Friday, September 22, 2017

Looking for Extraordinary

Yesterday I attended the first class of an 8-week program called, "Am I Hungry? Learning How to Eat Mindfully." Or something along those lines; I may have the words wrong but you get the point. After the usual introductions by those assembled and an overview of the material to be covered, the somewhat timid instructor described future sessions that sounded mildly informative although certainly short of life-changing, which is what I was hoping for. Today was nothing special, and as usual I wasn't particularly hungry any of the times I ate but I ate anyway, and sort of mindlessly if you must know.

It seems I'm always looking for life-changing experiences and never find any. What I want is to stumble upon a message from God like Joseph Smith did when he ran into the angel Moroni and later transcribed the golden tablets that became the basis of the Mormon religion. Or maybe run across a Burning Bush, or even just a smoldering patch of grass -- anything out of the ordinary that could be interpreted as a sign of "something else." But all I get is ordinary stuff, day in and day out. In fact, the last extraordinary thing I witnessed was Donald Trump winning the election.

Many years ago my husband and I stayed at a B&B in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  It was run by an odd woman who was actually a tiny bit scary, although we couldn't pinpoint what is was about her that was unnerving. We locked our door at night and hoped for the best. The next morning at breakfast she shared a long story about what led her to become a born-again Christian. It seems that one morning during the Christmas season several years earlier, she awoke and saw in the sky a huge cloud formation that looked exactly like Santa sitting in his sleigh, and all his reindeer were pulling it. "Rudolph was at the front," she recalled with a gauzy look in her eyes. "They were all there. It was unmistakable."

Now that's what I'm talking about. Something extraordinary.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Toys 'Were' Us

Another Internet casualty is hardly news, but this one hit me hard. Toys 'R' Us has filed for bankruptcy because of their increasing mountainous debt, just two years after they were forced to close the magical FAO Schwarz flagship store (which they owned) on New York's Fifth Avenue due to sky-high costs. The mega-giant retailer, unable to compete with online shopping, has suffered tremendous financial losses, not seeing a profit since 2013.  Part of the problem is that instead of making time to drive somewhere to actually see and feel the fantastic array of toys available, busy (or lazy?) parents are simply opening their laptops and surfing the net. Note to parents: It's not the same.

My own son is on the brink of turning 30, but I still remember the fun and excitement of taking him to our local Toys 'R' Us several times a month. We made the outing all the way from infancy to about age twelve, when suddenly he wanted only books and sports equipment instead of toys. But until then we spent countless hours wandering the aisles of that fabulous emporium, inspecting and choosing things he might want for an upcoming birthday or Hanukkah, or just for the pure fun of it. I'm not ashamed to admit that on days when I was feeling low, like when Zack was away at summer camp, I would go there alone to cheer myself up. And of course there were tons of gifts to be bought for the children of friends and relatives. It was the one errand I never shirked.

While the stores are still open for now the handwriting is on the wall, written in a black Sharpie. My advice to young parents is put down the cell phone, grab your kids and get over there while you still can. Childhood experiences magnify over time, and I doubt many adults will hold cherished memories of Mom at the computer, ordering stuff from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Maine's Dark Underbelly

Yesterday morning, rushing to get to his office a few miles away, my husband left something at home that he needed. Being the wonderful, compassionate, dutiful and adoring wife that I am, willing to put aside my own needs for the fulfillment of his at a moment's notice, I dropped everything and ran out to deliver the item with nary a thought to how I looked, which has become my habit the longer I live in Maine. Dressed in flannel pajamas -- hey, it was still early -- I threw on a yellow rain slicker and stuck my feet into a pair of pink plastic Crocs. A quick glance in the mirror revealed an escapee from a mental hospital, but I figured Mitch would meet me at the car and nobody would be the wiser.

Once at my destination I threw caution to the wind and walked right in the front door of the office building, up a flight of steps and past several businesses. I was seen by no less than five people (three women and two men), none of whom raised an eyebrow at my attire. Having delivered the goods to my husband, I returned to my car. Eager to test the limits of this who-gives-a-damn look, I stopped at the post office for the mail. Again, nobody seemed put off by my outfit, not even one of my neighbors who usually sees me looking quite stylish.

Now drunk with power I took it a step further and went to the supermarket, since I was low on coffee and planned to stay in all morning working on a story. Walking up and down the aisles and passing at least a dozen other shoppers, it was apparently no big deal that some lady was running around in her PJs. In fact, I barely looked any different from many of the other women.

There's no punchline. In fact, for the first time in my life I can honestly say "it is what it is."

Monday, September 18, 2017

How Far Is Heaven?

Neighboring Fairy Houses available for rent in Cathedral Woods on Monhegan Island.
My husband and I spent the last three days out of this world on an island twelve nautical miles off the coast of Maine. The talk of the tiny town was the particularly dense fog and whether or not it would rain. It was heavenly. With no movie theaters, TV or shopping malls, but several art galleries and open studios, there's nothing to do there but read, look at art, go birding or hike through the dense forest searching for Fairy Houses.

This rare respite from reality was all but ruined by a group of loquacious lefties seated near us at dinner in our inn. I tried not to listen but they were quite loud, and phrases like "the New York Times" and "Obama never would" and "Trump this" and "Melania that" wafted over our table like a swarm of angry bees. Even worse, early the next morning on the front porch, amidst nature's abundant glory, the same group was at it again, apparently oblivious to their surroundings.

It's sad that some people don't know Heaven even when it smacks them in the face.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Finding the Good in Halloween

This year's happy pumpkin faces to brighten up your snail mail.
Since the pumpkins and candy are already being shoved down our throats by merchants hoping to score big this Halloween, I figured I might as well write my Halloween post right now instead of waiting until October. Besides, the ways things are going in our chaotic world these days, I may not even make it until then.

Once I was done with making costumes for my son and getting drunk at neighborhood parties, I continued to celebrate Halloween by carving jack-o'-lanterns. Sadly, last year I was even bored with that, finally coming through about an hour before dark on the big day with a sad entry: just eyes and nose and mouth, not even any teeth or eyebrows. It was obvious I was turning into that old person who rails about the holiday being bad for your teeth and devoid of all meaning. I was finished with the whole thing, heading down that path leading to a bowl of candy out front with a sign saying "Take one."

But then yesterday at the post office, the clerk announced that the first holiday stamps had arrived, and they are for Halloween. He brought out a strip of twenty orange jack-o'-lanterns on a black background, all with big grins. Of course I had to have them. My purchase engendered a lengthy conversation with the postmaster, a man roughly my age, about how far Halloween has fallen from "our day," back when you got all sorts of interesting things, not just the same boring wrapped candy bars and lollipops. "What's it for anymore?" I asked.

He had a great answer, pointing out that Halloween is the only time people will open their doors for strangers and greet them with a smile, and a treat! It's also the only time children are encouraged to approach strangers, and they do so without fear. People talk to one another on the streets, and it's all very happy and festive, with almost nobody looking down at their cell phones. Really, when you think about it, Halloween is pretty much how life should be all the time. Except for the costumes. And the candy. (And maybe the pumpkins. )

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

One good thing you can say about the current volatile hurricane season is that it's given the hungry reporters something else to prattle, chatter, jabber and babble about besides the president and his family and his hair and his staff and Melania's shoes and anything else remotely Trump, at least for awhile. Sadly, it involved the destruction of property for millions of people, some of whom lost everything, but still, for those of us who were not directly impacted it's been a welcome respite.

Another perk is watching all the reporters getting pummeled by the driving rain and hurricane-force winds, each trying to out-tough the next guy (or gal). Even though their giant-logo L. L. Bean rain slickers have hoods attached, the most macho stand out there minus hats or hoods, as if wetter hair equals better reporting.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On Cops and Cat Sitters

It's annoying, unpleasant and, to be blunt, a real pain in the ass to be distracted by childish silliness while the world is in chaos. Yet here I am, so consumed with a nasty encounter with a neighbor that I'm wondering if it's safe to start up my car this morning.

The dispute began over the need for someone to feed our cat for an upcoming weekend away. I contacted a teenage girl in the neighborhood who I had never met but whose parents attended our holiday open house last December. She responded with a voice mail message saying she could do it, but said little else. Then she never returned my second call asking her to come over and see the house, meet the cat and learn the details of the job requirements. After a full day of silence, and with our trip a day closer, I asked a different neighborhood teen if she were available. She said yes and in short order came over to meet the cat and learn the scope of the job being asked of her. I hired her on the spot.

Even good cops get a little testy after awhile.

After I called the first girl to tell her I had found someone else, her father went ballistic, if one can be said to "go ballistic" in an email. The worst part is that he's a cop, and his clearly bizarre and off-kilter reaction helped me understand the string of questionable murders by several of our Men in Blue that gained national attention over the past couple of years. Many in the law enforcement field really do have a short fuse, and this particular neighborhood cop is surely one of those. His inappropriate and volatile reaction to us choosing another 16-year-old girl over his daughter to feed our cat for three days was a chilling reminder that you never know whether someone's simply got a screw loose or is all the way to a loose cannon.

My advice for survival in today's jittery culture echoes that given to me by my grandmother years ago when I was a college student riding the subways of New York City: Keep your head down, avoid all eye contact, go straight home and lock your doors.                                          

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Joyless

Joy Behar operating her big mouth.
The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history hit the Upper Texas coast in 1900. It didn't have a name, but it took out Galveston and that's a fact. Yet this morning Joy Behar, surely the least talented of all the talent-less hostesses on TV's post-menopausal talk show, The View, gave her personal assessment of Hurricane Irma as "The worst storm we have ever had," and naturally attributed it to global warming, that evil invention of Republicans. She added that hurricanes should henceforth be named after people like Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, and "all the other climate change deniers."

But Joy is so wrong! If she had just checked Wikipedia (like I did) before she put both her feet in her huge mouth, she would know that. Following are just a few key facts I have plagiarized, for anyone who is remotely interested:

The list of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes encompasses 32 that reached Category 5 strength. 
In fact, during the 1932, 1933, 1961, 2005 and 2007 hurricane seasons, more than one Category 5 hurricane formed. In 2005, more than two Category 5 hurricanes formed, and in 2007 more than one made landfall at Category 5 strength.
Between 1924 and 2017, 32 hurricanes were recorded at Category 5 strength.

Officially, the decade with the most Category 5 hurricanes is 2000–2009, with eight Category 5 hurricanes: Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Emily (2005), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Dean (2007), and Felix (2007).

The previous decades with the most Category 5 hurricanes were the 1930s and 1960s, with six occurring between 1930 and 1939,  before naming began.

Eight Atlantic hurricanes reached Category 5 intensity on more than one occasion; that is, by reaching Category 5 intensity, weakening to a Category 4 or lower, and then becoming a Category 5 again.  Camille, Andrew, Dean, Felix and Irma each attained Category 5 status twice during their lifespans. Allen, Isabel and Ivan reached Category 5 intensity on three separate occasions.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Your Life Matters

Tomorrow morning I have to get up early and rush around so I can drive downtown and find parking to go somewhere I don't want to go and do something I don't want to do. Even worse, it seems like every day this week I have scheduled activities I have little stomach for, and none of them involve surgery. I remember that when I was asked to do these things they sounded fine, but now that they are nigh they sound hateful.

Naturally I will show up and do what I said I'd do since people are counting on me, but I wish I had thought of myself first instead of choosing to not disappoint someone else by saying no. Maybe if people were honest to themselves more of the time, things might improve all around. I know I'd be a lot nicer to others if I were nicer to me once in awhile.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Give Me Money and We'll Both Feel Better

Finally, something I can use!
There seems to be an expert for everything these days, and I'm guessing there are also enough people out there who feel they know nothing at all to make those people keep at it. If you want, you can pay someone to tell you how to cook, how to chew your food, how to treat your pets, how to make small talk in social situations, and even what colors work best for you. One friend of mine recently "had her colors done" and now pretty much wears the same color all the time. Yes, she looks nice in that color, but now what's she supposed to do with all her other clothes?

This morning I received an email from a "wellness practitioner" inviting me to an "anti-stress workshop" on how making minor changes in how I move my body will make me feel calmer. The basic pitch was, "Body and mind are inseparable, so calming and integrating movement patterns is working with the neuroplastic brain and influences all we feel, sense, think and do." I would definitely cough up fifty bucks for that knowledge, but I'm pretty sure I'd have to stop reading the paper, watching TV, surfing the web and talking to other people for it to work.

Later, stopping in for my mail at the post office, a flyer pinned up on the bulletin board made me do a double take. It advertised a series of classes in something called Thai Self-Care, promising that in just six short weeks I could learn "the best and most doable self-care tools" for me as an individual, from an experienced guide! Naturally I wondered where that guide got all his or her experience, and maybe I'd rather learn from whoever taught them. And what about those tools that were the least doable -- could they still be done, and were they any better? For just $150, I can find out.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Shut Up, Facebook!

First thing this morning when I opened my laptop, before I had even logged on to anything, a message from Facebook showed up on my desktop, alerting me to the fact that "Jura Koncius's birthday is today!" Okay, duly noted, I thought. Then I signed on to Facebook and there it was again: "Today is Jura Koncius's birthday!" Okay, okay, I thought, but can I just make my damn coffee first before I add my congratulations to the like 162 others that were sure to be there already? (Jura is quite popular, and with good reason. Personally I love her to pieces, but still, whether I say happy birthday or not should be up to me.)

The fabulous birthday girl!
I went about my business and somehow managed to forget about Jura's birthday, what with bills to pay and severe thunderstorms wreaking havoc and guests from out-of-town arriving tomorrow, requiring that I actually clean my house and perk up the guestroom. Finally taking a break, I went online to check for email and there it was again: "Jura Koncius's birthday is today!" But now, obviously panicked since I had done nothing, it was more insistent, adding the command, "Wish her well!"

So here I go: For Christ's sake, Happy Birthday Jura! Hope it's a great one! Of course I have to say it on Facebook or it will keep chiding me. Worst of all, if I don't then tomorrow it will say, "Yesterday was Jura Koncius's birthday! Do you want to send her belated wishes?"

That Facebook is such a nag! I guess Mark Zuckerberg's mother was a real pain in the ass.

Living It Up

I often wonder how my life would have turned out if just a few things that happened to me early on had not. Like if my mother had gripped my hand a little tighter when I was four years old at Coney Island, instead of letting some delusional bag lady grab it and trot me off to her messy nest for a day and a night. Would I be more trusting today? Have a sunnier disposition? Enjoy reading bestsellers, having lunch with the girls and getting mani-pedis?

Or better yet, what if I had realized the inherent potential for excitement and chosen the crazy Brooklyn bag lady over the standard-issue Long Island family of four, growing up in the carnival atmosphere of an urban amusement park, never attending college and ending up as what? A trapeze artist? A street performer? Who knows, maybe a superstar? Possibly something better than what I am, since my average upbringing, while peppered with several odd tragedies and overshadowed by a crazy sibling but otherwise normal as diner pie, spit me out as just another cog in the wheel.

I remain convinced that there's more to do besides fetishize food, yammer about Donald Trump or binge-watch Game of Thrones, activities that currently consume most members of my generation. And though it's way too late now for me to summit Mt. Everest or run away and join a carny, still I fixate on how to make my remaining God-given days more interesting without resorting to dropping acid or volunteering in a hospice.

Piano lessons simply didn't do it. Ditto Tai Chi twice a week or buying a charming little cottage on a nearby island. (Thankfully we figured that one out in time.) I just hope I discover whatever it is while I can actually do it.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why Lie?

Everybody lies all the time. Big lies, little fibs, white lies and whoppers -- I've heard them all. Suddenly, this year, I got tired of all the liars and simply removed them from my life. Things are so much better now!

The one remaining liar I have yet to jettison is myself, and that's the hardest. I can't simply unfriend me on Facebook or stop returning my calls, and I see me all the time. I am me.

I lie mostly to myself, constantly promising I will eat better, sleep more, get more exercise and stop lying to myself. As for lying to other people, I do it mostly to avoid hurt feelings, like when asked if I like a new haircut I say of course even if it's a disaster, or say someone's grandchild is adorable even when he/she/it looks like Rosemary's Baby. I also lie about politics all the time, but that cesspool of bottom-feeders deserves little more.

So why do you lie?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Damned If You Do......

Who knew? Turns out I am risking my life writing this blog every day. Even worse is watching the news at night. That's according to The Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, which published a recent study that found, "Sitting and watching TV, especially in the evening, has got to be one of the most dangerous things that older people can do."

Okay, that's it -- from now on I am going to do everything standing, except of course for sleeping and using the toilet. Otherwise, I'll be on my feet.

But wait! I read the results of a different study on WebMD that found standing five hours a day contributes to significant and prolonged lower-limb muscle fatigue, raising my risk for chronic back pain and debilitating muscular and skeletal disorders. What to do, what to do?

Maybe I'll just stop reading.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Place for Oreos

Since his work deals with agriculture, my husband often travels to middle America and comes home singing the praises of Walmart, which is very big out there. This has always struck me as odd since I have never set foot inside one of those big box stores and in fact considered the chain inferior in ways I couldn't quite pinpoint. So today, being a rainy washout for other activities, we went to a nearby Walmart here in Maine for me to have a look. Right away I was unimpressed and deemed it "nothing special." That is, until I wondered if they had any Oreos -- it was that kind of day -- and found the cookie aisle. Indeed they had some, more varieties than I knew existed. Stunned, I was compelled to document my findings with the photos below.

Film Review: DUNKIRK

The cast of thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands, and their hats.

If you like real war, or even just video games about war, Dunkirk is for you. Featuring tons of human misery, massive amounts of gunfire, countless sinking ships, dozens of bombs exploding, and several truly harrowing underwater drowning scenes, the story of 400,000 soldiers trapped on a beach in France with the Germans at their backs during World War II will either turn you on or make you nauseous. (I was in the latter group.)

The minimal dialog is mostly unintelligible for the garbled British accents. The music is loud and foreboding, which is only appropriate since it accompanies what you see onscreen. (See preceding paragraph.) None of the soldiers have names and they all look exactly alike, so you never really get to know anyone. This is actually good since when one of them gets killed you don't care at all.

I hated this film from the moment it started and couldn't wait for it to be over. Now I can't wait until next February to see it get like 17 Academy Award nominations. I predict Best Picture for sure.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Failure to Communicate

Like 1 in 12 men worldwide, my husband is color blind. I suppose this is a drag for him, but really it's more my problem than his. He is constantly asking me to help choose shirts and jackets and pants that "go together" when we are dressing to go out, a service I willingly perform, yet is no help at all in telling me whether the red I used in my latest painting is too pink or not pink enough, or what color to paint our house. (I've got it down to lilac or goldenrod.) And while it's certainly better than if he were totally blind and needed my help in even more ways, he's not, so the problems I confront regarding his visionary deficits rise to the top. And of course when Mitch tells me he loves my latest hair color, his compliment is, to put it bluntly, worthless.

I've come to understand that just like color blindness, some people are language blind. For example, yesterday a young woman behind me at the supermarket checkout was busy cooing to her infant, hidden inside a baby carrier. I leaned over to take a peek and saw what looked like a perfect little doll straight from the Mattel factory. With huge, literally baby blue eyes, and flashing a big, toothless grin, he didn't make a sound but, like a dog wagging its tail, his kicking feet telegraphed his obvious delight. I complimented the woman on her beautiful child and asked, "Is he always this happy?" She smiled and replied, "I don't know, this is my first child."

I smiled in return and spent most of my drive home wondering what she possibly could have thought I had asked.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fashion Rule #1: Never Be White After Labor Day

The lunatic ladies on the left continue to hate Melania Trump, seizing any opportunity to excoriate her out loud and in print. The First Lady's most recent sin was boarding Air Force One, bound for Texas with the president to view the devastation after Hurricane Harvey, in stiletto heels. This blew a lot of people's minds, although admittedly small minds, like the teeny one inside the fashion editor at The Washington Post who declared Trump's footwear an obvious example of a self-aggrandizing lack of compassion, writing, "Trump is the kind of woman who refuses to pretend that her feet will, at any point, ever be immersed in cold, muddy, bacteria-infested Texas water."

Yet Melania's decision to change into sneakers mid-flight and arrive in Texas appropriately shod still did not win the approval of the obnoxious Robin Givhan, whose petty, self-righteousness sickened me most mornings back when I lived in DC and read her column over breakfast. Melania's sneakers were just too damn white for Ms. Givhan's taste, giving rise to her observation: "There was no suggestion that Trump would be flat-footed in the muck. She is the kind of woman who may listen empathetically to your pain, but she knows that you know that she is not going to experience it. So why pretend?"

I'm just guessing here, but perhaps it's not only the sneakers that are too white to ever garner Ms. Givhan's approval. (The fashion maven is shown at left wearing sensible flats and a colorful shower curtain.) Face it: Melania will never be as black as ex-FLOTUS Michelle Obama, thus she'll never never do anything right. So why pretend?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Trending Now: Racism

An alert came up on my Facebook page about a rally to be held in downtown Portland tomorrow evening. It is being called Say NO to Racism, and supposedly if you show up there and hold a lit candle you will somehow display to all the others assembled there that you are against racism. Personally I am against racism and while I am in favor of lit candles, I am against attending rallies where I might get maced in the face (happened once, not fun) or run down by a madman (or madwoman or madthey) driving a van, so I will not be there.

Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress 1939
Instead I will stay home and be against racism in my kitchen while I cook dinner for myself and my husband, and later maybe take in a movie. But you can be damn sure it won't be Gone With the Wind, which is now being pulled from theaters nationwide because of its alleged "racial insensitivity." The 1939 film, beloved by thousands, maybe millions, for decades, and which earned the first Oscar ever awarded to a black actress (see photo), is now, all of a sudden, considered racist.

Racism is quite popular these days. It's everywhere, in places you never even suspected. Actually, anti-racism is even more popular. Either way, I would say the entire state of Maine is racist, being the whitest state in America, so simply by living here, my racism is implied. Throw in the white skin covering my entire body and I totally suck. In fact, I should light a candle and hold a vigil for myself and pray I don't burn in Hell for eternity just for staying white all these years. (If it's any help, I have never seen Gone With the Wind.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Although I have long suspected it, I finally got 100% definitive proof earlier today that my adult son does not read my texts, he simply responds with non-committal words like "Cool!" and "Thanks!" so I will go away and leave him alone. This realization is both depressing and freeing, the former because I gave birth to him and it was a long, hard labor with no drugs and I deserve better, and the latter because now I can say anything I want without fear of reprisal. (Ditto this blog.)

Comfort Food at 30,000 Feet

Ever since my first commercial jet flight (at age 22) made an emergency landing in a fallow cornfield outside of Frederick, Maryland and necessitated my exiting the aircraft (along with all the other screaming passengers) via an inflated rubber chute, I have been what you might call "a nervous flyer." However, despite that unhappy experience I have flown literally countless times, up, down and across the country and over the pond, although I am never happy about it and always assume a dire outcome. So I was cheered when I spied an article with the headline, "Airline creates 'mood food' snack box to help calm nervous passengers."

I learned that under the tutelage of an esteemed Oxford University professor, Monarch Airlines has recently begun serving a mood-food snack box specifically designed to calm jittery passengers. Here's what they get: First, a dish of echinacea and licorice ice-cream to help reduce symptoms of coughs and colds. (Yum?) Next comes some lavender/green-tea flavored rice cakes to aid relaxation and counteract jet lag, washed down with herbal teas to avoid bloating. (Yuk.) Finally, sort of like a dessert, there's a umami seaweed biscuit and a caramelized bar covered in umami mushroom and tomato powder. (Barf.)

Despite my wide vocabulary and love of sushi, still I had to look up the meaning of umami, which turns out to have nothing at all to do with raw fish. Instead, it refers to a category of taste in food other than sweet, sour, salt, and bitter, corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate. (Yikes.) Okay, so I guess won't be booking any flights on Monarch.

Instead I'll stick with the usual suspects and continue to rely on my very own mood foods, which include one 5 mg. Lorazepam swallowed just before entering security and a Bloody Mary immediately upon boarding, followed by a stream of blatantly unhealthy snacks. These include but are not limited to a package of Chuckles, countless bags of those mini-chocolate-chip cookies and flavored popcorn and Sun Chips -- I love those -- that the flight attendants hand out, a black coffee and perhaps a bottle of water, and if it's a long flight to Europe, another Lorazepam and maybe a glass of red wine to wash it down, but only if there's turbulence. Otherwise, tomato juice. (No ice.)

That usually does the trick.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It's Hard Being Human

After picking up my friend at the airport, we stopped for lunch on the way home. On the drive I heard all about her trip, asking more and more questions to get the whole picture. Once at the restaurant, having ordered and while waiting for our food to arrive, I told her about my own recent brief excursion to New York, even though she had not asked about it or about anything at all, in fact. Nevertheless I soldiered on until, sensing a subtle lack of interest on her part, I ended by declaring the few days my husband and I had spent visiting our friends as "a great time."

I said that because A, it actually was a great time and B, it's what you say, unless of course you had contracted food poisoning or encountered a destructive tornado or someone in your group had died. You just say "I had a great time," and leave it at that. But my friend, in all sincerity, asked, "What does that mean? How do you even have a great time with people?" Her question alerted me to the realization that she and I had never had what could be called "a great time" together, and possibly she never had a great time with anyone, and maybe that's why she asked.

Coming up with an answer wasn't easy. More and more these days, spending time with people you actually enjoy is a rare and almost indescribable pleasure. You know it when you see it, but in our oh-so-politically correct culture, when even a casual friendship places harsh demands on the participants, it's not that often. Now you've got to feel the same about politics, race, religion, climate change, food additives, free speech and gender issues, and God forbid, if you don't see a neo-Nazi hiding around every corner then you must be one too!

Say the wrong thing and suddenly there's tension in the air. The slightest hint of a difference of opinion can turn a smoldering ember into a huge, all-consuming firestorm of hurt feelings and misunderstandings. It's literally exhausting, making me suddenly comprehend that true friendship is exhilarating, and that makes all the difference.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Redefining Friendship

One of the few tangible perks of aging is that you finally stop tolerating other people's bullshit. Here at the start of my eighth decade in my current human form, I have honed my standards to a fine edge, concluding there is little reason to pretend admiration for someone you secretly dislike simply for the sake of harmony. Besides, it's not fair to them.

What triggered this musing is a recently resurfaced memory of my closest friend from my early thirties until my mid-fifties. At the time I found her funny, irreverent, refreshing and entertaining, but now I look back in horror at her often blatantly disgraceful behavior. This included a two-year affair with the husband of another close friend of mine that I was forced to silently condone, making me a willing accomplice and thus feel personally ashamed through osmosis. Also, she consistently kept an open bottle of red wine in the fridge (bad enough in itself) for six months and would actually serve it to her guests, and reused the same strip of dental floss for a whole week, discarding it every Sunday. Her lame defense for both was, "Money doesn't grow on trees," yet she came up with enough of it for a facelift, so go figure. I finally pulled the plug after more than twenty years of biting my tongue and have never regretted it.

Lately I am much quicker to pull the plug. Almost as soon as I find myself thinking only negative thoughts about someone, that's it. Unlike in my youth when my home was a revolving door for reprobates, miscreants and delinquents of every stripe, these days sluts, liars, addicts and the just plain unprincipled need not apply. The downside is that I spend a lot of time alone, but the upside is knowing that the friendships I do maintain are with people I strongly value and deeply respect.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Art Appreciation with Allahu Akbar

Once again someone did something terrible while yelling "Allahu Akbar!" Apparently a certain type of individual, and to avoid being accused of racial profiling I will just call that person a total whacko nut job, believes that even if they do a bad thing while yelling "God is Great" in Arabic, everything is cool and they will be rewarded. This time it was someone who attacked London police officers outside of Buckingham Palace with a 4-foot long sword.

This got me wondering: If someone shouted the phrase while doing something good, would it net positive results? I may try that the next time I show one of my paintings in an exhibition -- just stand there and call out the phrase and see if the painting sells. Of course that would be quite tiring, standing around all day, and what about bathroom breaks? Far easier would be to simply include the phrase in the title of my paintings and think happy thoughts. Here are a few examples:

"Only the Akbar Allahu Can Make a Cow (and a Forest)"
"Flower Arranging With Allahu Akbar"
"In the Akbar Garden of Allahu"

"Allahu Akbar Hanging Out at Home"

"One of Allahu's Akbarest Virgins"

Friday, August 25, 2017

Squawking Over Squaws

A Lakota squaw.
It's been almost 18 years since an IBM computer bested world chess champion Garry Kasparov at the game, making lots of people think that computers are so damn smart. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "chess programs running on commercial hardware - more recently including mobile phones - have been able to defeat even the strongest human players." This makes some people predict that computers will soon outsmart humans and start running things.
Well guess what: Many computers are morons. I know that's considered a bad word these days, but only when referring to a human being. I think it's okay to call computers morons because A, they are after all machines and B, they are moronic. And here's why. 
Recently playing Words With Friends, an online game I personally am addicted to, I could make the word SQUAW for 68 points, putting me well ahead of my opponent. But a message popped up saying "Squaw is not a valid word on Words With Friends." WTF, I thought. Why not? Oh right, because Nancy Pelosi wouldn't approve, somehow it might make an Indian, oops I mean Native American, feel bad, even though the definition of "squaw" is not insulting to anyone in any way. According to Urban Dictionary: "The word comes from the Massachusetts Algonquian tribe and means: female, young woman. The word squaw is not related to the Mohawk word ojiskwa which does mean vagina. There is absolutely no derogatory meaning in the word "squaw."
Nevertheless, the supposedly super-brainy computer running Words With Friends declared the word unacceptable, so I grudgingly made a different one for a lot less points. Afterwards I checked the game's feature that is called Hindsight, which shows you what word you could have played instead for the most points, if only you were as smart as the computer. In this particular case, it was SQUAW.
See what I mean? 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Refreshing Surpise

This afternoon I went to an art opening at a small, local museum. The artist's daughter, an attractive woman about 45 years old, was in attendance. We struck up a conversation and I asked if she had inherited any of her mother's creativity. She replied, "I guess you could say that. I'm a dancer." When I asked if she danced professionally, she said that it was a tough way to make a living and so she performed only in amateur and community productions. "Dancing is my passion," she explained with a shrug, "but it doesn't pay."

By then my curiosity was piqued, so I asked what it was she did for a living. Leaning towards me and lowering her voice almost to a whisper, making me think maybe she was a high-priced escort or perhaps a stripper, she replied, "I'm an internist."

I was shocked, and doubtful at the same time. After all, has anyone ever met a physician who didn't advertise that fact? Later on her mother confirmed that indeed her daughter was a doctor, confiding, "She tells everyone she's a dancer first. It's who she really is."