it's quite a large shower and he could stand on the other side and wash himself instead of repeatedly asking me if I need any help.

Just the other day I got my hair cut, and when I got home he told me I looked "younger" and "sexier." Ha! Did he think I didn't know where he was heading with those compliments? And ever since I started working out with a personal trainer, he often says that my body "looks better." Oh really, better than what? And besides, what business is it of his to talk about my body? Next thing you know he'll be telling me dirty jokes and claiming I put a pubic hair on his can of Coke.

Wives everywhere know what I'm talking about. It's time to rise up! And remember: Even if your husband doesn't work at FOX News, you can still accuse him of bad behavior.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Have You Ever.....

The following list of items appeared in my Facebook news stream this morning. The list was a quiz or survey of one's experiences, and it had already been filled in by my friend Rick G. It was accompanied by the cryptic instruction, "Copy and paste if you're not weak," making me think the whole thing was somehow related to how brave you have been over the course of your life. What I found odd was the inclusion of "Been to Canada," like that's a thing worthy of note in one's curriculum vitae.

While I have no intention of filling out this survey, certainly not on Facebook or even here in the privacy of  my own blog, I will say proudly that not only have I been to Canada on four or five or maybe even six separate occasions, I once drove straight across that country, from Quebec to Vancouver, in the dead of winter over a three-week period, accompanied by a friend and his German Shepherd. So I guess that's something.

Pets right now


Shot a gun
Quit a job
Been on TV

Been to an island
100 mph in a car
120 mph in a car
140 mph in a car
Hit a deer
Someone cried over you
Fallen in love
Watched someone give birth
Watched someone die
Been to Canada
Ridden in an ambulance
Visited Las Vegas
Sang karaoke
Been downhill skiing

Ice skating
Gone surfing
Ridden on a motorcycle
Ridden on a horse
Almost died 
Been punched
Been in a hospital 
Ridden in the back of a police car

Friday, April 21, 2017

Forget Hell, Just Go to Starbucks

I have long suspected, like many other observant people, that where we all live right now is actually Hell. The evidence is everywhere; just look around. Read the newspaper, or take a stroll through the pediatric cancer ward at a nearby hospital. But if you still can't appreciate the gargantuan scope of the horrors strangling joy out of our daily lives, just walk into a Starbucks and check out what they are now cramming down the throats of the unsuspecting cretins waiting on long lines for their "coffee."

The latest offering of Satan, Inc. is called The Unicorn Frappuccino, a gooey, sticky, sweet and sour, pink and purple mess of liquid sugar and dairy product topped with whipped cream and even more sugar, only sparkly; Starbucks says those are "fairy powders." Besides all the "magic, rainbows, and smiles," the instantly in-demand drink contains mostly sugar and 410 calories with not even a hint of coffee in it.

Customers are clamoring for the limited-edition Unicorn Frappuccino because it changes colors while you drink it. What fun! Especially for grown-ups, who have damaged their God-given once-perfect brains playing video games and snorting meth. As for price, "Magic can be yours for under $5," say the Devil's reps, which of course means they cost $4.95.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

7 Ways to Sound Smarter

Writing was once a high calling. Just think of Shakespeare, and Hemingway, Sartre, Camus, Dostoevsky, Wharton, Melville. And the modern masters, like DeLillo, Heller, Roth, Tyler -- the list is long. But somewhere along the way the art of writing became something everyone can do, and for almost no pay! All the ads for writing jobs on the Internet offer little compensation (1/7 of a penny per word), and boast that "no experience is necessary" for you to produce the pap they're looking for.

Still, there are a few tricks involved in creating what passes for acceptable discourse. The most popular one is organizing your nonsense into a numbered list, making it sound like you have scoured the world and come up with the only "8 Ways to Save Your Marriage." Or the "6 Things to Do Right Now to Be Happy." Without the number in front of the words, few would bother to read "Ways to Save Your Marriage." Ah, but with that magic number in front, they'll think, "Hey, this guy (or gal, as many female experts call themselves) really knows some stuff!"

Anyway, below are those "7 Ways" you came for. (They also work in conversation.)
1. Place a number in front of a list of things, no matter how dumb they are.
2. Use uncommon words that most of your readers (and even you) don't know, like effable and dactylion.
3. Try to mention kale, at least in passing.
4. Hint at an exciting professional past: "Back in my White House days, after I returned from the Geneva Convention...."
5. Break grammatical rules: "In order to actionize your plans....."
6. Cite esoteric evidence: "A 2012 study conducted by the Institute of Myopedic Familial Genetics suggests...."
7. Include trending words and phrases to appear current. In other words, stay woke.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Oh Bill, How Could You?

I write this blog because I have no choice. Writing is what I do, and in the absence of anyone assigning me a story for money I still do it, but for fun. Sadly, the longer I go without churning out boring crap for newspapers and the Internet, the less interest I have in doing so. And so I write about whatever strikes my fancy, and right now it's Bill O'Reilly getting kicked off of FOX for allegedly making lewd comments to the scantily clad, cleavage-bearing, spike-heel-wearing news babes pretending to be all business talking about important subjects, their dangling earrings often causing a sparkly distraction from the growing death count in one foreign country or another.

Anyway, poor Bill. He worked hard to make FOX the number one cable network for the last fifteen years, but now he's kicked to the side of the road like so much trash after too many sponsors started heading for the hills, the hills being CNN. He simply had to go.

One of Mr. O'Reilly's most reported transgressions was calling an attractive African-American woman who worked at the news organization and who wishes to remain anonymous, "Hot Chocolate." That must have been so terrible for her! I hope by now she has found a good therapist to help deal with that trauma. It will likely take years before she is able to even look at a cup of hot chocolate again, let alone drink one. How sad for her, especially during the cold winter months and on camping trips.

Hot Tub Interruptus

Early one morning, just about to step onto our side deck for a soak in the hot tub, I narrowly avoided squashing a little bird lying right outside the door, obviously dead already. Laid out beautifully as if by a funeral director with nary a feather out of place, his delicate feet stretched out behind him, pointed like a ballerina, and his pudgy brown body was topped by a tiny head sprouting a crown of white tufts. I could tell by his wide-eyed stare that his last moments had not been pleasant. "Oh great," I thought, "a present from Lurch and it's not even my birthday."

The dead birds, mice and chipmunks are the worst part of owning a cat. While they don't arrive in a steady stream, the murders occur often enough for me to feel guilty about it. After all, I am a willing accomplice, no less than Hitler's willing executioners, without whom there would have been no Holocaust. Usually I shriek and call for my husband to come up with the "final solution." Mitch cares not a whit, mindlessly stuffing the deceased inside a plastic bag and tossing it in the outside trash can. But he was out of town and would not return until late that night. The thought of leaving the birdie (that's what he was, a little birdie) lying out there all day was too much for me, so I went to the Internet for some ideas.

I rejected putting him in the freezer until trash pick-up day a week away. That was not going to happen. My only other option was burial, which seemed a tad excessive. But then I thought, why not? Who among us does not deserve a proper farewell? It was bad enough there were no friends or family members present --his, not mine -- and of course I had no way of notifying them, but at least I could usher the little guy out with a shred of dignity.

He ended up wrapped inside the editorial page from the New York Times (for the aforementioned dignity), which I then put inside an empty Lego box for a toy motorcycle (just for fun). In the woods behind our house I dug a hole about a foot-and-a-half down and carefully inserted his casket, then dragged a log over top of it to keep away any grave robbers. After shedding a few tears and repeating my mantra several times over the grave site I went in the house, washed my hands, grabbed a towel, and took that hot tub soak I'd headed out for a few hours earlier.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Hate Eating Out

Those were the good old days.
The decision to have a meal at a restaurant is often made lightly, and it shouldn't be as there is always the potential for dire results. For example, you could die from food poisoning. Or almost as bad, run into someone you told a month ago that you were moving to China. (Who would do that?) But sometimes dinner out is unavoidable. You may be on a vacation or business trip and thus have no choice. Or you might just be facing a bare cupboard and lack the energy to go shopping for food. Then there are the special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. Whatever the reason, the practice of eating out has spread like wildfire. In 2016, statistics showed that Americans spent more at bars and restaurants ($54.857 billion) than they did on groceries ($52.503 billion).

That very fact might account for the lousy experiences we all tolerate. Like this one, for instance, at one of our favorite haunts: We arrived at the half-empty restaurant, were quickly seated, and then were completely ignored for the next fifteen minutes but who's counting. This fairly common circumstance always makes me crazy, creating the "perfect storm" out of my worst personality flaw (impatience) and my biggest gripe about dining out (poor service). I can deal with bad food since most people can't cook and besides, cooking for a crowd is tough, so I lower my expectations beforehand, seeking only enough calories to support life.

Still, it's nice to be noticed when you get there, and treated with a modicum of respect. A scintilla, a shred, a crumb, if you will, of respect would be so nice. And maybe some water, and a menu. And a smile perhaps, from someone. Anyone. And let's remember, I'm hungry; that doesn't help matters.

My son, a former waiter, is always quick to point out that all the servers are very busy taking care of other people. That never makes me feel any better; in fact, it makes me feel worse. When do I get to be one of the "other people"? To that end I have been known to crane my neck, raise an eyebrow, and even wave -- you heard me -- after waiting a ridiculously long time, all actions considered to be outrageously poor form. You're just supposed to sit there and take it, but still leave a big tip at the end of your meal, if you ever get one.

This is why I hate eating out.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Blare of the Peepers

Except for the snow tires that are still on my car, all signs of winter are finally gone here in Maine. This is nice since April is more than half over. The warm weather of the past two days melted the remaining snow, revealing the horror of what lay beneath: piles of fallen leaves caught by surprise during last October's snowfall. So even though it's spring, raking leaves was the weekend activity at our house. My husband did manage to stick a few peas in the ground, but mostly we played catch-up with the seasons.

No matter; I still find living in Maine to be superior to living in a normal place. Sure, the world outside has its charms, too numerous to mention and besides you know them all, but despite that, coming home after a trip is always a thrill. It's so quiet here! With few distractions you can focus on just being alive, whereas in so many other places the focus is more on staying alive.

Last night, driving home from dinner at a nearby restaurant, we pulled over alongside a neighborhood pond to listen to the otherworldly singing of the spring peepers. It was almost cacophonous. Now that's the kind of noise I like.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thank God, Peeps Are Back!

Marshmallow Candy Posing as Jesus Christ
Lest you think me sacrilegious, please know that I did not set up this photo and did not take the picture. I merely Googled "peeps on a cross" and up it came, so at least one other person has found the Easter story to be mockable.  I've never much cared for Easter, and care even less today since last night I watched Schindler's List for the first time and feel more Jewish than ever. (I've decided to get rid of my Audi ASAP.) Basically, Easter has nothing to do with my life except for the Peeps. Also, I don't believe in "The Resurrection" since it seems like a magic act, thus I can joke about it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

New for Spring: Fat Pants

A recent study by a group of scientists working in tandem at five top universities for the last seven years has just been released, the results of which are sure to shake up the snack food industry. According to a spokesman representing teams at the University of Virginia, Stanford University, New York University, Harvard and Yale University, 79% of all cancers are caused by consumption of the following foods: Fritos, Oreos, Cheez-Its, Potato Chips and Caramel Corn. Additionally, almost 90% (87.43%) of all heart disease is caused by consumption of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, specifically the Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Phish Food flavors.

Reading this in the Journal of American Snack Foods the other day, I breathed a sigh of relief as I have not eaten any of the foods on the list in decades, increasing my hope that I will die of something quick and painless, like being hit by a car, passing out during a plane crash or getting incinerated in a terrorist bombing. Still, the report indicates a serious threat to the millions of people who do eat those foods, and the related businesses that bank on more and more morbidly obese customers for their very existence and gargantuan profits.

One of those is QVC, the home shopping network that specializes in stretchy clothing designed to hide the ever-increasing girth of its sedentary fan base. When asked by a Journal reporter if he worried that his target audience might start to shrink, the network's CEO and President, Michael A. George (a.k.a. "Mike"), replied, "Not at all; we're ready for any eventuality. If we can't sell the stuff as clothing for fat women, we'll just make some minor tweaks and re-purpose it all as tablecloths and draperies. We're not worried."

Designer Isaac Mizrahi, whose popular line of so-called "shapewear" shmattas are showcased on Monday nights on QVC, echoed his sentiments: "Elastic waistbands will always be in style because it's always Snack Time in America. Plus, according to our own independent survey, nine out of ten American women would choose eating their favorite junk foods and dying younger than living longer without pigging out." And based on Mizrahi's own increasing waistline, he's living the dream.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Focus on the Future

Earlier today a doctor used a laser beam to shoot a series of holes through my eyeballs. That sounds pretty bad, but I knew in advance he was going to do it, this was not a random attack. The experience was quite psychedelic and not at all painful. Still, it's another example of how annoying it can be to simply get older; if it's not one thing, it's another.  
Called a Yag capsulotomy, it was necessary as a result of my having had cataract surgery two years ago. Approximately 40% of all people who do so will require this laser treatment eventually, when a film develops that clouds the back of the new lens and their vision starts getting fuzzy. It's officially "posterior capsule opacification," but "fuzzy vision" nails it. In my case my vision wasn't all that fuzzy, but a recent eye exam revealed that the clouding had begun and it would surely worsen over time.

Many eye-drops were required during the extensive exam prior to the procedure, including a few to dilate my eyes. And while the actual laser shooting takes just about 30 seconds per eye, the dilation lasts for six hours or more. This is a drag, causing blurry vision and extreme sensitivity to light. Added to the constant barrage of floaters that look like bugs flying all around you as a result of the treatment, it's a dastardly combination that renders you all but blind behind your sunglasses for most of the day. The good news is that you're not really, and things will clear up considerably soon enough.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Celebrity Blunders: Who's the Biggest Fool?

I have a great idea for a new quiz show. The central theme is celebrities making fools of themselves, so right away you are assured of a huge audience since most ordinary, non-celebrities lead drab lives marked by frustration, longing, sugary sodas and lots of pizza, causing them to swoon at the opportunity to see beautiful people, especially gorgeous women and very rich men, looking bad.

The show would be called "Celebrity Blunder: Going Viral." The host would be Wolf Blitzer, a pompous dunderhead who loves to twist the knife during interviews with questions like, "How bad do you feel after making such a terrible blunder? Do you think it's the worst blunder you've made? Tell us about some other ones."

Contestants, dressed in latex bodysuits, would be brought on stage in a wheelbarrow filled with manure and sit there while a video of their biggest blunders caught on YouTube play on a huge screen behind them. At the end of the show, which would feature four different celebrities, the audience would vote for The Biggest Fool. Naturally each audience member would be instructed to tweet constantly during the proceedings, so the greatest offenders would begin the process of going viral.

Listed below (in alphabetical order) are some of the contestants scheduled for Season One. In cases of multiple blunders by the same celebrity, their worst blunder would be used first and others would be used in following seasons of the show. So, for example, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would likely be on for many, many seasons. And why, you wonder, would anyone agree to go on the show and face further humiliation? Celebrities crave the spotlight; shame has no effect on them.

Woody Allen married his sort-of stepdaughter
Warren Beatty messed up the 2016 Oscars awards presentation
Bill Clinton sexually assaulted an employee while President of the United States
Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump
Bill Cosby drugged and raped countless women for many years
Sen. John Edwards impregnated his mistress while his wife was dying of cancer 
and he was running for president
Mel Gibson shouted hate speech against Jews after being pulled over for a DUI
Tonya Harding had her husband attack a rival skater in hopes of winning Olympic gold
Valerie Harper claimed to have only three months to live in 2013 but hasn't died yet
Bruce Jenner mutilated his genitalia so he could wear high heels and fancy dresses
John Kerry had plastic surgery to look like Frankenstein
Barack Obama said he visited all 57 states as President, excluding Hawaii and Alaska
Nancy Pelosi said nobody knew what was in the ACA because they hadn't read it yet
Dan Rather publicly accused George W. Bush of stuff that never happened
Michael Richards had a racist rant during his stand-up comedy act
Meg Ryan ruined her face and career with bad plastic surgery
O. J. Simpson went free after murdering two people then went to jail for robbery
Charlie Sheen infected thousands of women with HIV and didn't tell them
Sean Spicer said Hitler never used chemical weapons
Clarence Thomas used the words "pubic hair" in conversation with a woman
Donald Trump claimed nobody respects women more than he does
Anthony Weiner texted photos of his peepee to young women
Brian Williams reported seeing floating bodies during Hurricane Katrina, in a totally dry neighborhood

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How to Live Forever

There's nothing to see here, folks. It's simply an experiment. My earlier post was entitled "You're Never Too Young to Die," and nobody clicked, so now I'm doing a little research to see if a more optimistic title gets more readers. Also, this cartoon was simply too good not to share. Go ahead: laugh at death!

You're Never Too Young to Die

A fellow from my high-school class of 1964 died recently. His passing elicited the usual and expected comments on Facebook noting that he will be missed, and it's sad, and our prayers are with the family, and he died way too soon. Wait a minute.... way too soon? He was 70. I checked the actuarial tables and learned that in 2017, the average life expectancy for a male is 76 years, but man who is already 65 can expect to live to be 84. So yes, Paul died sooner than he needed to as far as the insurance people go. But of course no age is "too soon" to die.

The truth of this has been with me since childhood when I saw my six-year-old friend Eric dead at the end of his bathrobe belt, hanging from the shower rod in his bathroom. Sorry to be gruesome, but it happened. I was nine at the time. Putting two and two together, I came up with the obvious conclusion that death has no age limit.

Until that point my parents had assured me that only old people die, and after it they explained that Eric's death was "an accident." But they were clearly wrong about that, like some other things I discovered later in life. (If you don't remove a splinter it will not end up in your stomach where a tree will then grow; light bulbs do not explode in a room left empty for more than five minutes; going outside with wet hair does not cause colds; not all Germans hate all Jews.)

Since then I have seen many babies, children, teens and young adults die, either from accidents or illness or suicide, or even worse, murder. Each death was deemed a tragedy, prompting a collective cry from the mourners that the deceased was taken "way too young," no matter the age. So when a man of 70 dies after years of fighting cancer, my first thought is not that his death came "way too soon." My first thought is "he's exactly my age." My second thought is "I could go at any minute, and so could everyone I know."

Now get out there and have a nice day!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Been Around the Block-er

If you recognize these two, you're old!
I received a complaint from a friend exactly my age over my recent use of the term "senior citizen" to describe myself. She deplores the term --who doesn't? -- and wondered if I might come up with something, "a word or phrase that speaks to our knowledge, experiences and adventures. A good word, a great word, multiple syllables, maybe with an ae or ??? I respectfully assign this important task to you."

While I thank Judy for her vote of confidence, the sad truth is that the concept of growing old is not exactly a crowd-pleaser and never will be. Still, I'm unable to stop thinking about her request and have been playing around with some words to describe all those people of my generation who remember Uncle Miltie, Nik-L-Nips, circle pins and Justine & Bob. (Personally I preferred Kenny & Arlene.) All of them are preferable to the implied stodginess of "senior citizen."

rock star
hep cat 
main ingredient
pack leader
golden oldie
wise owl
strong survivor
early adopter
sunny stalwart
stick arounder
crowd pleaser


Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Rise of The Narcissus Times

Growing up in New York with parents who were blindly devoted to the Democratic Party no matter what, our family respected two Bibles: The New York Times, and The New Yorker magazine. I read both of these religiously until well into middle age, at which time I reluctantly started to think for myself. (It's so much harder!) My parents were both gone and I had become a parent myself. It was time to let go of my childish notions.

Even though they had published some of my drawings, which definitely opened doors as far as getting more freelance work, I let my subscription to The New Yorker lapse. It had simply become unreadable, unless you lived on the Upper West Side and shopped at Zabar's and thought the Earth revolved on its axis around the Clintons, none of which I did. Still, I kept reading the Times, although it too was becoming an obvious organ of the DNC. Still, there was the Sunday Magazine with its holy crossword puzzle, and unless or until politics permeated that weekly brain exercise I was determined to remain a faithful supporter.

Is this any way to welcome a new administration?
Now I'm a senior citizen and I can say whatever the heck I want since, like Michael Dorsey said in Tootsie, "Age has no effect on me -- I'm a character actor." And what I'm saying is that both the Times and The New Yorker have nothing to offer anyone still capable of an independent thought.

Over the years they have morphed into the National Enquirer and the National Enquirer on Steroids, required reading for all those Prius-driving, NPR-supporting, Planned Parenthood-loving, never-Trumpers chomping down bagels at Zabar's and all the Zabar clones in affluent cities on both coasts. Especially on Sundays when they preach to the choir of their readers who, like Narcissus, look lovingly at their own reflections and then settle down with the editorial pages to find out what they should think, who they should mock, and more importantly, what to respond in case, God forbid a million times, they were to somehow be challenged by the enemy.

Still, there's the crossword puzzle, so we continue our Sunday home delivery of the Times. With a cursory glance at the front page propaganda that always elicits a wry grin at the blatantly slanted language chosen to downgrade everything pertaining to the current administration, meanwhile further demoralizing the country and keeping the Clinton fires burning, and caring not a whit that its collective words carry weight and maybe, just maybe, they could be used instead to convince our warring leaders in Washington to work together for the good of the country, not to mention the world and all mankind, I sadly chuck the rest of it into the recycling bin, sensing the tears of my parents falling down on me from Heaven. Or maybe those are my own.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ode to Old Friends

Last week I hosted a luncheon for three women I have met since moving to Maine eight years ago. It was the first such occasion because it has taken that long for us to approach what is commonly called "being friends." While all of them are lovely people and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, still part of me was holding my breath the whole time. This is, after all, Maine, and I'm from New York, so were I to really let myself go I'd surely offend someone. Or at least that's how I felt.

A stark contrast was the time I spent last month with two friends from my high school years who both now live in Florida. I saw each of them separately, meeting one for lunch and the other one for dinner. Being with them was a joyful experience. All of me was in attendance, and I wasn't worried I would offend. Partly because of our shared history, and also because it's impossible to offend a native New Yorker no matter what you do or say, I was completely relaxed in a way that I never am with newer friends. Maybe in time I could be, but we'd all be over 100 by then and how much fun could we have?

Despite political differences or personal tastes, old friends see through all the accumulated protective layers to the essence of who you really are. There is simply nothing like them.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

News Nobody Needs

With a readership of 46.6 million adults, People has the largest audience of any American magazine. You'd think this would lend it some gravitas. But no. Its current cover promises the "untold story" of crooner Barry Manilow's sexuality. Apparently he's gay, like we didn't already know, and anyway so what? Some stories should remain untold, and this is definitely one of them.

What I do want to know is how Mama June lost 300 pounds while I can't lose a measly ten and why J. Lo and A-Rod have nicknames but Barry Manilow is just Barry Manilow.

I mean really: 300 pounds is a lot. That's like two adults or three or four entire children.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Balloon Twisting as a Career

Looking for work as a freelance writer, an activity that takes me mere minutes every morning since there's never anything except writing catalog copy for L. L. Bean and they already rejected me years ago, I stumbled upon an ad that blew my mind, no pun intended: Seeking energetic, reliable, kid loving, balloon twister to join Maine's premier children's party entertainment company. Must have reliable transportation and be available most weekends. Pay starts at $30 per hour. No balloon twisting experience necessary, full training will be provided. To be considered for this position please send your resume, cover letter, and recent photo of yourself.

My idea of balloon twisting.
Besides my surprise that balloon twisters were in high demand, I was amazed at the pay. Thirty an hour! That's almost three times the going rate for a home health assistant, someone who helps the sick and elderly by feeding them, changing soiled sheets and "helping out in the bathroom," if you get my drift.

It's also about ten times the pay for a freelance writer such as myself, who has to wrack their brains dreaming up interesting and unique things to say about incredibly boring subjects like home loans, web development and email marketing without blowing their brains out.

 Compared to all that, balloon twisting seemed like the way to go. Looking further, I found an article about a Brooklyn lawyer who dropped his law practice to become a balloon twister. Todd Neufeld finds his new career far more rewarding than his previous 8-hour day job. "It sounds like a jump, but it was more of a logical progression," Neufeld said in an interview with a local newspaper reporter. "I followed what I liked to do," he explained, which kind of makes you wonder how he got through law school. A highlight of Neufeld's career was a 2009 White House picnic where he fashioned a balloon Barack Obama. (I know there's a joke in there but I can't think of it.)

The starting salary of a balloon twister is $25 an hour. (An entry-level Registered Nurse earns an average wage of $25.89 per hour.) I'd apply, but the fact that they ask for a recent photo puts the kibosh on my getting hired. Besides being too old and no longer perky, I'm pretty sure I lack the right attitude. (See illustration.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods

Thoreau said, "It is life nearest the bone where it is sweetest." But few people ever approach the bone, choosing instead to feast on the meat and carouse in the less nurturing but far tastier fat. I stay mostly in the middle, nibbling a little of everything. Surrounded as I am by neighbors but often passing whole days in silence when my husband is out of town, some days are better than others: the bad ones make me wonder just what the heck is wrong with me, while the good ones afford deep appreciation of every passing minute. Thus I stand in awe of those who opt for a life of solitude.

Buy it today on Amazon.com
My current hero is a hermit named Christopher Knight. I'm reading all about his 27-year escape from society living in a tent in a dense Maine forest, not in the middle of nowhere but just three miles from civilization. Still, in all that time he never saw or spoke to another person except for one passing hiker to whom he said "Hi." The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel is one of those books that insistently demand to be read, so if you have something important to do, don't start it. Besides telling an amazing tale, Finkel's writing is the kind you'll savor slowly for its lyrical imagery. For example, he describes Maine as "the cork atop the fizz of small states crowding the American Northeast."

But this is no book review; there are plenty of those out there already. Rather, I'm focused on what society has to offer, or not offer, that would make someone become a hermit. Knight is not the first and he likely won't be the last. Another one, also in Maine, was Captain Ray Phillips. A former New Yorker, he lived and eventually died alone on tiny Manana Island directly across the harbor from Monhegan Island, a wildly popular tourist magnet situated twelve nautical miles from the mainland. Infinitely more social than Knight, Phillips rowed the short distance to Monhegan daily for supplies and to pick up his mail from his many fans. Still, his time was spent mostly in solitude, interrupted by the occasional curious tourist -- I was one of those in 1970 -- with just his herd of sheep for company for 45 years.

I'm too much of a scaredy-cat to go whole hog with the hermit thing, but half a loaf is better than none. And though I miss him when he's gone, those days when my husband is away have a special kind of magic.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Nobody Likes a Glam FLOTUS

America hates Melania Trump because she is just too damn beautiful! This is evidenced by the recent Twitter storm against her just-released "official White House portrait," wherein she is criticized for her too-perfect face and too-perfect hair and too-manicured nails by all the fat, ugly ladies sitting home on their big butts and getting uglier by the minute. They all loved Michelle Obama because she was the opposite of beautiful and didn't make anyone feel bad about themselves, which is apparently part of the job of being First Lady.

It's sad. She should tell everyone to fuck off in every one of the six languages she speaks.

The Rise of Slime

This is NOT slime, this is The Lorax.
According to a quote on the opening page of my computer's browser, someone I never heard of named Thomas Henry Huxley once said, "Try to learn something about everything and everything about something." Finding that to be sound advice and taking it to heart immediately, I found out that Huxley was an English biologist working during the 1800s who advanced Darwin's Theory of Evolution to the point that he earned the nickname of "Darwin's Bulldog." But enough about him. What I really want to know is this: What is slime and why is it so popular?

A friend of mine had posted a picture on Facebook of her granddaughter with some of the stuff, saying they had a great time making slime together. Not having grandchildren myself and so being out of the loop, I was clueless about slime. Yes, I saw Ghostbusters, but I doubted anyone would spend time trying to replicate that goopy stuff that shoots out of a ghost, or that they even could without a ghost on hand.

I found scores of recipes and several tutorial videos on how to make slime but nothing explaining why one would and what to do with it beyond "have fun with it." There were cautions about getting burned by the borax, a major ingredient. This led me to research borax, which I vaguely thought was a character from Dr. Seuss. But actually borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid. Turns out the character from Dr. Seuss is the Lorax, who speaks for the trees somehow.

Anyway, back to slime, you can add glitter and food coloring to it and even make edible slime using natural ingredients like blueberry yogurt. Still, I don't know why it's any fun.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ivanka Wannabes

These days Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner are often described as "Washington's hottest new power couple" by the very same mainstream media lapdogs who trash them at every turn. So what is a power couple anyway? Once defined as those having "double doses of prestige and clout plus matching invitations to A-list parties" by Washingtonian Magazine, it's clear that people can be powerful without being respected. But one thing is for sure: if power is a goal, you better look damn good and have a decent plastic surgeon on speed dial. 

Alas, partly by choice (I hate surgery) and mostly by accident of birth (my father sold dry cleaning equipment for a living), I am completely powerless, which results in being unable to get my novels published or paintings sold, whereas the powerful can spit on a canvas and spark a bidding war at auction or hire a ghost writer to pen their memoirs and zoom to the top of the Times bestseller list in no time.

In Ivanka's case, her new perfect nose and Botoxed cheeks have inspired women to undergo "copycat surgery," a recent trend that is taking off in Texas where possibly something in the water, maybe runoff from all that cattle poop, has empowered women to repeatedly risk brain death or nerve damage at great cost to look like her. Personally, if I had the nerve to undergo plastic surgery I'd ask to look like me thirty years ago, although I do wonder if looking like Ivanka makes food taste any better or results in dodging cancer. I also wonder if A-list parties are any more fun than other parties.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Entire Family Going Straight to Hell

The Wall Street Journal's Mansion section, which appears every Friday and regularly publishes nauseating stories about people who are disturbingly and decadently rich, has hit a new low today. The caption informs us that Paul Ray Geiger Jr. spent about $600,000 to build this special room in his home in Richmond, Texas for his family's hunting trophies. "We go in there and remember the trips we had, the good memories." (Oh what fun they had!) The photo shows Geiger with his partners in crime, wife Shannon and daughters Isabelle and Caroline, surrounded by fifteen of the animals they slaughtered, including an elephant, a lion, an ostrich and a tiger.

I hope the happy hunters continue to enjoy their allotted time in this life because next time around things are sure to be grim; with any luck they'll all be stuffed and hanging as trophies on the wall of some animal's den. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

The Holocaust Diet

Hey, who's hungry? (Photo: Henryk Ross)
Growing up in a Jewish family, I heard about the Holocaust a lot. Like every day. The subject arose most often at meals when everyone was gathered around the table together, and possibly explains my lifelong love-hate relationship with food. I mean really, it's hard to stay focused on wolfing down some fabulous brisket with roasted potatoes while Granny reminisces about the Germans ("They should only drop dead!") making lampshades out of the skins of dead Jews. Agreed?

So excuse me if I'm not rushing to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts to see a new exhibit of recently unearthed photos of the inhabitants of Poland's Lodz Ghetto. Henryk Ross, one of two Jews given cameras to document daily life in the ghetto for use by the government as propaganda, surreptitiously took other pictures as well. A review in today's Wall Street Journal gives his show a hearty thumbs-up for the "timeless quality" of the photographs: "We look at Ross's subjects knowing terrible deaths await them and it gives them added dimension." There are pictures of the gallows. There are pictures of children in wagons being led to the killing fields. There are pictures of the starving people and carts of human feces being hauled for disposal. There are pictures of piles of the dead being taken to burial. Wow, good stuff!

Listen, we get it -- there was a mass killing in Germany back in the 1940s. Enough already. But for those of you reading this who don't get it, or don't believe it, like the two otherwise completely normal friends of mine who are still "on the fence" about whether or not the whole thing really happened, the exhibit runs through July 30 so you might want to check it out. Afterward you can experience the legendary Pizzeria Regina, a Boston institution just four miles away where the pizza is to die for. Go. Try to eat something.....

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dr. King's Alternate Dream

The giant Bean Boot leaves plenty of room for another statue.
Over the years the city of Portland, Maine's grooviest town for sure, has won quite a few awards. Included are things like Most Liveable City (Forbes.com), Greenest City (Organic Gardening Magazine) one of the Coolest Small Cities in America (GQ Magazine), one of the Best Healthy Places to Retire (U.S. News & World Report) and Best Town in the East (Outside Magazine). This year a dozen of the city's chefs made it to the semi-finals for the prestigious James Beard Award.

Obviously Portland desperately wants to be cool and play with all the big cities. But with just 7% of its population being African-American, it doesn't make the cut. (Once clearly The Whitest State, Vermont now holds that dubious title with Maine a close second.) But who's to blame if African-Americans don't want to live here? After all, it's really cold in winter, which lasts several seasons, and there are basically no jobs.

Still, in an ongoing quest for respectability, and to be like all the other real cities, local politicians and a growing number of activists have been engaged in pursuit of naming or building something in Portland -- a street or park or public square -- to honor civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The trouble is, what? It's a quandary. As one columnist wrote recently in The Portland Phoenix, an alternative, free newspaper, "There just are not a whole lot of places worthy of Dr. King's legacy. To make matters more difficult, Dr. King had never been to Portland, so any choice would lack historic gravity."

Who knows -- had Dr. King, assassinated at only 39, lived longer, he might have eventually gotten up to Maine for a vacation, despite its lack of diversity. If so, he surely would have stopped in at L. L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport. And that could have changed everything.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Forever is a Long Time

Some people where I live are freaking out over the increasing legalization of marijuana. They are horrified, terrified and downright pissed off that legitimate pot distribution centers are popping up all around the state. This is silly since marijuana is a plant as old as vegetation on Earth (about 12,000 years) whereas Maine's real problem, opioid addiction, is caused by drugs made in factories beginning in the late 1960s and now prescribed by doctors for just about anything that hurts.

I take three different drugs manufactured in factories and they cause me no end of problems, including dizziness, blurred vision, weight gain and loss of libido, although that last one might just be because I'm 70 and enough already. These have been prescribed for my pesky blood pressure, which bounces up and down at random. They literally make me sick, but at least I stay alive. But like many baby boomers in my same boat, I long for the good old days when the only drugs I took were pot, mescaline and the occasional magic mushroom. At least the side effects were temporary and I could take them or not, whereas the ones I'm on now are not optional and  forever. And take it from me, forever is a long time to feel dizzy.

Oh Grow Up

It's hard to evolve when the people you habitually spend time with don't. This presents a difficult choice: A, strive for self-improvement and spend some quality time with yourself, or B, continue to avoid your demons while in the distracting company of others.

If you choose B you might have a good day or even a few good weeks.  But look out, because if and when all the people you hide behind are unavailable -- horror of horrors -- you might actually have to be alone for a whole day, or even worse, a night! And then there you are, with yourself. That same old self, maybe the exact same one you knew back in high school or college. That's a real bummer if you are now past fifty, speeding downhill into those Golden Years without any training wheels.

So choose option A as soon as as you can and start growing a better you. In the long run the rewards will be infinite. (At least that's what I keep telling myself.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why I Unfriended You on Facebook

I am so done with hearing that your car is in the shop. Or that you are waiting for the plumber. Or the washing machine repairman, again. Or you have to get your snow tires put on, or taken off. Or that you are sick or possibly coming down with something. Or that you had to go to the ER yesterday and you're exhausted today. Or your house is a mess and you're busy cleaning. Or that you can't make it today but you'll call me tomorrow for sure. (You never do.)

Don't you realize that I can see what you're doing on Facebook with all the people you prefer spending time with? I mean really. I don't need this. Life is hard enough.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Wake Me When It's Over

A scene from the 2008 fantasy film "WALL-E" has come true. Now all we need are the red suits.
There's a new movie theater near my house that foretells a grim future for Mankind. My husband and I went there yesterday and quickly concluded we would never see a movie anywhere else. Who would, when the perks offered at the Flagship Premium in Falmouth make you feel like you died and went to Movie Heaven? It's great!

The fabulous experience kicks off immediately, at the ticket counter. Instead of a surly, acne-faced teenager grunting at you, a self-serve kiosk displays a digital seating chart letting you choose and reserve your seat, so there's no need to rush inside to claim one and suffer through all those commercials and previews. Instead you can hang in the lobby, which is a lot like a highway rest stop, with all sorts of yummy choices at the Refreshment Center, none of them good for you. There's also a self-service beverage center where you can get unlimited refills of your sugar-laden soft drink, and a "toppings bar" with a couple of jumbo melted butter dispensers, along with salt and other flavorings for your popcorn. (I didn't have any popcorn but I might next time.)

Inside there are ten little theaters, each with only sixty seats. Well, they're not really seats, more like plush, comfy beds. They start out as seats but when you press a button they recline and a padded footrest comes up and suddenly it is 100% a bed! And with the screen placed up near the ceiling, no matter where you are sitting, or rather lying down, you have a perfect view without anyone's big hair encroaching on your field of vision. There's a cup holder of course, and the bed is very wide, with lots of room for your increasingly widening butt. You could even bring a pillow or your favorite stuffed animal if you want.

The only danger is falling asleep, but that pretty much depends on the particular movie that's playing. That, and growing fatter and lazier every day, like the rest of America.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Film Review: GET OUT

The Happy Couple?
If you're a fan of subtle horror films, the kind that start out all sweetness and light until suddenly you're tumbling down the rabbit hole like Alice after eating that crazy cupcake, Get Out is for you. Marketed as a comedy/thriller, it's more disturbing than funny but there are some solid laughs, although most of them are the nervous kind. It's the first directorial effort of black comedian Jordan Peele, and at least at some level deals with the simmering racial tensions so prevalent today. An up-to-the-minute potpourri of several memorable old movies, it's lots of fun for film buffs.

It starts out like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the ground-breaking 1967 film about a white girl bringing her black boyfriend home to meet the family. In that film the parents were not happy about the situation, but in Get Out everything is cool, since these parents are highly educated and affluent Obama-loving Democrats who adore all black people. In fact, they like them so much they sort of want to be black themselves. Now toss in some scenes from Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives and you're almost there.

Despite the fact that the whites turn out to be evil and the blacks their unlucky prey, the film could just as easily work with either an all-white or all-black cast. Race seems secondary to what's really going on, which has more in common with Frankenstein and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers than anything else. Now you've got the whole picture.

The soundtrack is absolutely outstanding, adding measurably to the creepiness factor. And the performances are all first-rate, especially those by the male lead (Daniel Kaluuya) and his comic sidekick (Lil Rel Howery). Be prepared to jump out of your seat a few times. But relax: it's scary, but not keep-you-up-all-night gruesome. I hardly ever had to cover my eyes.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Girl Scout Cookies: The Dark Side

Going for the Bondage Badge
Girl Scout Cookie Time is upon us. Today my husband brought home two boxes of his favorite, Thin Mints. I've never liked those so I'm happy, especially since I just bought a new pair of jeans that actually zip up. Besides, the Thin Mints of today are only a distant cousin to the Thin Mints of yesteryear, back when the cookies were actually thin. Today's version is a lot thicker and way less minty, if you ask me.

The copy on the box describes the cookies as "Crispy chocolate wafers dipped in a mint chocolaty coating." I find that word chocolaty mildly disturbing, being quite distinct from chocolate, although to be fair, cocoa is listed as an ingredient, after enriched flour, sugar and vegetable oil shortening with those controversial palm oils. (Unsustainable palm oil development is said to fuel widespread rain forest destruction, human rights abuses, illegal wildlife smuggling, climate change and some other horrible things.) Peppermint oil, almost the last ingredient, supplies the mint flavor. The box also states that "Selling Girl Scout Cookies helps girls develop 5 skills that they use throughout their lives: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics."

 Oddly enough, neither baking nor selling are on the list. That's because the girls do neither. The cookies are baked by adults at ABC Bakers/Interbake Foods LLC in Richmond, Virginia, with nary a Scout on the premises. They are then "sold" at card tables set up in front of supermarkets. "It was quite an operation," my husband recounted, with several Dads-of-Scouts handling the cash. "It was much more efficient and so much more lucrative than going door-to-door," according to Mitch. "I'd say they were selling four boxes a minute." Another way the Girl Scouts "sell" is through their parents, who take orders from co-workers at their places of business. The higher their position, the more they sell, as I recall from my working days.

Each Thin Mint has 40 calories, and the going price today is $4.00 per box, or 12-and-a-half cents per cookie.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Send Money

My husband and I are quite charitable, especially around tax time, but that doesn't stop the seemingly endless requests for a handout from people we have never met. Last night during dinner, three different beggars approached us via our home phone: Mitch's alma mater (who I suspect has us on speed dial), a cancer relief fund and a local politician. We didn't answer any of those calls but their recorded messages made it clear they weren't calling to see how we're handling all the late-spring snow.

The U.S. Postal Service offers another conduit into our bank account. A typical batch of mail contains pleas from no less than five or six organizations looking for dough. Yesterday's included requests from the Alzheimer's people, the March of Dimes, St. Jude's Hospital for Children, a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. and George and Laura Bush celebrating the fourth anniversary of their Bush Library. We hear from most of them on a weekly basis, except for the Bushes who only write about once a month, usually including a family photo suitable for framing. I particularly enjoy hearing from the March of Dimes people since they include a real dime in their message which I pocket before trashing the letter.

At the supermarket or the drug store I am often asked to add a donation to some worthy cause to my bill. Then someone with a clipboard usually stops me in the parking lot asking me to save the fishes by cleaning our waterways or buy some cookies in support of a local animal shelter. Then there's the Internet with its Gofundme sob stories, the tip jars at all the coffee shops and lunch places, and the street people with their cardboard signs or open violin case.

These days everyone's doing it, constantly and unabashedly, and I want in. And so, what with the rising cost of living, not to mention my blood pressure, we here at The Daily Droid are asking for your help. Email andreajrouda@aol.com for where to mail your check. (Hopefully I can find it among all the requests for money clogging my online mailbox.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Growing Color War

A painting by a white artist that was chosen for inclusion in a prestigious art show at a major museum, the Whitney in New York City, depicting Emmett Till, the black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi 62 years ago after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman, is now being deemed "racist" by a growing number of African-American artists, some of whom are calling for it to be destroyed lest the artist sell it and profit from spilled black blood. It has also been stated that no white person can attempt to speak for any black person or understand their plight, now and historically. Or something like that.

Causing me to wonder more and more: What country is this?

Al Franken, Neil Gorsuch and Me

Liberals have their panties in a knot over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who by most accounts is a jewel of a guy with incredible scruples and unassailable principles. Yet he has incurred the wrath not of the great Khan but the teeny Al Franken, he of those "Deep Thoughts" from his days on Saturday Night Live. It's all got to do with a case involving a truck driver who abandoned his cargo and drove off in the truck's cab rather than wait hours for help in frigid temperatures and was later fired by his employer for said abandonment. The driver sued and Gorsuch voted in favor of the employer, causing Franken to anoint him as "anti-worker" and calling his decision "absurd."

The face that got slapped.
The brouhaha reminded me of a similar situation when I was a high-school senior working part-time as a salesclerk in the candy department of Abraham & Strauss, the defunct but once grand department store. With Christmas just a few days away the store was bustling. In those days we used cash registers, not computers, to ring up cash sales, or wrote out longhand the items to be paid with a credit card. A woman presented herself and opted to pay cash, so I rang up her items, about a dozen in all, and announced the total. At that point she said, "Never mind, I'll charge it."

Facing a long line of impatient shoppers waiting to check out, I asked if she might step aside and let me help those other people, then write up her charges. At that suggestion she reached out a bejeweled and manicured hand and slapped my peaches-and-cream, 17-year-old face, shouting some obscenity or another. The crowd gasped, and someone shouted, "Miss, your face is bleeding!" Rushing to find a mirror, I saw a rivulet of blood dripping down my hot, reddened cheek. I felt faint. Hurriedly locking the cash register, I fled to the store's infirmary, calling out an apology to the assembled customers.

At closing time, after receiving treatment from the nurse and returning to the candy department to finish my shift, I was fired for "leaving my station." (I wonder what Gorsuch would say to that.) Since this happened in 1964 my parents didn't sue anyone, whereas today that woman would likely do time and I'd be set for life. Talk about absurd.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Experts R Us

Many people know a lot more than many other people on a lot of subjects. For example, the average person probably doesn't understand what a "black hole in space" is, or fully grok Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Experts in such esoteric fields as medicine, computer technology, aviation and all the sciences spend most of their time learning about them, and I applaud their efforts. They are awesome.

But concerning things like how to live a life, how to be happy, how to avoid depression and anxiety, how to relate to others, what to eat, how to think positively and avoid or change bad habits, there are no experts, there is only all of us. Each of us is an expert, living each day as we do from birth on. Yet there seems to be no end of people who call themselves "experts" on the subject of being alive.

Many of these "life experts" write books, give lectures, record podcasts and in fact make tons of money by telling others how to just "be." Their advice is often the same, and usually stuff we already know. For example, every new book on meditation says the very same things as every old book on meditation -- sit comfortably on a cushion or in a chair, do it at the same time every day, focus on the breath, if thoughts come just push them away, do it no less than 20 minutes a day, close your eyes or keep them open -- yet that doesn't stop people from writing another one which somehow finds a willing publisher and thousands of hopeful readers seeking something life-changing.

I am one of those hopeful readers. My nightstand is cluttered with no less than half a dozen new books on finding happiness, perfecting Buddhist meditation and Zen this or that, with even more relegated to bookshelves around the house and the worst of the bunch simply trashed. After much disappointment I'm with Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, writer and critic known for his Encyclop├ędie. Working in the late 1700s during the so-called Age of Enlightenment, Diderot declared, "I find that a meditation practitioner is often quite useless and that a contemplation practitioner is always insane."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why George W. Bush Paints

Forget all the damn immigrants for a minute, those huddled masses yearning to be free and grasping at our welfare handouts without doing a blessed thing to earn them, and consider this: The way old people are treated in America is worse. In fact, it's all the way to macabre. Being old myself now, I can say with pride that I have never been one to disparage the elderly, always finding them so interesting and yes, trite as it sounds, full of wisdom culled from their years of living. But most people find them annoying and useless, certainly unemployable and usually deemed unexciting as sex partners, hiking buddies and even lunch or dinner companions.
Picasso's self-portrait at 90. He died at 92.

For most of the elderly their only crime is not dying young, and isn't that what everyone, except suicides who foretell the bleak future awaiting them and opt out, hopes for at the get-go? Still, the old are treated as criminals. The weakest submit to plastic surgery, with all its inherent risks, hoping to fool themselves, along with  Father Time and his golfing buddy, Death, into believing they are younger. It doesn't work.

At this very moment I am 70 and, as I read in the newspaper just this morning, can expect to live another 10 or 15 more years, although some go on for much longer. (Financier and philanthropist David Rockefeller died yesterday at 101.) I worry about getting treated worse every year by all the young people who, ironically, are hoping to stay alive long enough to be as old as I am now, at which time they will be treated badly by the generations following theirs.

It's a quandary and I have no answers. But when I'm parked in front of my easel, surrounded by brushes and tubes of paint and faced with a blank canvas, alone except for my cat and the occasional neighbor passing by my window, I am ageless. I'm betting former President Bush, who is exactly my age and took up painting four years ago, feels the same way.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I'm A Genius?

I recently wasted some of my allotted time on Earth taking one of those online quizzes. This one enticed me by saying it was about "basic things that everyone should know." Naturally, being somewhat of a know-it-all, I thought I would know them all. To my utter dismay and shock, out of fifty questions I got seven of them wrong! These were them:

1. Roses have prickles, not thorns.
2. Koalas are not members of the bear family, they are marsupials.
3. If you disturb a bunny's nest, you should immediately put the baby bunnies back into it.
4. General and Mrs. Grant are both buried in Grant's Tomb.
5. Keeping your batteries in the refrigerator will not keep them any fresher any longer.
6. You do not lose 80% of your body heat through the top of your head.
7. You should file a Missing Persons report immediately and not wait 24 or 48 hours like they say on TV.

Despite my errors, at the end of the quiz I received a score of 85% and was declared a "Genius" who knows "just about everything about everything." I wonder what I would be if I had answered all of them correctly.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Last night I watched a movie that possibly has made me a different person today. (It's too soon to tell but I suspect that to be the case.) Following is an excerpt from a review about it that is almost as great an explanation of life as of the film itself. It was written in 2008 by Roger Ebert, the late great movie critic who died five years later, and offers the best explanation of why the movie must be seen before it's too late, which it will be any minute now, and far too soon. 

I think you have to see Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" twice. I watched it the first time and knew it was a great film and that I had not mastered it. The second time because I needed to. The third time because I will want to. It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely. A lot of people these days don't even go to a movie once. There are alternatives. It doesn't have to be the movies, but we must somehow dream. If we don't "go to the movies" in any form, our minds wither and sicken.

This is a film with the richness of great fiction. It's not that you have to return to understand it. It's that you have to return to realize how fine it really is. The surface may daunt you. The depths enfold you. The whole reveals itself, and then you may return to it like a talisman.

The subject of "Synecdoche, New York" is nothing less than human life and how it works. Using a neurotic theater director from upstate New York, it encompasses every life and how it copes and fails. Think about it a little and, my god, it's about you. Whoever you are.

Here is how life is supposed to work. We come out of ourselves and unfold into the world. We try to realize our desires. We fold back into ourselves, and then we die. "Synecdoche, New York" follows a life that ages from about 40 to 80 on that scale. Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director, with all of the hangups and self-pity, all the grandiosity and sniffles, all the arrogance and fear, typical of his job. In other words, he could be me. He could be you. The job, the name, the race, the gender, the environment, all change. The human remains pretty much the same.

Here is how it happens. We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes, American Girl dolls, a handful of rice, sex, solitude, a trip to Venice, Nikes, drinking water, plastic surgery, child care, dogs, medicine, education, cars, spiritual solace -- whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call "me," trying to brand ourselves as a person who can and should obtain these things.

In the process, we place the people in our lives into compartments and define how they should behave to our advantage. Because we cannot force them to follow our desires, we deal with projections of them created in our minds. But they will be contrary and have wills of their own. Eventually new projections of us are dealing with new projections of them. Sometimes versions of ourselves disagree. We succumb to temptation -- but, oh, father, what else was I gonna do? I feel like hell. I repent. I'll do it again.
Hold that trajectory in mind and let it interact with age, discouragement, greater wisdom and more uncertainty. You will understand what "Synecdoche, New York" is trying to say about the life of Caden Cotard and the lives in his lives. Charlie Kaufman is one of the few truly important writers to make screenplays his medium. David Mamet is another. That is not the same as a great writer (Faulkner, Pinter, Cocteau) who writes screenplays. Kaufman is writing in the upper reaches with Bergman. Now for the first time he directs.

It is obvious that he has only one subject, the mind, and only one plot, how the mind negotiates with reality, fantasy, hallucination, desire and dreams.

"Synecdoche, New York" is not a film about the theater, although it looks like one. A theater director is an ideal character for representing the role Kaufman thinks we all play. The magnificent sets, which stack independent rooms on top of one another, are the compartments we assign to our life's enterprises. The actors are the people in roles we cast from our point of view. Some of them play doubles assigned to do what there's not world enough and time for. They have a way of acting independently, in violation of instructions. They try to control their own projections. Meanwhile, the source of all this activity grows older and tired, sick and despairing. Is this real or a dream? The world is but a stage, and we are mere actors upon it. It's all a play. The play is real.