Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Olden Times

"Am I old?"

I ask myself that question at least 10, 15, 20 times a day (I don't know, I can't really remember) and the answer that pops into my mind is usually, "Stop wasting time and get back to work."  This is then followed by the question, "Okay ... what was I just doing?"  Which is then followed by the question, "Geez ... am I old?" which is then followed by "Stop wasting time and get back to work" and then, "Okay ... what was I doing?" and so it goes, around and around, stuck in an infinite loop, until it's either time for lunch, time for dinner, or time for re-runs of "The Golden Girls."*

So ... guess I just answered my opening question. 

It really is tough to figure out what "young" and "old" really means in our society.  I mean, in some societies, you were pretty much old and done if you stopped being useful.  Some loving family member would stop feeding you, take off your clothes, plop you onto a chunk of ice, and send you off into eternity via the obliging jaws of a hungry polar bear.**

But ... back to the good old U.S. of A.  If I were a professional ballplayer and still pitching in the Majors, I would be old.  "She's really old to still be playing!"  Sports columnists would be prefacing "pitcher" with the words, "veteran", "aging", "legendary," and "nearly dead." 

But, if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, visitors at my viewing wouldn't stop commenting about how young I was. 

"She was so young," someone would say.
"Really, it's so sad that she was so young.  She had so much life left ahead of her."
 Someone else would say, "Doesn't she look natural?"***
And then someone else would say, "Awww...she looks like she's sleeping!"****

So, it's all relative. 

I've learned that coming to grips with growing older is a rite of passage when you enter middle age.  When you're in your teens and twenties, death tends to be a scary monster hiding under the bed of somebody living on another continent.  You can still eat the breakfast cereal that has cartoon characters on the front of the boxes.  You exercise with an "offense" (as opposed to "defense") mindset.  It's recreational; you're just trying to create a slimmer, sexier, more muscular version of yourself. 

When you're in your thirties and forties ... and the Age of Ongoing Dental Work kicks in ... it occurs to you that maybe you're not special, and you really are going to be old someday.  You start paying attention to what you eat, because you've discovered the benefits of fiber.  You now exercise with an "offense" mindset (by choice, you still want to look good), but the defensive players are creeping onto the field, too.  You know walking that treadmill or riding that bike will keep things on your body from hurting, sagging or flapping in the breeze, so you do it to look good and feel good. 

But when you hit fifty and beyond, it all changes.  You pay even more attention to what you eat.  Yeah, you still want the fiber, but you also don't want to eat anything that will promote gas, bloating, swelling, rashes, insomnia, mouth sores or acid reflux... and you really don't want to bite down on something that's going to crack that expensive crown you purchased in your forties.  So, going to the grocery store becomes a real challenge, because what I've just talked about eliminates 100% of the store.   So, you shop based on which evils you're most willing to tolerate.***** 

As for exercise ... face it.  Your players on offense have all left the field.  You've got the entire defensive line in the game now, because you know you're really exercising to simply stay alive.  There's a shadowy stranger who's suddenly appeared on the horizon.  You wonder, "Is he following me?"  "He seems to be following me."  "Am I being stalked?  "Who is that guy?"  And then you recognize the hood and the scythe and it occurs to you that Mr. Reaper is going to catch up with you fast if you don't run faster. 

There are a few clues, I've discovered, that sorta remind you that you may be getting older. 

1)  When your own body makes noises that suggests, for one fleeting second, that your dad is still alive and doing something in your bathroom. 

2)  Whenever you have to fill out an online application ... you get to the date-of-birth line, start scrolling down the list of years, and you hear the "Jeopardy" music playing in your head until you finally find yours.

3)  Whenever you can't have a single conversation without uttering the words, "Where was I, what was I saying, what were we talking about" or my special favorite:  "What was the name of that ______ (insert movie name, celebrity name, TV show, primary color, whatever)."

Recently I had a phone conversation with my sister, Barb.  Barb is 11-ish years old than I am, and is very excited that she'll soon be reaching the "Beatles Age." ******  Anyway, we're both pretty smart.  We have IQs that are in the 150 range.  We're both creative; we're both smart-asses; we both think pretty highly of ourselves when it comes to anything intellectual.  Here was the recent high point of a conversation we had last week: 

Barb:  What was the name of that awful French movie, you know, it had  Nicole  -- what was her name?

Brenda:  That narrows it down.

Barb:  It had music, it was this cabaret thing, it was in France.

Brenda:  Oh, wait, I know ... Nicole Kidman.

Barb:  Yeah, that's it.  What was it called?

Brenda:  Uh ... uh ... uh ... oh yeah ... I'm not sure.   Let me do the alphabet ... A, B, C, D, E .... no, nothing's clicking ... F, G, H, I, K ...

Barb:  You missed "J".

Brenda:  L, M ... wait, it had an M in it.  I'm sure it had an M. 

Barb:  Can't you look it up online?

Brenda:  No, no, wait, I can figure this out ... N, O, P, Q, R ... there's an "R"  There's definitely an R, yes, there's an R ... "Roo!"  I know there's a "roo"!  "Roo!"  "Roo!"

Barb:  You mean like in "kanga"?

Brenda:  Shut up.  No, no ... um ... M .. "moo" ... there might be a "moo."  A "moo" and a "roo."

About half an hour later Barb finally figured out that we were trying to remember "Moulin Rouge."   And then she started telling me about an exciting new pain cream she found on Drugstore.com (which is, of course, her favorite web site).  That's pretty much how all of our conversations go.  Oh, we also spends hours trying to dissect the 347 story lines all happening simultaneously in "Game of Thrones". 

So, yeah ... sometimes this old thing gets kinda scary.  But then I have to stop and remind myself  that I can't blame a lot of my problems on age.  For one thing, I'm surrounded by neighbors who are all older than I am.  The other day, I was visiting with my neighbor, Elinor, who is almost 90.  She has some trouble getting around ... but her house is cleaner than mine.  On the other side of me lives Mary, widowed, who is in her 70s and still shovels her driveway, keeps her garage immaculate and decorates her perfectly manicured backyard with hanging plants and windmills and statues and fresh flowers.  And across the street, there's a lady named Gum ... I believe she's well into her 80s ... and, yesterday, I saw her down on her hands and knees, weeding her iris beds. 

Me?  I have to pay somebody to mow my grass.  (With working full-time and those 5-hour naps, there just isn't time for all that extra stuff!)

And don't get me started on the rich and famous.  Yeah, money and plastic surgery helps to a degree, but there are some truly active seniors out there still busting their asses and amazing people.  As most of you know, I've been a Barry Manilow (Mr. "I've been alive forever") fan since the Jurassic, and the guy is 70 years old.  70, and is currently touring the United Kingdom and dazzling audiences with a high-energy show that is receiving rave reviews.  Recently I stumbled across a photo of Barry and his entourage outdoors having a good time:

http://tiny.cc/l010fx 

Almost everyone in this picture is older than I am (most of them more than 10 years older), and they look amazing to the point where it's practically sickening.  And they're having fun!  Is this what the new "old" looks like?  Maybe we can all learn something from this photo.  Like the value of making the most out of every day ... finding reasons to be happy and joyful ... remembering to laugh, even when life is knocking you down and spitting in your face ... and wearing sunglasses whenever and wherever possible.  :-)  



*Which come on pretty late on the Hallmark Channel, but I can usually stay up pretty late because I take 5-hour naps after I come home from work.  You know, several months ago I was watching one of these re-runs with a friend of mine, Bridget.  And I said, "Wow, this was a great show featuring older women, wasn't it?"  And she said, "You do realize that we're the same age they were when they made it, right?"

** This was politically correct, right?  It's not like I actually said the word "Eskimo" or anything. 

*** My dear friend, Kit, who passed away last year, made her friends promise to beat the crap out of anybody who dared utter those words at her visitation.  I would like my friends to make me the same promise.

****Ick, I hate that one too.  I have never slept on my back in  my life.  If my family really wanted me to look like I was sleeping, outraged visitors would be demanding to know why they were looking at my ass, and why one leg was hanging out of the casket.  Forget it ... I'll just be cremated. 

***** And those are usually the evils that promote elimination.

****** If you don't automatically know that number to be "64", you're too young to be reading my blog.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Misdemeanor Man

"Wild Bill from over the hill
Never had sense and never will
When he drinks from a bottle or even a can
He becomes the Amazing Misdemeanor Man"

I felt like writing a poem* about my brother.  I think he's on my mind because I have to visit a pawn shop on Saturday to buy back my Dad's shotgun.

(I'll give you a moment to process that sentence.)

While you're processing, let me just note that there is actually a novel called "Misdemeanor Man" that was written by a lovely man named Dylan Schaffer.

 
 

I met Dylan a few years back and really, he's just the nicest and most talented guy you'd want to meet ... but, as his book has nothing whatsoever to do with my loveable, brainless, insane knucklehead of a brother, I must advise Dylan that he picked the wrong title.

Because... my brother Bill is the original, the only, the mold-shattering, ground-breaking, grand master "Misdemeanor Man".

"Never was a felon, he likes to keep it small
DUI or petty theft, my brother's done it all"

So ... back to the gun.  You see, Bill's best memories center around when he was a boy and used to go hunting with my Dad.  Bill always wanted Dad's shotgun, so before Dad died he made me promise I'd someday give it to Bill.  Last spring I finally dragged it out of the attic when Bill showed me that he had, in fact, finally acquired a hunting license. 

A couple of months ago, Bill called me, frantic and drunk off his ass.**

(Mumble mumble) "Hey - it's your Brother Bill."  (He ALWAYS starts off every telephone conversation with this same introduction, as if I could possibly confuse his witty first words with anyone else's on the planet.)

"Hi Bill, what's up?"

"Uh ...  uhhhh ...I don't know what to do! (mumble mumble) They won't give me my gun!"

"Wait ... what are you talking about?"

(More incoherent mumbling)

"Bill .. wait .. I can't understand you.  What?  What are you trying to say?" (I feel like I'm talking to Lassie.)

"Ameri-Pawn!"  He shouts (because the volume control knob on the back of his neck rotted and fell off years ago).  "Uh....uh .... I pawned the gun and tried to get it out, but they won't let me have it back.  Can you do something? Uhhhhh....." ***

(Side note ... I don't know where my brother got the bizarre idea that I could fix Everything That's Wrong in His Universe when I can't even figure out how to fill a birdfeeder without spilling seeds all over the driveway.)

"Okay ... exactly what do you want me to do, Bill?"

"Uhhhh ... can you go on the computer and find out why?"

"Okay ... but why would it be on the computer?"

(Mumblety mumble mumble jumble oh geez I don't know what he's saying)

"What? What?? I can't understand you!"

"Uhhhh...Steve**** said I've been tagged by the government so they won't let me get it back."

Okay ... "tagged" by the government?  What is he now, a migrating seal with an electronic device stapled to his ear?  It starts dawning on me that Bill is probably in some federal database as someone who - under the Brady Law guidelines - should not be permitted to own a firearm.  I foolishly try to explain this to him, to which he responds,

"I'm not a felon!  I'm not a felon!"

I try to further tell him that no, it's true he's not a felon, but there are other reasons why he might not be permitted to own a gun.  Could it be because he once (twice, seventeen times) beat somebody up?  Or because of his many domestic disputes that involved visits by the Painesville PD? Or because he's collecting Social Security after being deemed mentally ill?  Or ...could this possibly go back to the time when he was arrested for beating the crap out of an ATM machine? 

To all of this he - of course - responded,

"I'm not a felon!  I'm not a felon!"

Trying to talk reason and sense to an end-stage alcoholic is, sadly, like trying to teach algebra to a cat.  Who's the bigger fool, the cat or the teacher?  I gave up trying to explain anything and then suggested that he call the FBI to find out exactly why he was flagged in their database.*****

Right - like that's going to happen.  Besides, Bill calling the FBI probably wouldn't be the best idea.  I mean, how would that conversation go?  "Uhhhh .... uhhhh ... hey, you a--holes, why the f--- won't you f---in' feds let me get my gun back?"  I don't think it would be long before there would be significant federal agent involvement.

I then suddenly recalled that I was talking to a twelve-year-old brain and shifted gears, promising I would call Steve and get it all straightened out.  This at least brought an end to this conversation.  During my next phone call with Steve at Ameri-Pawn, I learned that although they couldn't return the weapon to Bill, they still had to hold it for 60 days before they could put it up for sale.  I explained to Steve that the gun had belonged to my dead father and that I'd really, really like to keep it in our family.  Steve promised to call me as soon as the gun was off hold so that I could come in and purchase it.

I later explained all this to Bill a few days later, but also made it clear that there was no way, no how, no chance in hell that I was giving that gun back to him.  Knowing now that he's not allowed to own one (and realizing he'd only pawn it again anyway) I told him I'd return it to the attic and someday give it to his grandson.  Bill was, of course, very adult and understanding about the matter.

"But that's MY gun!  Dad left me that gun!  It's MINE! You're my sister, you're supposed to be on my side!"

Bill threatened to take action (including having one of his pals purchase the gun for him), but in the end he did what he always does when he's upset:  He drank too much and ended up in the hospital, where he then plunged into alcohol withdrawal.  He is, as I'm writing this, still there, shaking and hallucinating. An alcoholic "frequent flyer", this has to be at least his fourth or fifth visit (there would be more, but this particular hospital hasn't been open that long).  The nurses all know him.  They all agree that he's really a kind-hearted person with a good soul.  And everybody involved knows he'll never learn; he'll never stop drinking; he'll eventually come in and never come out.

We all have our own demons to battle in life, and Bill ended up with a particularly bad one.  His mental impairment -- which dates back to early childhood -- wasn't severe enough to merit medical attention in the 50s and 60s, so Bill wasn't treated any differently than any other child, and that was a mistake.  My father -- who had survived terrible conditions, including injury, during World War II -- had no understanding of or compassion for weakness or mental illness.  Bill was his only son, and he felt that Bill could, at any time, change who he was through his own willpower.  When Bill refused to change, my Dad took it personally, feeling Bill's unacceptable behavior was an ongoing act of rebellion.  They both loved each other so very much.  They just couldn't stand one another.

Even as a child, Bill was a weird kid.  He spent most of his time rocking back and forth in front of the TV ... and, when he wasn't doing that, he was digging holes in the backyard, hoping to escape to China.  He was constantly getting hurt.  Barb thinks it was because he loved the attention, and remembers a time when Bill picked up part of a sandbox, threw it up in the air, and watched as it landed on his head, sending him to the hospital for stitches.  Barb also can't drive down E. 305th street without remembering seeing Bill, as a teenager, strolling down the street while spraying Reddi-wip into his mouth.  Bill's summers were spent capturing turtles and raccoons and keeping them as pets in the garage.  He also skipped school, engaged in drug abuse and antagonized authority figures of every kind.  I remember a time when the principal at North High slammed his head against a locker because he refused to cut his hair. 

If Bill could write a book about his life, you most definitely would want to read it.  He's lived in a few trailers and apartments, but spent several years, homeless in Florida, sleeping in a tent in the woods.  He knew how to scam every system he ever encountered. He was an expert at panhandling, and knew which churches were giving away free meals on any given day.  He taught other homeless drunks how to make cardboard signs that would generate the most sympathy and the biggest donations.  He was -- and still is -- an amazing survivalist.  He knew how to poach alligators without getting caught, and could survive just about anything nature could possibly throw at him.  He had been bitten by water moccasins and recluse spiders several times, and I hear those snakes and spiders all eventually died from Bill poisoning. 

Once, during one of the hurricanes, my Dad was watching the Weather Channel's coverage and saw someone running along the beach with a refrigerator box covering most of his body.  Without missing a beat, Dad exclaimed, "Look!  There goes Bill!"

My brother was an adept dumpster diver, and knew when all the fast food restaurants along Route 60 would discard leftovers every night.  He also knew where to obtain free merchandise; one Christmas, when I briefly lived in Florida, he gave me a dirty piece of luggage he proudly admitted he had fished out of the Salvation Army donation box.  It was 2007, and I honestly didn't think he would live to see 2008.  He had just been in a knife fight with another homeless woodsman and had wrapped his bloody wounds with duct tape (Bill avoided going to the hospital whenever he could, as they were known to not serve alcohol.  Furthermore, there were no cigarettes in their vending machines.)  He was wobbly, leathery and unable to eat, and he had fewer teeth in his mouth than when I'd last seen him (as I write this, I think he's down to two). 

A few months later, when my parents heard about Bill's plight, they told me to send him back to Ohio, so I found him in the woods,******  bought him a ticket on Greyhound, put him on the bus and prayed he wouldn't get kicked off in the middle of North Carolina.  Bill briefly lived with my parents******* before he was once again homeless. 
 
"My brother was homeless, so Dad did decide
To give him his basement in which to reside
This living arrangement was doomed from the first
When all these two did was argue and curse
Then one summer day, Bill finally fled
When a gallon of ice cream was thrown at his head"
 
By then, I had moved back to Ohio and had Bill stay with me until I was able to find a program that would help him.  Through counseling and assistance from Beacon Health (formerly Neighboring-Pathways), Bill was placed in extended housing. He eventually received Social Security and now lives in Section 8 housing.  He has had a roof over his head for the past five years. 

It's good to know that second chances do exist in this world if you know how to find them.  Bill has had second, third, ninth and tenth chances.  He has survived hitting bottom countless times.  And yet, because he is wired to drink, he drinks, and has absolutely no desire to stop. 

With Bill, my primary goal has been to do what I can, whenever possible, to keep him alive.  My secondary goal has been to keep him out of social situations, in which he has no clue how to behave.  A couple years ago, my sister Barb, visiting from San Francisco, decided she wanted to have lunch at a historical inn she had read about on the Internet.  The Rider's Inn in Painesville had existed since 1812.  It has a mini-museum of sorts that contains historical artifacts, and its atmosphere is quaint, quiet and dignified.   Because Bill was going to be with us all day, Barb thought it would be acceptable if the four of us -- Mom, Barb, Bill and myself -- all had lunch together.

www.ridersinn.com


I reminded her of the time we had invited him out to lunch at an Applebee's in Florida and the embarrassment that ensued.  Bill -- who, as I previously mentioned, cannot control his volume -- had entertained the diners by sitting at our table and shouting out boastful, racially insensitive comments about his exploits in the woods.  I was shocked we weren't asked to leave. So ... how would we control him in an establishment as nice as the Rider's Inn?

But, because we were visiting Dad's grave -- and Bill wanted to go -- having him join us for lunch was the only logistical move we could make (after all, it would have been cruel to make him wait out in the car while the rest of us ate).  The moment we walked in the door, Bill shouted, "Hey, they have a bar!" and quickly abandoned the rest of us.  Later, when we were eating, Bill appeared in the dining room, staggering drunk.  Quickly a hostess stepped up to question him, thinking some disruptive homeless man had just wandered in from the street. 

"Excuse me, Sir... but can I help you?"

"Uhhhh .... uhhhhh .... yeah, I'm looking for my Mom .... uhhhhh..."

Quickly Barb stood up and said, "It's okay, he's with us" and motioned Bill over to the table, where he tried to eat the food she had ordered for him. 

But all of this pales in comparison to Bill's behavior at my Mom's viewing and funeral this past January.  Bill hadn't done too badly at Dad's funeral three years earlier, when he had been with his then-girlfriend, Kathy.  Kathy had done a pretty decent job keeping Bill semi-sober and sane, and was able to manage him when they were out in public.  But during Mom's viewing, Bill spent most of his time drunk, chain-smoking in the parking lot and watching TV in the kitchen.  Barb, knowing that most of the guests were going to be people who knew me, including colleagues from work, spent most of her time trying to keep an eye on Bill while I was greeting visitors. 

"What are you doing?"  She barked at him, when he turned the volume on the TV up to an obscenely blaring level.

"I can't hear the TV!"

"You're not supposed to hear the TV!  This is a funeral home!  These people don't want to hear that!  Turn it down!" 

"Uhhhh ... uhhhhh ... I'm going outside for a smoke."

At least she was able to keep Bill out of the viewing area for most of the night.  I did have one moment of panic when I was talking to my boss, Pete, and ... bam! .... there was Bill, intoxicated, lurching in behind him.  I kept thinking, "Pete, don't turn around, please don't turn around, oh dear God don't let my brother do anything stupid while I'm talking to my boss," and, happily, God heard my prayer.  Bill lurched out again, without anyone being the wiser.

On the day of the funeral, however, Bill's inability to follow rules, customs, or even the simplest of  instructions became painfully clear to everyone in attendance.  When the minister asked everyone to pay their final respects to my mother, "starting with the row in the back," there was my brother, in the front row, jumping to his feet and rushing the casket.  Shortly thereafter, when it was time for everyone to file out of the funeral home and into our cars for the procession, Bill -- oblivious to what was going on -- announced he needed to go outside for a cigarette. 

Barb hissed, "Stop it.  You can't go outside for a cigarette, we're going to the cemetery now.  This is your mother's funeral and this is not how you're supposed to act.  Knock it off."

When we arrived at All Souls Cemetery, it was freezing cold and there was at least a foot of snow on the ground.  Mom and Dad's pre-purchased graves were on top of a hill, and I wasn't looking forward to trekking up there, convinced I'd slip on some ice and break my neck (even under the best of circumstances, I have the poise, grace, and coordination of a hippo trying to do a somersault on a balance beam).  We prepared to proceed, in dignified, orderly fashion, up the hill when ... you guessed it ... my brother staggered forward ahead of us, announcing, "I'm going to go check out the digs!" The capper, of course, was when we all went out to lunch afterward.  Bill, naturally, avoided the rest of us and never ate lunch.  He spent the entire time perched on a stool at the bar.  I kept glancing over at him, just to make sure he was still there, and panicked when I didn't see him.  Fortunately, it did occur to me to look down.  He was on the floor. 

I have a few theories about alcoholics...and although I do not have a medical degree, I believe I am, nevertheless, well-qualified to voice an opinion about them.  I was raised by alcoholics.  I spent some time in Chicago helping a cousin deal with alcoholism. I recently tried to help that same cousin when he found himself homeless on the streets of Parma (happily, he is now being assisted by the same organization that helped my brother.  He is no longer homeless and is living in extended housing). I dated an alcoholic, and have both the physical and emotional scars to show for it.  So, here it is:

I believe alcoholics tend to freeze in time at the moment they become addicted, which could explain why so many of them think and act like rebellious young teenagers.  I also think that alcoholism often victimizes those souls among us who are the most emotionally vulnerable.   My brother is a good person.  I know this is my gut.  He is a sensitive person.  He loves animals, and I think one of the reasons he lived so long in the woods was because he just felt more comfortable living amongst other species.  He is fiercely loyal, and as big a pain as he's been in my rear and my sister's rear over the years, I know that he wouldn't hesitate to bodily harm anyone who would try to hurt either one of us. He's a good, messed up person who does bad things, especially to himself.   I honestly think this can be said of most alcoholics.

And, as advanced as we think we are as a society, we still can't figure out an effective way to treat or even manage the poor souls who suffer from this often terminal illness.

So ... here I am, on a Wednesday morning, wishing I didn't have to visit a pawn shop on Saturday. I'm also thinking about Bill in the hospital, and wishing I somehow could have done more, even if I have no clue what that could have been.  He's the only brother I've got.  I love him.  I won't have him much longer.  When he dies, I believe my Mom will be on the other side, loving and forgiving, stretching out her arms to embrace him.  With Dad, I'm not so sure.  I like to think he'll do the same.  Or, he'll first yell, "Why did you pawn my gun, you big dummy?" and hurl another gallon of ice cream at his head before he gives him a hug.  It will be a lot better on the other side, I know that.  But I'll sure miss him.
 
It's selfish, I know, to want him here
Where he's never found his place
But I believe, beyond this earth
Bill will finally find his space
 
 
Yes.  I'll sure miss him.
And ... it's going to be so very dull here without him.



By the way...if you'd like to help people who suffer as my brother does ... donations to Beacon Health can be made on their website, www.beaconhealth.us .
 
***


*I've written lots of poems, and they're all terrible.  I love doing things I'm really, really bad at, so that's why I also enjoy singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" very loudly on the highway with the windows rolled down.  It does, I'm sure, disturb other drivers, but that only enhances my joy.

**That's like saying he called me "frantic, drunk off his ass and breathing," so I'll try to avoid such redundancies in the future.

***Wanna know what Bill sounds like?  Remember "Lurch" from "The Addams Family"? 

****At this point, of course, I have no clue who 'Steve' is ... I eventually learn he's the pawn shop manager.

***** The answer is now clear.  I am the bigger fool. 
 
******  Searching for someone in the woods isn't easy, by the way, especially when you're doing it in Florida.  It's like being lost in Jurassic Park.... and you know you'd better get out of there before something with no, two, four or eight legs decides to kill you.
 
******* I think they lasted an entire afternoon.  Okay, I'm exaggerating - a week.  Maybe. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Today's Weighty Issue

I'm overweight... thought I'd point that out in case anyone out there had seen a recent photo of me and didn't immediately pick up on that:


(If your monitor suddenly cracked, well, too bad for you, I'm not buying you a new one.  This blog has always been a "read at your own risk" deal.  Remember all those documents I had you sign the first time you read me?)

Anyway, as it turns out, being overweight isn't really good for a whole lot.  According to the latest, oldest, pretty much all of the, news reports, anyone carrying extra weight is, in fact, going to die one day.  It's terrible, isn't it? I do try to diet as often as I can, because there are days when I think, "Man, I'd sure like to lose weight and live forever like all the skinny people do," but by the time I'm done thinking about it, I've usually found something else to do with my time or, if I'm lucky, that last pudding cup sitting in the back of the refrigerator.

So, it's never "news" when some size 0 newscaster with perky cheekbones (and don't even get me started on the females) says something like, "Latest studies have found that being obese will lead to cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, ugly naked state and lousy self esteem."  For me, it would be actual news if one anchor stick figure started off a broadcast with, "Recent studies have found that fat people can be healthy and lead happy, useful lives."  *

But I have found one great upside to being fat today...namely, I couldn't even remotely get away with writing the blog entry you're about to read ** if I were thin.  The Fat Universe would tear me to shreds (and possibly eat them if they were deep-fried and covered in brown sugar).  But, as I'm already a member of the Fat Universe, the most I'll likely get is a slap on my chubby hand, and I have all that fat to cushion the blow, so hey, give it your best shot. 

So, here's today's weighty issue... ***

When my sister (a beautiful lady who, like me, is also overweight) was visiting a week ago, we were watching the news and were told that, shock and horror, there was a brewing "controversy" over actress Melissa McCarthy's latest appearance on the cover of "Elle":

http://www.tvguide.com/news/elle-melissa-mccarthy-cover-1072240.aspx?rss=keywords&partnerid=foxnews&profileid=celebs

Here's the cover photo:



Let me emphasize that Barb is sitting on the couch, I'm sitting in Dad's chair **** and the anchor says something like, "Coming up after the break, the latest controversy over Melissa McCarthy's photo on 'Elle'," and they flash this picture on the screen.  It was the first time Barb or I had seen it.  And I immediately turned to Barb and said, "Wow, gorgeous picture, but I'll bet there's a controversy over all the airbrushing on the face."  Barb and I held a short meeting during the commercial break and determined that The Power That Be at "Elle" must have brushed out some of her chins and, if that were the case, I sure wish I had those same powers working out of my house.*****

So, after the commercial break, Miss Size Zero Anchor Chick comes back on and informs us all that the controversy has to do with Melissa (who is a member of the Fat Universe, and we're damn glad to have you with us, baby) was intentionally being "covered up" by a hideous coat ****** when all the other skinny actresses got to show off an appropriate amount of flesh in their photos, like this one:


And I'm not suggesting that Ms. Woodley isn't a gorgeous person; I'm merely using this photo to demonstrate that The Media didn't seem to find this display of flesh to be controversial at all, which wasn't always the case.  You wouldn't have seen a photo like this on display anywhere in the mainstream 50 years ago.  Heck, we weren't even permitted to view Barbara Eden's belly-button on "I Dream of Jeannie" in 1966. 

So, now controversy happens when a woman is shown wearing too many clothes.  Oh wait ... not "a" woman.  A FAT woman.   

Here's what bugs me the most about this:

Does not The Media understand that if Shailene Woodley had appeared wearing a seasonal fashion choice -- meaning one which would not permit the wearer to freeze to death while strolling through the Minnesota woods in October -- there would never have been a "controversy"?  Does this not suggest that it's The Media that has problems with fat women, and not "Elle"?  If Melissa had been thin and wearing a coat, there would have been no discussion at all.  But when an overweight woman -- even one as gorgeous as Melissa -- dares to command a spotlight anywhere, The Media jumps all over it like a fat guy on a Big Mac.  Has Oprah gained weight?  Has Kirstie lost weight?  Why is Melissa being forced to "cover up" with a coat?  If a fat female celebrity dares to not be invisible, even for one second, The Media will find some aspect of that to bitch about and ... worse ... pin their prejudices on a third party. 

So ... I'm glad I got that off my full-figured bosom... but here's what bugs me SECOND most about this (and this is the part of this blog post that's probably going to get my sizeable ass busted):

Why does covering up one's fat mean that someone's "ashamed" of it? 

Why can't something be covered up because it simply looks better that way? 

Can't there be, I don't know, some happy mid-point between what's "shameful" and what's "skanky"?

I guess this is my age showing, because when I was growing up (and yes, I was a chubby-- albeit active-- kid), it was considered a sign of good taste, if not breeding, to wear clothes that flattered your lines.  Breaking this down:  If you had flabby upper arms, you didn't wear sleeveless tops.  If you had an ample butt, you wore a jacket long enough to cover it.  If you had a poochy stomach, you didn't tuck your shirt into your pants, and you certainly didn't wear tank tops that appeared to have shrunk in the dryer.  But if you DID want to break with tradition and ignore any of those rules, then you did that, knowing others would give you grief about it.  It wasn't society's fault if you got some grief; it was simply your choice to ignore it, and that was the end of it. 

Me ... I haven't gone sleeveless in public since I was 11 years old (except at the swimming pool), because I believe it was then my mother told me to cover up any part of my body that moved independently from the rest.  (Of course, my mother also told me to wear dark colors because they were "slimming", so I used to defy her by buying stuff that was pink.)  Yeah, maybe there was some fat "shame" at play.  Frankly, I think a little more well-placed shame, now and then, might benefit Society greatly (and that's a whole 'nuther entry).  But I also have Mom to thank for having childhood photos of myself that do not, today, make me puke. 

Look ... body parts that jiggle, swing, shake or bobble shouldn't be seeking attention. These parts want to be supported.  They want to be nurtured.  They want to be loved.  They want to be enveloped by silk, satin, velvet, cashmere, any gorgeous garment that flows, or -- for the guys -- swimming trunks that don't outline junk I don't need to see.  Men and women in Victorian England didn't cover up their bodies in public out of shame; they did it because yeah, Society made them do it, but also because being seen without clothing was a privilege reserved for private moments behind bedroom doors.  In other words, being naked wasn't something to be ashamed of, but something that was meant to be an event, something special, something not common. 

Today, you tell me ... what's special about seeing Shailene Woodley wearing a swimsuit on the cover of "Elle"?  Flesh is everywhere.  It's too common.  It's not special, even if it's flesh that's attractive as Ms. Woodley's is.  You'd walk past this magazine at a newsstand in an airport and probably barely (no pun intended) notice it, because there's a sea of flesh on the same rack.  Let me stifle a yawn while I rush to my gate.

So, a memo to The Media ... you can call me old-fashioned because there are still people out here who prefer to see imperfect body parts covered by something beautiful, but do NOT call me "fat-shamed."  I like to think we can still exercise our imaginations while reinstating good fashion taste in public places.  I'd so like to walk up to the next chubby, scantily dressed 14-year-old girl I see at the mall and say, as my mother would have said to me 40 years ago, "You really should cover that up, honey". 


 
*This hasn't happened yet, but I'm really very hopeful.
 
** What, you say?  I'm not reading your entry yet?  Just what in the hell have I been reading here?
 
*** Actually, it was last week's issue, but there's a time delay on the planet where I live.

**** Dad passed away in 2010.  The chair will always belong to him first. 

*****  Melissa, if you're out there reading this (and God only knows why you would be), you're so stunning, and so talented.  I loved "Bridesmaids" and I watch "Mike and Molly" all the time, and I just know it's going to become a massive hit when TBS shows three hours of re-runs every night like they do with "The Big Bang Theory".  So, if you didn't have one alteration made to this picture and you want to sue me, please remember how much I love you and how very beautiful I think you are, and no matter how smarmy that just sounded, I'm being totally sincere. Oh, and I'm really poor.

****** Honestly, I think this coat is gorgeous and would kill for it if the warden would let me wear it in prison.
















Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oh, Floody Hell (or "Lord, Oh the Flies!")

Labor Day has always - traditionally - marked the passing of summer with a somewhat melancholy tone.  Autumn is near; winter is right around the corner; and it's time to get serious about whatever I've put off being serious about.  While I pack away the shorts and white shoes, I think back on the joys, the regrets, and the memories that will set this summer apart from the rest.

This year?

I wanted to throw a party, celebrating the drop-kicking of this summer to the curb, down the drain, into the sewer and out into Lake Erie.

Speaking of drains and sewers ... anybody else living in Lake County want to guess why this summer wasn't one of my faves?  I mean, besides the fact that it seemingly rained every other day, and our backyards look like the Amazon barfed all over our flower beds?  I have tulip trees that now think they're oaks; one is threatening to engulf my patio.  I have green, spiky things growing in-between my rose bushes that are completely unknown to me.  Are they plants my Dad planted 20 years ago?  Are they weeds?  Are they something my brother would smoke?  I have no clue.  And -- if he couldn't smoke the weeds -- I'm betting he'd have a great time with the mushroom patches that appear in the backyard overnight.  I just hope none of my foliage is illegal, because I wouldn't be able to afford the fines.

Which leads me to the main reason why I hated this summer.

In July, we had a bit of a rainstorm that caused toxic sewer water* to back up into everybody's basements.  The flooding happened overnight, so I didn't find out until the next morning that something Pretty Bad Had Happened.  When I looked down the basement steps and saw my dehumidifier (which had been standing in the rec room) lying on its face by the bottom step, I knew only one force could have moved it.  One ugly force.  One ugly, crappy, pain-in-the-ass force.  The water may have receded (along with a good chunk of my money, it would turn out), but what was left wasn't pretty:  peeling floor tiles, soggy drywall, buckling paneling, water-logged boxes and everything covered in filth.  I tried to not pass out from the stench and stumbled back upstairs, telling myself, "It's okay - I'm lucky.  My main floor wasn't touched.  I wasn't hurt, and the animals weren't hurt.  Nobody's homeless." 

But ... the noble feelings passed when I turned on the kitchen sink and no hot water came out. 

Like a lot of folks in Lake County - and especially here in Willowick, which was one of the hardest hit suburbs - most of my high-ticket items were fried.  My washer and dryer were ruined; the dehumidifier was dead (which didn't discourage one garbage-picking scavenger in a pick-up truck from snatching it off my tree lawn).  As my nephew and his friend helped me drag the damaged remnants of my past out onto the lawn, I kept wondering why this had happened?  Willowick had experienced a similar (and somewhat less severe) flood several years earlier.  What was causing this?

Several possibilities had to be seriously considered, including:

1)  The area has become over-developed, too much for an ancient sewer system to handle.

2)  The natural run-off lands, consumed by the building craze, are gone, so the poopy water can't get to where it needs to go.

3)  It's an act of God, and there's nothing anybody can do about it.**

4)  Our mayor is a poo-poo head.***

5)  Our congressman is a big poo-poo head.  ****

6)  Our president is the grand poobah of poo-poo heads. *****

Bottom line ... because we couldn't show the state enough structural damage, our county couldn't get federal aid.  So, most of us had to just suck it up (literally and figuratively) and accept being poor.  Most of us had thousands of dollars worth of damage.  The five grand Allstate sent me paid for new appliances...but the extra ten grand I'd need to restore the basement itself isn't coming from any government entity or insurance company. 

And yet, I know many folks have it worse.  Not everybody had some sort of insurance, and I feel for them.  I especially worry about the seniors in our community; where will their money come from?

After the initial shock, I think I held myself together pretty well until Best Buy showed up to install my new gas dryer.  The nice young man took one look at the copper pipe hooked up to my old gas dryer and said, "Ma'am, we can't touch this, it isn't 'code'."

I looked at him as if he were the biggest idiot to ever escape the idiot farm.  And then I burst into tears. 

"Well, of course it isn't code..." I sobbed, "My DAD used to live in this house."  My father was the king of Getting By.  He didn't give a floating turd about codes, regulations, or anything else that suggested he should live by somebody else's rules.  Ever since I moved into the house three years ago, I've been finding - and fixing - stuff that was either jerry-rigged******, outdated, corroded, disintegrating, or all of the above.  I can still remember having conversations with Dad where I'd point out problems and say, "Gee, Dad, don't you think we should fix this?" to which he'd cheerfully reply, "Oh, I don't care, I'll be dead soon, and then it'll be somebody else's problem."

I did manage to call a very nice plumber who got everything hooked up without blowing up the house.  Having a working dryer was a good thing, because hanging my clothes to dry in the backyard wasn't.  Forget all that noble, green blather the environmentalists love to spew about saving the planet by drying clothes outside.  For one thing, the last time Dad had hung clothes out, he hung them on a clothesline that spanned the length of the driveway, and it worked pretty well.  Sadly, I couldn't mimic his efforts.  First, because when it comes to the simplest tasks that can be done inside or outside a home, I'm a complete idiot.  Second, I - in my infinite lack of wisdom - had since turned that part of the backyard into a bird sanctuary.  And not just birds ... I was constantly feeding wildlife back there, and the thought of some blue jay crapping all over my freshly laundered nightgown wasn't too appealing.  Worse, I often have deer in the yard, and the mental image of some doe running into my delicates - flapping in the summer breeze - was sobering.  I had visions of a psycho Bambi frantically leaping over the back fence with one of my bras hanging off its antler.  Then I'd be embarrassed, have to move, have to sell, and who in their right mind would buy a house in a sewer flood zone?  I did eventually manage to string up a clothesline between two of my giant tulip trees, but not being a small person, I encountered a slight engineering problem:  The weight of my wet clothes was dragging the line down into the grass.  I couldn't tie the line tight enough to prevent this, so my only other option was to drag a step ladder out of the garage and use it as a fulcrum to prop up the middle of the line.********   It worked, but it looked ridiculous.

Once my dryer was successfully installed, I thought I was mostly out of the woods with the immediate flooding issues. 

Of course - as usual - I was totally wrong.  And, had I reviewed my handy Bible, I would have remembered that most plagues are, traditionally, followed by pestilence. 

Mine?

Sewer flies. 

Actually, I don't know if they're called sewer flies, drain flies, fruit flies or gnats on steroids ... but shortly after the flood, I noticed these itty bitty black flies buzzing around my kitchen and bathroom sinks.  Having just thrown out some rotten bananas a few days earlier, I assumed they were fruit flies and would eventually go away.

That was a month ago.
And ... I still have flies.

They are small, and they're pretty harmless.  But for someone like me who tends to obsess about ... well ... EVERYTHING ... they are a curse that must be erased.  I've Goofled how to get rid of them.  I've set out traps. I've hung up fly paper.  I've killed a few, but like the Union soldiers in the Civil War, for every one I killed, 10 more would show up to laugh at me.  "Ha!" they would scoff (telepathically, of course, because flies can't talk ... unless they're Jeff Goldblum and turning into a really BIG fly), "We spit on your pathetic apple cider vinegar traps and that silly zapper that looks like a tennis racket!"  Actually, the zapper (see the link below) works pretty well, but even Serena Williams couldn't kill every one of these rotten little house guests. 

http://www.walmart.com/ip/BiteShield-Electronic-Racket-Zapper/11988154

I've tried other remedies as well.  My brother (who is an expert on vermin) suggested I pour bleach down the drains.  The Red Cross had passed out plenty of bleach, so I tried that ... but the invaders have been seemingly unaffected ... I think they're using it for their laundry.  My plumber suggested I plug up the bathroom sink and drown them in bleachy water, but that just turned into a fly frenzy free-for-all frolic at the beach ... the bleachy beach.  My niece's mom suggested I pour the apple cider vinegar down the sink to entice the flies to follow, eventually causing them to drown.  Of all the suggestions I've tried, that seems to be the most effective.  I like to think the swarms are shrinking. 

But I honestly can't figure out if there are really fewer flies ... or I'm just gradually adopting an "I don't care anymore" attitude about the whole matter.  I mean, what else can I do?  I've scrubbed every surface I can find (not with bleach, of course ... I used all that).  I still have nightmares that somewhere ... behind the stove, refrigerator, or some other Huge Thing I Can't Move ... are the remains of a bad banana that has become these critters' Camelot.  I imagine their queen ... a fly the size of a field mouse ... holding court back there, instructing her legions to swarm outward and terrorize the silly human who flails at them with helpless curses and useless zapper rackets.  What if I never find their secret breeding place?  What if I am fly-infested forever?

I do have two other back-up plans.

Winter is coming, so if I wait it out long enough, maybe they'll all freeze to death. 

And, if that doesn't work, what the heck ... I'll be dead soon, and then it'll be somebody else's problem. 

*As opposed to sparkling clean sewer water?

**This was my mayor's opinion.

***Oh come on, Mayor Bonde, I don't mean it.  I said the exact same thing when you were my algebra teacher in 1976 and tried to explain why I sucked at math.

****Would you believe, out of frustration, I wrote to our Congressman, David Joyce?  His office's response was, "Sorry, there's nothing we can do, but keep reaching out to your elected officials." (????)

*****Would you believe, out of frustration/stupidity, I wrote to the White House?  I got a letter back from FEMA today that basically said, "Hey, sorry we can't help you guys, but give the Red Cross or United Way a try, and keep reaching out to your elected officials."

******Or is the correct term "jury-rigged"?  I looked it up on the Internet and Goofle ******* was no help whatsoever, thank you very much.

******* "Goofle" isn't their real name ... I changed it to protect the guilty. 

******** See, Mr. Bonde?  Maybe I didn't do well in algebra, but at least I learned enough basic physics to dry my damn clothes.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paper, Pencils and Playing Cards

So, here's the thing...

Yesterday after work, I stopped in at the dollar store at Shoregate to pick up some Diet Coke. I don't know if it's called "The Dollar Store", so I apologize if that's wrong.  There are many "dollar" chains around town, and I can't keep track of what any of them are called.  So, going forward, maybe I should use fictional names so I don't appear to be favoring or excluding anybody.

Anyway, I had run out of pop during the day and figured I had only hours left to live without it.  I'd hate to miss autumn; it's one of my favorite seasons. So... I needed to buy some more fertilizer for my next kidney stone.  Where to go?  Dollar Genie was my best option. The grocery store --  a few hundred feet away -- was simply too far to drive.  And, once inside, there were going to be far too many people with kids trying to buy healthy, over-processed wheat bread, peanut butter, jelly, pencils and snot rags for the first day of school (which is today at Willoughby-Eastlake). 

So, forget the Giant Eagle ... I would just run into the Dollar Desert, grab my poison and get out. 

And, for a change, that's all I carried up to the register ... an 8-pack and four dollars.  Usually I take time to browse a little and buy half of what's on sale, but I could already feel my hands shaking from the withdrawal. I hadn't had a Coke since 3 o'clock.  I needed to go home and drink. 

I was in line behind a nice lady and her daughter.  The daughter -- who I'll call Roberta* -- asked the clerk, "Where are your debit cards?"

Actually .. she didn't say "debit cards."  That's just what I heard because I was probably thinking about mine.  What she said was, "Where are your deck of cards?"

This girl looked to be about 10 years old. 

And she was asking for them in FRONT OF HER MOTHER? I was thinking, "Geez, kid, don't you know anything?  Hide your vices from parents!  Never let them know you're a drunk, a drug addict or a compulsive gambler!  Honestly ... these kids are simply not being taught properly anymore.  Shame on these lazy parents.  Why raise your child to be a degenerate if you don't learn 'em to cover it up?

But Roberta, or Nancy, or Debbie, or whatever her name was kept asking for playing cards.

The nice clerk pointed her around the corner.  "They're hanging there."

The child plucked a cellophane-wrapped deck of Hoyle off the peg board and asked, "These?"

Mom looked a bit confused.  "Are you sure that's what you need?"

And the clerk said, "Oh yes, my kid's in the same grade.  That's what they want." 

I heard all this, and figured my withdrawal had gone into overdrive and the hallucinations were starting.  Playing cards?  What were these schools doing ... teaching these kids poker or blackjack in case the economy never improves and the casino's their only hope?

So, after I left the Dollar Demon** and drove home, where I guzzled down a 20-ounce and started feeling better***, I visited Royalview Elementary's website and checked out some of school supply lists.

Here's the one with the PLAYING CARDS.

Note...I have not altered (altared?) this list in ANY way.  I copied.  I pasted.  And then I shook my head and cried:

ROYALVIEW  ELEMENTARY  SCHOOL Supply  List  2013-2014 
Fourth Grade 
Please label all supplies

 2” 3 ring binder
1 green two-pocket folder (NO PRONGS)
1 blue two-pocket folder (NO PRONGS)
1 red two-pocket folder (NO PRONGS)
1 yellow two-pocket folder (NO PRONGS)
1 white glue (liquid) 8oz. size 
2 marking pens
1 box Crayola magic markers – small tip (8-12 count only)
1 highlighter
2 large boxes of Kleenex 
24 pencils #2 
large pencil eraser
1 pair scissors –
medium sized 1 box of crayons - not more than 48 count
2 spiral notebooks – one subject only
1 deck of playing cards 
1 package of Clorox Clean-Up Wipes (Please stick with Clorox brand)
6-8 dry erase markers– small tip
1 sock
2 glue sticks
1 mini pencil sharpener (no battery operated)
1 small package of post-it notes
Last names (A-L) sandwich size Ziploc bags
(M-Z) gallon size Ziploc bags
1 bottle of hand sanitizer (no larger than 12 fl.oz.)
 
*Please do not send in items not listed due to lack of space, including pencil cases or bags. 
*If in Mrs. Goodrich’s class, please see her supply list posted for the looping class.

***
Okay, so... um .... where do I start here?  Several questions come to mind.  May I share them with you?

1)  What is this irrational hatred toward PRONGS?  What is so terrible about a prong?****  Aren't they those little metal thingies that kinda hold the paper inside the folder?  They're tiny ... they're barely noticeable .. they fly under the radar.  What, did some kid somewhere accidentally fall asleep and puncture an eyeball?  I feel sad for the prongs.  They deserve better.  And... okay ... why do the file folders have to be specific colors?  Back in MY DAY (warning - I'm going to say that a LOT), teachers couldn't give a rat's behind if they were red, green, blue or psychedelic orange.  They were just thrilled we remembered to bring them. 

2) I think it's cute that elementary aged kids are required to bring highlighters. Highlighters did exist when I was a child... they were invented in 1962 (which was also when I was invented).  But highlighters were something used in offices or possibly in high school.  Back in MY DAY at Royalview, if you wanted to "highlight" something, you used a crayon, a pen or you folded down the corner of the page.  In the end, we weren't really encouraged to highlight things, because that meant marking up a book that we were supposed to give back at the end of the year. We also used a little-known learning device known as "taking notes," which meant writing down important stuff that might end up on a test. 

3) I want to understand the count limit on markers and crayons here.  I really do want to understand. Really.  Because, back in MY DAY, we weren't required to bring markers - they were optional.  We were required to bring crayons, but again, there was no Crayon Police checking the number of crayons or how thick they were or what brand they were.  Frankly, variety is good for kids ... it teaches them which kids' parents have more money than everybody else's. My birthday is in late August, so as a child I always got school supplies as gifts.  One year somebody gave me a Crayola Box of 64 and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  I was a BIG SHOT at school because I had the BIG HONKIN' BOX OF CRAYONS with the colors nobody had ever heard of, like "burnt sienna" or "peach" (which used to be "flesh" but was renamed in 1962 because of the Civil Rights Movement). Those poor kids with their measly 32-count boxes could all bite me. 

Sure, later it was those same kids taunting me on the playground, but at least I had my memories.

So now, our education system wants to deprive children of those rare, fleeting moments when they can feel superior to everybody else.  I think that's just so wrong. 

4)  Why do these kids need their own pencil sharpeners?  Back in MY DAY every classroom had its own crappy, dull-bladed metal pencil sharpener that destroyed our pencils.  But...the cranking noise was a welcome distraction during tests. 

5) What's with all the Kleenex and hand-sanitizer?  How filthy and unhealthy ARE today's youth?  Back in MY DAY, if we needed Kleenex, we excused ourselves, went to the lavatory and used toilet paper (or got some Puffs from the nice teacher who may have had some on her desk).  Or, if we were THAT sick, we stayed home with Mom so as not to infect the rest of the class.  And, wouldn't one think that if the kids are required to have hand sanitizer, they wouldn't NEED the Kleenex?  And what's with the Clorox wipes - NO off brand here - CLOROX wipes?  Again ... how fragile are these children that they must decontaminate every single thing they touch? 

Back in MY DAY, there were no wipes beyond those coarse brown paper towels in the bathroom, and our "hand sanitizer" was that stuff -- also in the bathroom -- known as "soap."  When I remember how dirty we got during recess ... all the booger fights ... and how some poor child barfed up her tator tots at least twice a week .. it's a wonder I'm sitting here writing this blog.  How did I ever survive all the contagion? 

And finally ...

Ziploc bags?  The other bags aren't allowed, but the Ziplocs are okay? 

Half the class has to bring little ones.
Half the class has to bring big ones. 
What, exactly, are they bagging?
Uneaten food?
Insects for science class?  
Something they can sell at recess to pay for all these school supplies?



*I went to school with a girl named Roberta.  We were best friends in Mrs. Blackstone's fourth grade glass.  In seventh grade, however, she literally tried to strangle me during band class, which was kinda messed up... so we stopped being friends after that.  Actually ... Roberta was nuts, and this little girl in line seemed nice, so forget Roberta, I'll call her "Nancy."  I had lots of friends named "Nancy." 

**Who are they kidding?  There's nothing in those stores that costs an actual DOLLAR.

***I really need to figure out why I'm not sleeping well.

****Of course, I'm not really thinking about prongs, I'm thinking about prawns and that lovely shrimp dinner I had over at the Red Lobster on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Political incorrectness, political ineptness

When you live in Northeastern Ohio, there are certain markers that tell you summer is officially here.  A few include:

-- Cedar Point is open every day
-- The Indians' closing pitching has started to suck
-- Some super hero movie is being filmed downtown and now none of us can figure out how to get to work
-- The soft-serve ice cream shops are all open for business
-- We've all gracefully transitioned from the "it's too cold" bitching to the "it's too hot" bitching *

and, best of all ...

-- It's festival season again!

Ah, the church festivals ... I can't imagine summer in Ohio without them ... where we see the same Ferris wheel and tilt-a-whirl traveling from parking lot to parking lot.  These festivals, held to benefit local churches and civic groups, have it all ... pop, beer, corn dogs, games of chance and, of course, the raffles.  St. Mary Magdalene in Willowick usually holds its festival early in the summer, and the car raffle is always a big deal (they also have a cool technology raffle where you can win a TV, iPad or Nook).  This year's car raffle offers the winner a choice of $15,000 or a 3-year lease on a Chevy.  There are also lesser cash prizes, so do check it out:

http://www.smmwillowick.org/festival

The raffle is always a lot of fun, and I always enjoy sitting out in our tent on Vine Street, waving people over to buy tickets.

But, for the festival itself, I wanted to do something different this year, so I signed up to work the Chinese auction.  As I'm sure you probably know (if you're from here), Chinese auctions aren't exactly auctions.  They're really a sort of raffle, usually involving different prizes.  You buy a ticket, and you put the ticket in the container for the prize you want to win. If you really favor one prize over another, you can increase your odds by buying lots of tickets and putting them in the container for that prize (so, maybe in that sense, it does have an auction aspect).  They're a lot of fun, and lots of churches and libraries use them in their fundraisers. 

And then I made a huge mistake.

After talking my sister into purchasing a sheet of raffle tickets for the car, I stupidly told her I had signed up to work the Chinese auction.  I was proud of my volunteer spirit and wanted to share it with Barbara, as if to say, "See what a cool sister you have, aren't you impressed?"

Barbara lives in San Francisco. **

So anyway, after I told her this, I heard her sort of gasp on the other end of the phone... and then she said, "I'm sorry, what did you say?" 

I repeated my news.

"A Chinese Auction?  What the hell is that?"

I couldn't believe it ...how could she never have heard of these?  So, I explained what it was.

There was a significant pause on the other end, and then she said, "You know that's totally racist?"***

I had always prided myself on not being the racist sort.  But c'mon ... Chinese auctions have been around forever.  I told her so.

"So was slavery.  But we got rid of that, right?"

I assured her that nobody here uses the term "Chinese auction" with the slightest notion of it being politically incorrect or racist, and that we used the term because it's always been used in the most innocent light.  Who could accuse a church or a library of wanting to be racist?  It's just a name given to describe a type of strange little raffle. It can't be bad if somebody just wants to win a breakfast basket filled with pancake batter and Pop-Tarts. 

But I didn't want her to think I was a total jerk, so I countered with, "Well, I can see where that might be a bigger deal where you live, because you have a higher Chinese population.  We do have Chinese-Americans living in Willowick, but probably not as many as you do."  Of course, as I'm saying all this, it's occurring to me that I'm sounding like an even bigger jerk because this is one really sad argument if it's all I've got.  Welcome to some truly warped Willowick existentialism... sort of like the old "if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if nobody can hear it?" discussion.  Only now I was reduced to arguing that the term isn't offensive if there's nobody to offend (or, if there is somebody to offend, they're not offended enough to tell us about it).  

Barbara called me on my B.S., still insisting we were all terrible.   So then I tried a different angle and said, "Well, if we don't call it a Chinese auction, people won't know what it is because there's no other way to describe it."  This, of course, sounded lame the second it left my mouth. But really, what else COULD you call it?   

Finally, out of desperation, I told her I'd Google it to find out where the term had, in fact, originated... but that got me nowhere. ****  Some scholars (or Wikipedians pretending to be scholars) suggested that the term was coined with the word "Chinese" to suggest something exotic and mysterious.  Others noted that the use of "Chinese" was meant to be derogatory; suggesting a "sneaky" sort of raffle that wasn't a real auction at all.  Either way, I'm still clueless where it came from.  I have no idea if it's all that bad.  It probably is.

So, in the end, I brilliantly ended the discussion by declaring, "I got nuthin'."

Last Saturday, I was at the beauty shop having my hair colored and I told my cosmetologist (who shall remain nameless, as I don't want to offend anyone wielding scissors) about how upset Barb was over my working a Chinese auction.

Scissors lady looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, "Oh, why ... because she thinks it's wrong for the church to use raffles to raise money?" 

What a relief ... it's not just me.

So, next Friday, I will be sitting at a table at St. Mary Magdalene selling Chinese raffle tickets ... and I truly and sincerely hope the term doesn't offend anyone. But I'm not too worried ... after all, mostly Ohioans will be attending the festival, and we understand the importance of tradition. We don't worry too much about political correctness, at least not until we have to. After all, who are we to even try? We've spent our entire lives defending the Cleveland Indians and their timeless leader, Chief Wahoo, and nobody likes a hypocrite.


*On average, I think Cleveland gets about 13.5 perfect days per year where it's not too hot, too cold, too humid, too snowy, too rainy, too cloudy or too windy.  Those days, lovely as they are, only serve to bewilder and confuse us.

**I always feel I have to mention this -- not sure why.

*** What is it about Californians?  Must they always be so conscious of their environment, not to mention political correctness and other people's feelings? Do they not understand we Midwesterners have no time for such matters? We just try to make it through winter without dying...the rest is all gravy.

****There are those who think Google is the source of all knowledge, but I believe it's also the source of all stupidity.  But, hey, at least it's convenient to find it all in one place.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Technologically Speaking...

I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but sometimes  I feel overwhelmed by technology. 
And…that’s a shame … because I think it means I’m not young anymore.  I can still remember the first microwave my parents ever bought; my mother was terrified of my using it without her supervision (which, translated, meant “standing two feet away and staring at what my hands were doing”).  She was certain anything I put in there would cause the universe to explode.
And, I can remember the first VCR Dad ever bought.  No, the blinking 12:00 on the front of this scary, hulking box wasn’t too much of a concern… but every time he’d put in a movie, the FBI warning would come up on the screen and Mom would freak. EVERY SINGLE TIME.  She was certain the police were on their way over to arrest us (that is, if the house was still standing because we hadn’t blown it with the microwave).
So, when I say that I’m “overwhelmed” by technology, I type those words with some anxiety.  I don’t want to be shamed and ridiculed by my younger relatives …although I suppose I deserve that, given what I just wrote about my beloved parents.  On the other hand, I can remember Mom poking fun at Grandma because, when she found out Mom was going to fly to California on a real airplane, Grandma (who was scared to death of planes and would never fly anywhere) warned, “When you’re on the plane, Betty, be careful and don’t open the window.”  So … I guess ridiculing our elders’ fear of progress is something we all do, and maybe that makes it okay.   Or maybe this is just payback time for yours truly. 
But honestly, I think my inner hard drive is running out of RAM, because lately technology has succeeded in making me feel creeped out or, at the very least, really, really stupid. 
So today I felt like giving you my top five favorite technological turn-offs.
Now, before I go there, let me just say I love most technology.  Digital cable is right up there with my Kindle, my Keurig and my iPad as one of the greatest joys of my life.  But here’s some stuff I probably would have been happier without:

1)      "No touch” technology in public restrooms…specifically, I hate faucets and paper towel dispensers that involve me having to make wild gestures in order to get them to do something. Faucets should be turned on by turning a knob.  Paper towels should be dispensed by cranking a handle.  I shouldn’t have to frantically wave at something to get it to acknowledge me.  (And don’t you just love it when they’re broken and you feel like a total fool, waving and waving and waving and nothing happens?) There are Some Wise Folks who say, “But motion-activation saves on germs.”  Really?  Last time I looked, people are still out here getting sick.  And when it comes to germ avoidance, when was the last time you kicked the bathroom door open with your foot?  Or positioned your posterior on top of the toilet without brushing against porcelain poisoned by someone else’s cooties? (Does anybody really think a piece of tissue paper in the shape of a toilet seat is going to protect you from whatever gleep is waiting to crawl up your butt and kill you?)  And hey …if we’re all that worried about germ-free cleanliness in the bathroom, I think the doors should be programmed to automatically go into lock-down whenever some lazy fool can’t remember to flush his or her excrement. I'm too often amazed-- and horrified – by the number of people roaming our streets who think it’s okay to leave their dumps sitting on display for the next unhappy victim.  But… maybe the problem is that there’s too much technology in today's toilets, and it's distracting people from taking proper care of their number ones and twos.  I mean, with this thing popping up in men’s bathrooms these days, it’s a wonder guys even remember to wipe anymore:
2)      Robot vacuums.  I bought one of these things and yes, they do work.  In theory, they’re great … while you go about your busy life, you can program the thing to just glide around the house cleaning crud off your carpet.  When it’s done, it docks itself at its base and you come home, look around, and think, “Wow, it’s all clean! It’s like MAGIC!”  But here’s the problem…I have cats.  And, like dogs, ferrets, gerbils, alcoholics or any other life form we’re inclined to keep as pets, animals have a knack of bringing chaos into an otherwise danger-free zone.  Stupidly, I thought this little bot* would be an entertaining spectacle for my felines. Sadly, Miss Kitty – who is prone to throwing up at the smallest provocation – decided to test its fortitude by launching her dinner all over the six inches of carpet the thing was about to clean.  (I will spare you the more graphic details, lest you launch your dinner and consequently blame me for it.)  So, I quickly learned that I can’t let this thing run unsupervised unless I lock up the cats first.** But, to leave the cats out, I have to be home…and it’s kinda hard to relax in my bed or in my easy chair while this noisy little machine is growling around on the floor.  
Furthermore, the entire time it’s working, I’m not enjoying my life-that-is-so-busy-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-vacuum-the-floor.  I’m sitting there like a lump thinking, “Dear God, I can’t believe I’m THIS lazy.”  And it’s not like this robot doesn’t ever need human assistance; once it stopped cold because its battery pooped out. Another time it stopped cold because it had gotten icky stuff tangled around its roller and needed an emergency crud-ectomy from Dr. Meskunas.*** So, while it’s a nice toy, I wish I had thought it through a bit more.

3)       The scrambled letters in the box I have to type every time I want to buy something off a website.  Actually, let me expand this to include every annoying thing I have to go through when it comes to Internet shopping.  Now … I love Internet shopping, I do.  I don’t think I’ve walked into a physical mall in more than two years. **** But if it’s a website I’ve not been to before, I have to register, come up with a log-in name, come up with yet another password I’ll forget in five minutes, and then be bombarded by emailed ads from these people, daily, until I die.  Then, when I can’t remember the password I so thoughtlessly created…or if I dare to use a different computer entirely… the web site bombards me with “hint” questions like, “Who was your best friend in high school?”  And naturally, because I AM a flake, I can’t remember the answer I originally put in there. Was it Judy?  Kim? Chocolate? Barry Manilow? 
So, in the time it would have taken me to drive to the stinking mall, I finally figure out how to get past the website’s security system that was apparently put in place to protect me from myself.  But if I am lucky to actually be able to BUY something, I then have to deal with that fuzzy box with the five or six figures that are supposed to resemble actual letters and numbers.  You know the one … where you have to retype those exact letters/numbers so the computer knows you’re a real person.  In my case, all it shows the computer is that I’m a really impaired person, because inevitably I'll see a blurry “4MV3Ick9” floating upwards into the heavens—which I then type as “4NlV31dc9”—and then the screen pops up with yet another box of crap that looks like something a stoned kidnapper wrote in a ransom note.  I keep trying to type it back until I eventually make a lucky guess ...or give up entirely and turn off the computer.*****
4)      The monitoring device I let Allstate talk me into.  Okay, so here’s the deal … I asked my agent how I could save money on my car insurance, and he suggested that I plug this “Drive Wise” device into the car (under the dash) so the device could spy on how well I drive and transmit the data back to Allstate.  The theory behind this is it will prompt me to drive more carefully, knowing I’m being monitored, which will make me less of a risk and less likely to be in an accident and have to file a claim.  So, I figured what the heck, why not give it a try – I have nothing to hide, right?******  So, after having this gizmo installed for a few weeks, I got an email from Allstate telling me my first “driving performance results” were ready to be viewed.  I logged onto the website, pulled up the results, and was shocked to see that I had been letter-graded in different categories.  What the heck? Worse, it gave me an overall grade of “B-“! Sorry, but that was unacceptable in high school and, out here in middle-aged real life, it’s just as distasteful.  It turns out this snotty little professor gave me an A+ in “braking” and an A+ in “speed” *******, but gave me a C- in “time of day” and “traffic congestion”.  Excuse me?  How is any of that within my realm of control?  Does Allstate expect me to call my boss and demand that I be permitted to work the night shift so I can avoid rush hour?  Or maybe I should move to Frozen Lemming, Alaska********, so as to avoid other humans driving cars?  I'm reading this report card and enduring unsettling flashbacks to what I hated most about childhood: constantly being judged.   I really resent knowing technology … which was always meant to serve man … is now not only judging us, but shaming us as well.
5)      My cats’ plastic anti-gravity watering dish.  I realize this isn’t fancy technology, but I just wanted to point out that if something is entirely made of plastic, no amount of technology or understanding of basic physics is going to alter plastic's basic nature:  which is, of course, to crack, split, warp, fray or Just Not Fit Together Right.  I finally found one that I could assemble properly and it seems to be working, but it's too bad I had to spill a gallon of water all over the floor first.*********
So, in conclusion, I just want to say this … a little technology is good.  But our society has become technology-obese.  There’s a device for everything that happens in the real world and an app for everything that happens in the virtual world.  Must we have a crutch for everything ? **********


*I think the real reason I bought it is because it cutely resembles the Jupiter 2 from “Lost in Space.”  I like to imagine there’s a tiny Major West steering the thing underneath my bed.  ("Danger, Will Robinson! Dust balls ahead!")

**In which case, one of the rooms doesn’t get cleaned and c’mon, then, what’s the point if I have to vacuum anything myself? Half the effort is pulling the vacuum out of the closet, detangling the cords and plugging it in. 

***I ended up pulling out a strange combination of cat hair, blouse threads, two blades of shiny yellow Easter grass, an earring and three pellets of cat food…all thanks to the cats, of course.

****Dear God, I can’t believe I’m THIS lazy.

*****In which time, of course, I could have finished my shopping at the mall and had an orange Julius in the food court.

******Whenever you stupidly think this … about ANYTHING … you have plenty to hide, but you’re just too senile to remember it all.

*******Big whoopity do … I drive a 2006 Chevy with 130,000 miles on it … it wouldn’t go faster than 80 even if I had flames coming out the rear like Adam West’s batmobile. 

********Not a real place.  I made it up.  And it’s too bad I have to footnote something like this so I don’t piss off Alaska, but Sarah Palin might still be lurking around up there and that is one scary lady. 

*********And no stinking robot is going to help clean THAT up.

**********And, of course, I type these words as I'm using the spell check feature to review my blog entry. Hypocrisy is such a sad thing.