Oct 25, 2012

Puzzling Household Questions

Do you get as much junk mail and as many catalogs as I do?  I probably toss two pounds of former trees into the recycling every day.  I'm not exaggerating.  I get Country Curtains and Victoria's Secret, Heifer International and Luxury Home International. What could possibly be the common demographic between those catalogs?  I don't own a luxury home in France in which I sit at my desk in my naughty underwear to review my tax deduction for donating a heifer to a needy peasant, and then part the gingham curtains slightly to admire my expansive estate. 

I get catalogs from companies I've never heard of.  For that matter, I get catalogs for people I've never heard of, but they seem to have my address.  Maybe they live in the garage; I haven't been in there for a while.  

Luckily, I've found a site called Catalog Choice on which I'm notifying company after company that I don't want their catalogs.  I haven't seen the results yet, but here's hoping. And once the election's over, I suppose the tide of flyers and miscellaneous propaganda will stop. I've received ballot recommendations from some pretty polar sources. I want to know where half these groups got my name.  And I mean that: the half I don't agree with. They obviously don't know me.

And why do vegetables go bad in our crisper bins at the speed of light?  It's as though as soon as I place the newly purchased avocados in the bin and slide the door shut, they've turned to brown mush in an armadillo-hard rind. What's the window of opportunity on making guacamole: a minute and a half?  

If you get a frantic phone call from me at 10:00 a.m. yelling "Quick, buy some corn chips stat and get the hell over here!!" you'll know I just opened the vegetable drawer and realized I had to whip up some guacamole pronto or toss another avocado in the compost.  My husband and I should just take bowls to the grocery store and toss a salad in the produce section because by the time we get the lettuce and herbs home, they've already passed over to veggie heaven.

And another question: why does anyone ever need to launder bath towels?  Bath towels are used exclusively to dry our freshly bathed or showered bodies. How does a towel with that job ever collect dirt or get smelly?  It doesn't make any sense.  They only soak up clean water on a clean body. Wash cloths I understand, their job is wiping the dirt off; but bath towels are just for water. How do they mysteriously get so rank?

Now you know what causes the furrows in my forehead. Embarrassing, isn't it?  Maybe I should send for a therapy catalog, or buy a copy of Hints from Heloise so I can learn how to freshen my towels, and how to re-crisp my lettuce between pages of my latest Orvis Fly Fishing catalog.  

Sep 22, 2012

Somebody Turn Down the Volume

Why do they serve popcorn at the movies?  They might as well serve raw carrots, celery, and apples while they're at it.  How about noodle soup?  Slurp. Slurp.  Fondue with mini plastic pots of melted cheese and crusty French bread for dipping?  Bags of whole almonds? Peanut brittle?

The lights go down in the theatre, you sit through the endless trailers and four admonitions to turn off your cell phone and then the movie finally starts.  You've been hoping all the chatter and ambient noise will end when the preliminaries are over and the feature begins, but from behind your right ear comes the crinkly sound of someone rooting around in an enormous paper bag and the crunch, crunch, crunch of popcorn.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. If this were a play you were viewing, the crinkling and crunching would continue well into the second act.

Why is there so damn much noise in our country; that's what I want to know. Why, when I take a seat in a restaurant with only one other customer already seated, does said customer strike up a shouting conversation with the cashier, one on one side of my table, the other on the other. Why, when I'm walking down the street, doing a little shopping, stopping at the drugstore and the dry cleaner,  does some idiot pull up at the red light with his car vibrating like one giant subwoofer? Does he really think that  if the rest of us just heard rap music one more time at full volume we'd finally like it?  Does he think the girls are swooning for Mr. Hearing Impaired?

And why, oh why, do parents of young children think the rest of us will be charmed when they explain absolutely everything in the world to their little darlings, and not in their inside voices? In fact, not even in adult voices but in those overly cheery, crisp voices. "That's a robin, Melissa.  Can you say robin?"  "Let's get some water, Billy.  I'm thirsty.  Are you thirsty, Billy?" When I'm trying to read a book at a coffee shop, and not Fifty Shades of Gray but a book that maybe takes a little concentration, I don't want to have little Johnny's pastry options explained to him at crowded barroom volume. On behalf of the rest of world, I'd like to ask parents to explain a whole lot less to the next generation.  Let them figure out some things on their own.  Maybe they'll grow into adults who like a little peace and quiet.

Aug 21, 2012

Our Trip to LA

My husband and I went to Los Angeles last weekend to visit a friend.  Our friend runs ARC Drivers (unrepentant plug for friend) so we got to ride around in his BMW 750 all weekend.  Nothing wrong with that.

We didn't do a lot of sightseeing but we happened upon the La Brea Tar Pits, which, if you're going to LA, you may want to skip. La Brea Tar Pits is a pond-sized opening in the ground, right alongside Wilshire Boulevard in front of the Los Angeles Museum of Art. The Pits resemble a pond in every way; there are marshy plants along the edges, for example, but this 'pond' is bubbling up black goo.  It's very underwhelming. Small. I thought there would be huge fossils of dinosaurs trying to drag themselves out of the glop.  Their skulls and forelegs would be straining forward but their legs buried in tar.  No such luck.  Just a pond. With cars whizzing by on Wilshire.

But across Wilshire, also in the midst of the car culture that is LA, is the most amazing installation: a section of the Berlin Wall.  I can't claim we knew it was there; we just happened upon it on our way somewhere else.  But it's part of the Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War and it's the largest section of the Berlin Wall outside of Berlin. It looks like this:

The far side is covered with art, too. It was installed in 2009 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the removal of the wall. The section in LA has some original work from activist artists in Berlin who painted their protests on the wall, and newer artists. There are paintings of Kennedy, who famously proclaimed he was a donut when trying to proclaim he was a Berliner (this is the difference between saying you're Danish and saying you're a Danish) and Reagan, who pompously claimed full credit for the removal of the wall after saying, "Tear down this wall," to Gorbachev in his angry voice.

But the wall is emotionally moving, especially the original graffiti from Berlin.  Like the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. it feels important and bigger than oneself. I wanted to linger there for some time, to remember what divided east and west not so long ago. Many of us lived in a time when we did not know there would ever be an end to the Cold War.  The tearing down of the Berlin Wall was sudden and wonderful and emotional.  Stumbling upon this section of the wall in Los Angeles was, too.

Jul 20, 2012

Sexiest Man Alive

Have you ever paid attention to People's Sexiest Man Alive feature, in which they name the absolute sexiest man in the whole world, who coincidentally happens to be a movie star?  Wait, what am I asking?  I'm sure a lot of you have paid great attention.  But here's what I'm thinking about; what happens to these poor guys the following year?  

Mark Harmon won in 1986 and hasn't won since.  Has he been horribly disfigured in a freak accident in Abby's lab?  He has not.  Is he still alive?  He is.  And in fact, he's not only still sexy, he's actually more sexy now that he's matured.  I may just be saying that because I, too, have 'matured' but still, don't you agree?

I'm guessing a lot of women and men would vote for Matthew McConaughey now that he's playing a stripper in Magic Mike but his win was back in 2005.  How he must have suffered in the past seven years knowing he'd lost his superlative and worldwide sexiness to George Clooney, who then lost his to Matt Damon, who went on to lose his to Hugh Jackman, and on down the line. There ought to be a support group for these poor fellows!  

To make matters worse for the single-title guys, a second title is possible, just rare. Three guys have been named twice: Brad Pitt; yes, George Clooney; and Johnny Depp. Maybe in their off-title years they put on a few pounds or sported an unfortunate hairstyle, then realized they had another shot at the title, started hitting the gym or made an appointment at the barber.  Cue the theme from Rocky and pan to the cover of People. Wait a minute, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp obviously have not been to the barber so that's not the answer.  Why them?  Why never once Robert Downey Junior?

Oh, how the one-timers must feel, knowing that a second win is possible but they just didn't make the cut. From the top of Sexy Mountain to the bottom of Schlemiel Ravine in just one year! They must wander the streets of Hollywood wishing someone, anyone, would recognize them and at least tell them they're cute, or they have a nice personality.  Maybe that they dress well, or have great pronunciation.  Throw these poor guys a bone.  

Jun 28, 2012

Fly the Friendly Skies

I had to fly across country this week.  United.  Did I hear a collective sigh?  Everyone has their stories of flying United.  For our family, there was the flight to Hawaii for spring break when our daughters were still in school.  When we arrived at the gate, we discovered United had overbooked the flight by about twenty passengers.  We did not have seat assignments and did not make the cut.  We sat and sat, hoping someone, anyone would volunteer. No one did.  We finally accepted their flight coupons  and they assured us we would be placed on the next flight to Maui, but when we arrived at the gate, we learned it had the same overbooking problem the first flight had.  We had to wait through the excruciating gate side auction again, "We're offering a spot on the 10:45 p.m. flight and $400 in vouchers."  "How about a spot on the 10:45 flight and $600 in vouchers?" "Oh, c'mon, $1,200 in vouchers and a free toaster?" "Sold!  To the woman in the pink hat and the man in the Bermuda shorts."

Our return from Hawaii was the same story.  We were on an island so it wasn't like we had a lot of options for returning home.  We couldn't rent a car and drive home.  And it was spring break, which meant every family from the west coast of the US of A was in Hawaii or wanted to be in Hawaii.  Did I mention that I bought our seatless tickets five months before departure?  At least I learned a valuable life lesson: always, always make sure we have seat assignments.

Then there was the time we went to Europe on United.  When we showed up at Heathrow for our return trip, we were greeted by a United employee who had not yet attended charm school and who told us our flight had been cancelled.  We were to be put up in a Heathrow area hotel and put on a flight the next day.  They told us we would be fed all our meals and everything would be hunky-dory.  What they didn't tell us is that we would be fed buffets of Jell-o and trifle and would be in a location from which you could not walk anywhere for actual food.

So, here's my new United story, from my travel this week from San Francisco, CA, to Burlington, Vermont.  I flew from SFO to Washington/Dulles without incident.  It was the leg from Dulles to Burlington that was the problem. When you fly to Burlington, you're always on one of the little puddle-jumpers.  We boarded the plane; an extremely nice stewardess greeted us. An extremely likable pilot talked to us over the speaker. (Wait, is this really United?  Am I on the wrong plane? Seems like the Continental merger has had a good effect on United's interactions with the public.)  We taxied out to the end of the runway, and the pilot announced there was a troublesome light on the dashboard and we were taxiing back to the terminal, disembarking, and waiting for repair.

About an hour later, we were told to reboard.  We taxied to the end of the runway again, those scary propellers and the clanky engine made a lot of noise, we revved up, up, up, the wheels barely lifted off the tarmac, and the pilot decelerated and brought the plane back to ground.  He told us the repair had been an illusion and we were repeating our visit to the terminal for more downtime, while we hoped for a replacement plane, and were free to purchase any packaged foods we could find within shouting distance of the gate.

About five hours from our original scheduled departure United appropriated the next United plane that was scheduled to fly to Burlington that night and put our passengers and crew on it instead, leaving the other batch of passengers in who knows what position.  As far as I can tell, our passengers tried not to talk to those passengers and spill the beans that we were getting their plane.  This time our flight was a go, there was applause at lift off, the wise and kind stewardess gave free drinks to whoever wanted, the other stewardess made everyone laugh, and the pilot apologized many times over the course of the evening.

So, while none of this should have happened in the first place, United does seem to have improved in P.R. Ironically, their motto used to be "Fly the Friendly Skies of United."  Now they use "It's Time to Fly."  Really?  How about " You Never Know When It's Time to Takeoff"?

P.S.  Tomorrow: what I found in the Sky Mall catalog.

Jun 21, 2012

San Francisco Weather

The weather has been odd lately, but then weather is always odd in the San Francisco area, so I guess weather's been normal.  One day hot as blazes, the next sweater weather.  Today there's a chill in the air and my toes wish I would wise up and put on socks and shoes instead of yesterday's skimpy sandals.  Maybe I'll go do that now.  Be right back.

Much better.

We live about twenty miles south of San Francisco, and it's generally warmer here than in the city.  If you don't know about San Francisco weather, it's what's called a Mediterranean climate. It never gets Buffalo-style snowy or Miami-style sweltering. Much of the year the humidity is low and the climate is mild.

Winter, however is rainy as heck. It's not your pleasant Midwestern drizzle that cools down the air or a lightning storm that has you anxiously counting seconds until the boom of thunder to calculate how close the lightning is. No, in the San Francisco area we have a winter deluge. It pours and pours until you feel like you live under an open fire hydrant. The consolation prize is that the grass that died in the dry season greens up again.  Winter is our green season.

But tourists who arrive in January from someplace with six feet of accumulated snow and a disinterested city services department, think they've come to the best place in the world.  Who wouldn't want to live far from that biting wind and extra work of winter? What's a heavy rain compared to shoveling out the driveway? Hey, that's the other really big consolation prize, isn't it?  No snow.

If those same tourists arrive in July and failed to read up on the very local weather phenomenon,  they find themselves woefully underdressed.  And I don't mean they need something more formal.  They need jackets, sweaters, long pants, possibly gloves and hats.  They end up opening their wallets in the shops at Fisherman's Wharf and pleading "Whatever it costs, I don't care, just give me something warm!" They exit in pink sweatshirts, white socks, and baseball hats all with matching "I Left my Heart Symbol in San Francisco"logos.  Much poorer but starting to warm up.

Another San Francisco weather fluke is microclimates.  Here's what it means that we have microclimates: you drive twenty miles in any given direction and the temperature changes ten degrees. Drive one direction you're encased in fog, another and you need sunscreen. Microclimates can be really, really tiny. Like, turn a corner and the temperature drops five degrees. I've lived here sixteen years and I've just recently gotten the hang of keeping a cover-up in the car.  I'm a slow learner. And, no, it's not a pink sweatshirt. It's blue and it has a nice picture of Alcatraz on the front.

Jun 4, 2012

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

I seem to receive emails at the rate of fifty a day all targeted at the wrong demographic. I don't have a penis. I don't need to lengthen it and I certainly don't want to "scare people with my tool."  The last tool I used around here was a hammer to hang a cute little 'Cafe' sign over the entry to the kitchen.  How do you scare people while decorating the house?

And I've never had aspirations of achieving "my true manhood" or becoming the "Pied Pecker of chicks."  Aren't chicks those cute little fluffy cheepers? Who writes this stuff?  Are there paid ad-copy writers who come up with "hit a home run every night with your gigantic bat"?  Please tell me these aren't aspiring writers who haven't managed to successfully pitch their screenplay to a studio.

Ninety-nine percent of my spam folder is filled with penis-related help.  I could "take two pills" and, on the Barry White end of things, "become the latest love guru in town," or, at the other end of the spectrum, become "cockzilla."  My, oh, my.  I wish the spammers could see the frumpy, middle-aged, trifocal-wearing woman squinting at the screen to read their marketing attempts.

Yesterday, though, I got a very promising email that somehow ended up in my spam folder.  A nice U.S. Army Sergeant stationed in Yemen has a business proposal for me.  Heaven knows how he found me. And there is no risk!  After I get back to the Sergeant, I'll let you know more about his venture.  I think I could make millions.  Oh, and he also said the plan is easy. "There is no risk and it is easy" were his exact words.  Wow! This could be really big, I mean huge, and Yemen has an economy with longterm growth potential.

Isn't it odd that an email so different from the others ended up in my spam?

May 25, 2012

I Am Not a Shelf

Some of you may remember that I had a very bad, no good experience with my last dentist.  The worst of it was his hygiene. He visited patients in other rooms while wearing the same plastic gloves on his hands that, upon his return, he inserted directly in my mouth. I was very, very suspicious about where those gloves had been.

But glory hallelujah, I have found a new dentist who puts the gloves on in front of me and never leaves my sight.  She's gentle and sweet and has already found a tooth problem my old dentist never did. Oh, the relief: at every pause in a procedure, like when she enters data on her computer, she puts on new gloves before sticking her hands back in my mouth.

But I'm finding that one aggravating practice is universal with dentists: they all use your chest as an extension of their work area. There you lie on the dentist-office equivalent of a chaise longue, parallel with the floor and somewhat flat.  The dental assistant clips a plastic-backed, square blue bib about the thickness of a piece of cheesecloth around your neck, and the dentist gets to work.  Soon the dentist and the assistant are chatting to each other across your face, setting tools on your chest and picking them back up, and occasionally wiping schmutz on the bib.  They act like your chest is a handy-dandy shelf and the bib a tea towel.  And since I'm female, by 'chest' I mean breasts.

My internist doesn't hang her stethoscope around my neck while she gets out her prescription pad. Nurses doesn't set the blood pressure cuff, thermometer, and heart rate monitor on my lap and ask me to keep them from rolling off.  My ob-gyn doesn't perch the speculum on my knee like a little mountain top observation tower before she rolls back her stool.

So what is it about dentists and their penchant for turning chests into work surfaces?  If you have any idea, please let me know. In the meantime, here is my Dental Patient Manifesto: We are patients, not tables or shelves; get a bigger tray. Bibs are for our protection, not general clean up.  Eliminating those extra long scary needles would be nice, too, but let's start with taking us off the list of office equipment.

May 1, 2012

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Everyone's good at something, right? Some people are great tennis players, some can negotiate a truce between warring factions, and some can perform brain surgery.  Me?  I'm good at making pronouncements.

I have perfected the art of declaring things.  I do not like to muddy the waters with facts, however.  That just slows down the process and dilutes the enthusiasm of the pronouncement.  If you start to aim for accuracy you end up with a very long and hedgy sort of pronouncement, like "I am never going to get angry with anyone, ever, ever again, except for those stupid drivers who cut me off, and probably ATT and, oh, most likely politicians, airline reps, cell-phone yakkers, and possibly even people I love now and then, but otherwise, just Buddha-like peacefulness for me from here on in, yessiree Bob."  You see how that loses some punch, don't you?

So, in the interests of style and effect, I just blurt out unequivocal statements whenever I am so moved and figure I can always reverse course later, sometimes even later in the same conversation.  Actually, let me correct that; it's not that I even consider the possibility of reversing course, it's that in the moment, I am absolutely, one-hundred-percent certain I am speaking the truth.  See what I mean?

Last year I decided at two different times to attend my MFA program's residency abroad program.  First option was Puerto Rico in the winter.  "I am definitely going to Puerto Rico this winter," I told all my fellow grad students. "There is no way in hell I am coming back to Vermont for another cold, icy winter of walking up that steep hill to campus in my inadequate California coat and gloves.  No way, no how, nuh uh."  Then I started to think about how much I would miss all my friends and the lectures (yes, the lectures) and decided to return to Vermont after all.

Same thing happened with the summer residency in Slovenia.  I attended the information session and at the end of the presentation I announced to everyone in earshot, "Oh, this sounds so exciting. Look at those pictures!  Castles, Eastern Europe.  This is going to be grand. I am absolutely, definitely, you betcha, going on this trip!" When the sign-up sheet came around, I put my name in the 'Very Interested' column. Then I decided not to go.  The reversal took about two days.

Recently I declared that per my personal trainer's dictates I am no longer eating grains, only to be caught soon after stuffing a cookie in my mouth.  Ditto with the occasional oatmeal for breakfast. Oh, and we're going out for pasta on Friday night. Otherwise, absolutely no grains. So don't go asking me out for sandwiches because I cannot eat bread. Weren't you listening? No grains! No wheat, no rye, no bulgar, no rice. I told you last week. Man, sometimes I wonder why I bother talking to you people. 

Apr 20, 2012

A Real Job

Musings today.

I am trying to be a writer.  Well, you might say, you're writing a blog, doesn't that make you a writer? Well, sure, but...I shuffle my shoes and look down at my feet.  And don't you write poetry, too, some of which has been published in some darn good journals? Yeah, but...not as many times as a lot of other people have been. And haven't you even won some awards for your writing? Yeah, but never first place, always second.

Man, the excuses piled high and deep. Actually defining myself as a writer proved to be elusive, even though I have been writing for more than a decade.  I can't be a real writer, I write part-time.  I can't be a real writer, I have no published book.  I'm not successful enough to stand tall and shout "I am writer, hear me roar."  Why the hell not?  Good question.  I had more ways to lose confidence than there were ants on an anthill.

But a couple of months ago I went through a two-part process that resulted in me finally trying on the title of "writer" as self-definition and profession. This time, it tentatively fit.

Part one was deciding and accepting that I would never have a "real" job again.  I have fibromyalgia, and my experience of the condition is that one day of stress equals two days of recovery on the couch.  I am lucky that my husband has a good income and I don't need to work, so I do have a choice. The bottom line is that if I actually got a job, our quality of life would go down not up, what with me moaning on the couch all the time I wasn't at said job, and him having to bring me dinner on a tray and refill my water glass, and generally play nursemaid.

Coming to this 'never work again' realization/decision was a long time coming. Although I spent two decades raising my children without holding a job outside the home, and I've only done a bit of contract teaching in the  four years since my younger daughter left home, and that adds up to about twenty-five years of no real job, still, I had this nagging, back-of-the-brain, feeling that I ought to work, an anxiety. I thought I might be missing something in the real world, that I was just a wimp, that I ought to get back on that decades-old horse and ride.  Finally, when I was whining, maybe not for the first time, to a friend about my feeling that maybe I ought to get a job, my dear friend asked me "What the fuck is wrong with you?  You haven't worked in decades.  You don't need to work.  Who the hell in their right mind would get a job?" Oh.  Right.  Thank you for the much needed slap across the face.  My life, my job, my life, my job.

Part two was realizing that if I let myself, I already have a job.  I'm a writer. Letting go of the "a real job is one out in the world" illusion allowed me to redefine myself and accept myself as a writer.  And if writing is my job, then I have to show up for work.  I blocked off my mornings as sacred time to write. No more doctor's appointments, no more walking, no more social activities or errands before noon.  I had to put my butt in the chair and write.  Do I write every morning for several hours?  I do not.  But I go into my office, in the vicinity of my notebook and my computer, and eventually I end up doing something that resembles writing.  Some days I edit a poem, some days I send out my work to journals, and some days, like today, I write a blog post.

Apr 12, 2012

The Drive Thru

Today I was sitting in a coffee shop that had drive-thru service. From my seat inside, I could see the drivers just after they received their cups of coffee. As they pulled forward from the window they fumbled (DWF: Driving While Fumbling), one hand on the wheel and one hand feeling for the molded plastic cup holder between the seats. Some were already trying to drink the hot stuff, and one was on her cell phone.

Then I looked the other direction and saw a preschool directly across the street, with the telltale pintsize playground equipment. Perhaps preschools and elementary schools should not be placed across from drive-thrus of any kind, unless we want to radically reduce the population. But I’m thinking killing off the really cute little ones is not going to be a popular way to curb population growth.

Of course, if you’ve ever had to drop off or pick up your child at school, you know that it’s a miracle any children are still alive. The loading and unloading area around a school is possibly the most dangerous place in the world to walk, drive, skip, or run. At least, that was my experience in the years and years and years and years of dropping off and picking up my two children, an era that ended five years ago. Here’s how I remember it:

Parents are always late and they careen down the streets to school like NASCAR drivers snorting meth.  They do not line up patiently and wait their turn (as their children are being taught to do all day every day). They drive their SUV within range of the school and tell little Johnny to leap out (Don’t forget your lunch!) and make a run for it. Johnny dashes across the road while cars dance in and out of the drop-off lane. The precious object of their devotion, the special little someone they’ve protected since he was the size and shape of a cashew in mama’s womb is essentially told to play dodge ‘em with the cars of all the other parents.

Every one of the adults is frantic to drop their darling before the first bell rings because getting your children to school late, now that’s considered bad parenting. Mothers, all very nice people, who in their spare time volunteer at the church rummage sale, bake cupcakes for PTA functions and pledge to the Save the Children campaign, honk and scowl at the other mothers and fathers who happen to have arrived a nanosecond before them. Once they’ve dropped their progeny, they make a wild swing into oncoming traffic and hit the gas, doing at least 35 mph in the school zone, trying to get to work or yoga class.  They trust that Johnny has been through one dangerous part of his day and they can rely on the school to take good care of him until the swarm of parents descends on the school at 3:10 that afternoon and the second dangerous part of his day occurs.

I, of course, was not above losing my temper at the other drivers (a saintly driver myself) and I once let the word ‘asshole’ escape my lips, my two astounded children in the car to hear me, and because I had been really surprised at being cut off, my head snapped to face the other mother when I let the word slip.  She read my lips.  It’s amazing my daughter ever returned to school.

Apr 2, 2012

Exercising, Part Deux (Pronounced Duh)

For years I've heard rumors about diet and exercise, diet and exercise,  but I never paid much attention. People were flappin' their jaws on all the talk shows: use it or lose it, aerobic activity, optimum heart rate, blah blah blah.  I usually changed the channel and opened another box of bonbons.

But now, as you know from my last blog post,  I've gone and hired a personal trainer to help me exercise.  What was I thinking?  Just like in the movies, he says things like "give me ten push ups" and "just three more." To my surprise, the exercise actually feels good. I'm pushing up and pulling back and lifting with my legs and balancing on one foot, all new territory for this out of shape middle-aged body.  Of course, I can't do actual push ups. My trainer has me push up from a bar set several feet off the ground, so my body's at a great angle from the floor. I push up about four inches, back down two inches, up an inch, down a half inch, etc. until he'd need a magnifying glass to see how much I've moved. And when I started the rowing exercise, my trainer had to take twenty pounds off the already wimpy sixty pounds resistance he'd set.

I seem to be in a baby steps class all my own.  If this were skiing, I wouldn't even be on the bunny slope.  I'd be on a large flat area, maybe a Kmart parking lot hours before the store opens, far from the bunny slope, with an instructor who wanted me to prove I could just stand there without causing a disaster before he let me anywhere near an incline and small children in cute ski outfits.

In my first session with the trainer, he asked me for an inventory of every injury and accident I've ever had.  Hmmmm. No one's ever asked me that before.  Accidents and injuries?  I've had plenty. This body took a real beating in my twenties.  (It's no coincidence the injuries occurred in my twenties, my wilder, more clueless years.) Oh boy did I have car accidents. There was the time I rolled a car, hitting my head each time the driver's side of the car impacted with the ground.  There was the winter I fishtailed on the road, hitting the rear of a stopped car with the wildly spinning rear of my car.  Then, in my no-longer-wild thirties, about eight months pregnant with my older daughter, I got broadsided by a Mack truck and was pushed down the street about twenty feet with nothing but the grille visible in the driver's side window.  I had to climb out of the car over the stick shift.  Eight months pregnant.

No wonder I'm not allowed on the bunny slope.  Next post I'll tell you about the time I fell in a manhole.  Oh, life was interesting back then. Dangerous but interesting. But dangerous.

Mar 27, 2012

Exercising My Right to Sit Around

I've decided that my complete lack of interest in exercise, my 'sedentary lifestyle' (read: sitting at my computer, sitting on the couch, sitting at the dining room table, sitting on any available surface, sitting, sitting, sitting), and the extra weight I carry around, roughly equivalent to a third grader, maybe aren't such good things. I've been overweight for a number of years (Is there something other than a number of years?) and I've tried dieting with Weight Watchers online.  I lost seventeen pounds over about nine months.  Notice that I specify seventeen pounds, not "about fifteen pounds." When you lose weight, you want credit for every last ounce.

If you don't know how Weight Watchers works, you are given a certain allotment of points per day, about enough to satisfy a cat, and which are assigned based on caloric content, fiber, etc. You're also given floater points for the week to spread about as you wish, and you can create extra points by exercising. Say you're putting together your lunch. A bowl of lettuce is zero points, add salad dressing and it's two points, add the croutons and avocado that will make it tasty and you're up to twelve points.  Throw on the chicken for protein (protein's good, right?) and you're somewhere around sixteen points.  Add the roll and butter you really, really want and you're no longer able to eat dinner that day, just stare longingly as your cat gets to eat her kibble.

My approach to Weight Watchers was kind of like playing horseshoes, I just wanted to get close to my points allotment, I didn't care about getting a ringer.  Despite my failure to follow the rules, I did lose weight.  Then it took just about a year of cupcakes and ice cream to put it all back on.  Here it is on my hips, butt, stomach, and thighs, all smiling up at me, silently blaming each other "I didn't know sundaes were full of calories." "Me neither.  I think the stomach should have known." "Well, I say the brain should have stopped us." "Don't point fingers at me, the mouth had a role, too!"

And I hate exercise. I think of exercise as time I could be reading, cooking, watching a favorite show, or pretty much doing anything other than getting sweaty and having to take a shower and change my clothes.  Despite its kryptonite-like effect on my soul, I've tried to exercise in recent years. Then my body teams up with my soul to remind me of old injuries and to protest all this movement shit.

I tried yoga: the stretches messed up my back.  I tried a very fun aerobic class with light weights: it messed up my leg.  I even went to one session of chi dong, which is sort of like not moving at all, and it screwed up my back, too. My doctor sent me to physical therapy, which made me worse, and it was only when I quit doing the p.t.'s wimpy little rubber band stretches that my body settled down and quit complaining. My soul's still not sure.

Now I've taken a bold move: I've hired a personal trainer.  This ought to be fun.  Wait until he encounters my IBS. Stay tuned.

Mar 14, 2012

Take My Dentist, Please!

He is flighty, my dentist, like a robin darting from branch to branch. But my dentist flits from room to room, blue plastic gloves snuggly over his two hands.  The hands and gloves go with him, of course, as he leaves my sight line. I hear his voice in the other examination rooms (rooms, plural). He tells the other patients they are doing well, the crown looks good, the x-rays show no trouble, come back in six months, and then he returns to me, same blue gloves covering his hands.  Where have they been?

Once he used his blue-coated hands to pick up a magazine I had on my lap, People, to look closer at a photo of a movie star, then replaced the magazine on my lap and reached into my mouth with his waiting-room-magazine-touched gloves.

When he was performing a root canal on an abscessed tooth and it got very messy and out of control and his fingers just wouldn't work through the gloves, he tore off one glove and used his bare hand. Was it clean?  I don't know.

I have endured because I needed a dentist and because of lethargy and inertia, and, well, who knows why? And I did ask him once to change his gloves when he returned from flitting from room to room.  He was a bit taken aback but answered, "I didn't touch anything but, sure." And he put on new gloves.  Still.  

This dentist had been a replacement for the dentist who sent me to a specialist, who prescribed a night guard that locked my jaw in place for two years; who, the dentist, set a crown too high and would not listen to me when I asked her to shave it down, even though the bad fit gave me jaw troubles greater than I already had; and who, the specialist, suggested capping every one of my thirty two teeth to create a new bite, which sounded excruciating and ridiculous, not to mention expensive; and who, the dentist, was unapologetic about sending me to a wack job ‘specialist’ and so I spun the health-care-approved-providers wheel and ended up with my flighty, bird-like, gadabout-without-changing-gloves dentist.  He seemed so promising at the beginning.

He's also a leaner, which, if you've read my post about people who stand too close to me in line (January 2012 “Line Dancing”) you can imagine how I feel about someone who actually leans on me, especially because my reclining, elevated body's hip is where he leans and that area hits just below his waist.

Today I started searching for a new dentist.  

Dentistry is never fun but it shouldn’t be this bad.  I remember my orthodontist when I was a buck-toothed teenager, who held my mouth closed and my teenage body in the chair when the overflowing goop of the imprint tray made me gag, a lot, and then he continued to talk to me while my terrified eyes bugged out of my head, saying, “This will just take a minute to set.”  This same orthodontist was fond of talking about his sailboat, which at the time just pissed me off because we were poor and owning a sailboat was as remote as owning the moon, but in retrospect, just seems to fill the dentist stereotype, "Doc, how bad are my teeth?  What will it cost me?"  "Well, let's see, I've got three more payments on my boat so let's figure this out..."

Mar 11, 2012

The Hunger Games

My book club just read a young adult novel, The Hunger Games. Our group is rising one-by-one into AARP eligibility, so evidently we don't read at grade level. Remedial classes for us! In recent years we've also read The Golden Compass, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Twilight all with a much greater readership than we usually get. (Please, please note I refused to read Twilight.)

One thing you should know about our group is that it's 'reading optional.' Here's our normal meeting: chatting, chatting, laughing, eating, more eating, drinking, chatting, more laughing, much more drinking, more eating, simultaneous talking with no one listening, until finally someone raises their voice to shout over the fray,"Who read the book?" Three people out of ten raise a hand.  One or two others chime in that they read the first two chapters and may or may not finish the book at a later date.  If you didn't read the book, that's just fine, no ostracism or staring down of noses, just don't get in the way of the Chardonnay or the triple-cream Port Salut.  Then we talk about the book for an embarrassingly short time and get back to drinking, eating, and not talking about the book. This policy has kept us going for eleven years and I hope it keeps us going for another eleven.  Meetings are fun, just not very educational.  And you'd be surprised at how many people have opinions about books they haven't read. Just ask any censorship bureau.

But, I have digressed from The Hunger Games (which had unanimous readership in our book club) and our other young adult picks.  What makes them so compelling?  They are often page turners, much different from The Scarlet Letter I had to read in high school.  Yawn.  It seemed so dated, dry, and irrelevant. At about the same time I was trudging through The Scarlet Letter, my sister's friend moved in with us when her family kicked her pregnant ass out of the house. The irony was totally lost on my adolescent pea brain.

Now it seems I see people daily, all adults, reading The Hunger Games. Maybe this is just new car syndrome, in which you suddenly notice your new make of automobile everywhere you go, but I don't think so. The Hunger Games has taken the country by storm, in large part because the upcoming movie has brought attention to the book that birthed it.

If you haven't read The Hunger Games, I won't spoil it for you, I'll just say that it's very, very dark.  It is set in a dystopian future in what was once The United States.  The main character, Katniss, is a feisty teenager who faces need and danger on a daily basis.  The fact that the main character is a girl is a large part of what makes the book so compelling to me. I tried, but never could read The Lord of the Rings when I was young; it was just so male.  But The Chronicles of Narnia, with two girls in a family of four siblings, now that was grand.  Susan and Lucy were brave. They fought and ruled alongside their brothers. Earlier I was addicted to The Borrowers, published in 1952, which had Arriety at its heart. The adventures she had!  Evidently strong female role models have been around longer than we thought.

My advice to anyone is to read The Hunger Games. I went on to read the other two books of the trilogy.  The second is the weakest, I think, and the books have flaws, but Suzanne Collins' vision and execution are absolutely worth the read.  In our troubled, increasingly two-tiered, country, The Hunger Games is definitely relevant.

Feb 27, 2012

Things I Learned from Watching the Academy Awards...

1) I need a personal stance.  Presenter Angelina Jolie seems to have a personal stance and I want one, too.  Hers is a straight-on look, head high, gaze direct, while her right leg is cocked sideways all the way out of her sky-high dress slit. Now, she got a little ribbing for her bold signature stance: when the Best Adapted Screenplay team she announced accepted their award; two of the men, dressed in suits, copied her pose. Very disrespectful, but trailblazers always get ridiculed, right?

I spent sleepless hours last night working on my signature stance and I came up with the fencer's pose.  This is the classic "en garde" stance, sword arm straight out front, even with the shoulder. The other arm is curved up and slightly back in a half circle.  I think this pose commands attention and will improve my posture.  It's very versatile and useful...I can put a book in my sword hand and read, or the remote control to point it at the TV. I can carry packages in the hook of my arced arm and build one bicep.  If I switch arms every week or so I can stay symmetrical.  Cooking may be a little trickier but at least I won't get grease-splattered if I'm standing that far back.

2) Every day I should pay attention to what clothes I put on so I can answer the "Who are you wearing" question whenever it comes flying at me, say on the mud-tracked carpet at the mall entrance. Today my list would be Caslan cardigan, Jones New York long sleeve tee, Not Your Daughter's Jeans, Steve Madden boots and my unmentionables. I'll happily twirl around and show how my cardigan gets a bit of a lift if I spin fast. But if I start from my signature stance, you'd better watch out for the sword hand, it sticks out pretty far; and the elbow on the arc arm would hurt if you got clipped.

3) Accessories make the outfit. Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis could have made a boring presentation of the sound editing award, but they had the foresight to accessorize their white tuxes with cymbals.  Cymbals are shiny and add dazzle to a colorless outfit. They also add an element of surprise.  No one expects you to accessorize with orchestra instruments! Will and Zack taught me to be bold: scarves and earrings are old hat (so are old hats).  Daring new accessories I'm considering include a riding lawnmower and a life vest.

Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy had their own spin on accessorizing; the hidden accessory.  Evidently McCarthy kept her one-ounce accessory in her cleavage, ready for any Scorcese-themed drinking game.  A handy trick for anywhere but airport security.

4) Always be positive.  Boy, Nick Nolte is one positive guy and I want to be like him. He seems to be going deaf and he couldn't hear the red carpet interviewer's questions.  But that didn't stop him from responding!  No, you can't keep Nolte down.  He answered, "I didn't understand a word you said so I'll just say yes." If Nick can be that upbeat and willing to face whatever the world throws at him, I'll do my darnedest to be gung-ho, too.   The answer is "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes," no matter the question. Would I like to buy gift wrap?  Yes!  Would I like to sign your petition on mumble mumble?  Yes, I would!!  Does that skirt make you look fat?  Yes!  Big smile.  Stay positive. People will appreciate it.

Oh, you never know where you'll learn life lessons.

Feb 10, 2012

Driving Down Beautiful, Scenic 101

Yesterday I was driving home on 101, or as Southern Californians say, the 101, and I couldn't help but notice all the crap alongside the road.  There was so much trash, mostly pale plastic stuff, that it almost felt like this might be where someone keeps his crap. Like someone, somewhere, asked himself, "Where would be a good place to put all my used plastic bottles, coffee cups, torn grocery bags, cigarette butts, pieces of broken appliances, all the stuff I don't want anymore?  No monthly storage unit rent, no dumpster cost, no hauling fee... all that unused space is just sitting there waiting to be used for my junk.  For free!"

It's embarrassing.  It's depressing.  It's very, very demoralizing. The word 'litter' is way too cute for this collection of junk.  'Litter' sounds like newborn pups, or aristocratic transport, as in, "The maharaja was carried on a litter supported by four strong servants." 'Litter' does not capture the miles and miles of garbage that cover our country.  Can't something be done about this?  Wouldn't this be an excellent use of government money to put people back to work? Oh, where's Lady Bird Johnson when you need her?  

I propose a national initiative to clean up our country. This is maybe a version of the cleanup of Times Square, in which pre-cleanup Times Square was crime ridden and unsafe, and post-cleanup Times Square was so packed with tourists and theatergoers you could hardly walk.  A cleanup crew could also be the advance team for infrastructure work.  They could inventory potholes, broken guardrails, rusted bridge supports, etc. so we minimize the number of bridge collapses in our future. And the fine for throwing your stuff on our world?  One month on the cleanup crew, sans pay. 

By the way, a number of years ago I was driving behind a garbage truck taking our collective crap to the dump and items were just blowing off the top of that truck. Maybe we could look at the garbage trucks, too, and make sure that when we do put our trash in the can, it actually ends up where it's going. Fines for waste disposal executives who allow unsecured trucks to scatter our trash hither and yon: six months on the road crew.

Feb 1, 2012

Being Catty

The fat black and white cat is back in my yard this morning. There isn't enough sunshine for her usual lolling on the glider, but she's amusing herself as only cats can.  She prances across the grass in her seesaw imitation of a tiger, chasing some puny flying bug; under the bushes and out of my line of sight, except for her black tail.  It twitches in that feline way that means something is in trouble and better watch out.  In this case, puny flying bugs everywhere, beware!

While the neighbor cat is stalking in the yard, one of my own cats is helping me type, as he likes to do.  He notices the computer and all those pesky buttons that I seem to want to push.  He helps by pushing them himself, usually with his butt.  His two cents look something like: 111111111111qqqqq32222222ssssssss.  What he lacks in coherence he makes up for in speed.  I have sometimes inadvertently had his help with Google searches.  Before I notice that he's helping, Google tells me "There are no results for queen size sheets zzzzzzzzccccccaafaaaaafacccst. Did you mean queen size sheets cafe fest?" If there is a central file of all the Google searches I've ever done, I must look like I have real anger control issues.

This cat also likes to lie on my lap while I'm typing.  Let's face it, in his pea brain, this is actually his chair so he sees me as a handy extra chair layer that is conveniently warm.  I'm his Audi with heated seats. He's big and drapes off my lap like a very heavy afghan. Maybe an afghan stuffed with salami, or rolls of quarters, or a medium size dog.  This cat is heavy!  So my left hand is occupied with supporting his head off to the left of my lap. While I'm providing all this seat warming and head holding, I have to type with my right hand sans the benefit of my left.  This results in a whole lot of emails that look like I'm just too cool to bother with capital letters and way too busy for anything but a cursory response.  This is the closest I'll ever get to tweeting.  I receive long, chatty emails from friends telling me their emotional ups and downs, their personal travails, that their father died, their marriage may break up, then generously asking me how I am, what's new with me, and could I possibly get together soon because they really need someone to talk to and I answer them: "ok  sonds gd  when"

It's a cat thing.

Jan 17, 2012

Is It Just Me Or Is It Getting Crowded In Here?

Evidently, back in 2009, when I set up this blog, I didn't adequately vet the title "Is It Just Me." And by 'adequately' I mean 'at all.'  I liked the title, it seemed to fit my inclination to rant, and well, did I mention I just liked it?  I did notice, soon afterward, that someone named Whoopi Goldberg had a book by the title of "Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There?" but I figured the world was big enough for Whoopi and me.

Well, today, navel-gazer that I am, I decided to Google "Is It Just Me" and found there are a shit load of people who also like that title or use that phrase in posts.  Some came before me and some have come after. I waded through page after page of Google entries and finally gave up looking for my "Is It Just Me" on page 37.

There's a movie ( a gay romance), "Is It Just Me," that came out in 2010 and gets a 59% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes audiences. There are several other blogs; an icanhascheezburger photo caption (Is It Just Me or do the Garden Faeries Seem More Aggressive This Year?); the two volume book set, Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit Out There?; the hard rock band, The Darkness' single; and an Australia radio show.  And there are many, many, many people posing their version of the question in every internet crevice and corner.

Is it just me...

or does Hitler's mom look a lot like Michael Cera? (Whoa, that's a weird one right out of the gate.)

or do these pork barrels reek of bitumen? (Are these real pork barrels or political pork barrels?)

or was last week really bad?  (I like this one, general, all purpose. Yes, last week was really bad.)

or are most commercials for property insurance really dumb, pointless and worst of all ineffective? (Yes, goes for most commercials.)

or is roulette really easy to make money on? (Oh, this can't end well.)

or do American Spanish Teacher teach better than Hispanic Spanish Teachers?  (Today's lesson: plurals.)

or are the trolls angrier the past few weeks than they have been? (See icanhascheezburger for fairy support in dealing with trolls.)

or is zombies as a body shield ridiculous?  (Good to know now before the need arises.)

So, is it just me?

Jan 11, 2012

Line Dancing

My biggest pet peeve by far is someone standing too close behind me in line.  'Pet peeve' is not an adequate term to portray how this practice affects me.  'Pet' sounds a bit cute, conjuring images of kittens and puppies, "These are my pet cats, Peeve and Mild Irritation. And 'peeve' is a bit polite and formal. When someone stands up close and personal near my back side, peeved is not what I feel. Angry might begin to approach the feeling; on the verge, postal, those are more the emotions running through my veins. And yes, anxious in a completely over-the-top way.  I absolutely hate it! I scooch forward to put some distance between us.  They scooch too.  I scooch a little more.  They follow like we're in a slow motion bunny hop.  Their idea of an appropriate amount of space between two people in line is none. My idea is the length of a large living room.

Many offenders, of course, are the line equivalent of tailgaters. They cannot wait to get to the head of the line and they think they can somehow push the line forward by closing the gap between their front and my back.  Just like in driving, tailgating is more than a bit sexually aggressive, which is maybe why men who stand too close behind me bother me more than women.  (Oh, I can hear you out there analyzing me.  If you have any insights, please email me, it's cheaper than therapy.)

And there are the just plain rude types. In the grocery store, for example, I unload my items on the conveyor and wait, cart ahead of me, for the person checking out to run their credit card or pay in cash, get their receipt, and move on. Meanwhile, someone comes up behind me, often running into me with their basket, unloads their items, reaching past me to open areas of the conveyor belt in front of me, even though I'm incapable of moving forward, and then stands as close as possible behind me.  Me: their obstacle to checking out.  When I'm trying to run my credit card and sign in the impossible-to-decipher little electronic box, the tailgater is standing close enough to connect the freckles on my hand and sign the box for me.  Oh, and read my credit card numbers. Back off, buster!

Then there are the people who create their own lines.  They aren't content with the linear construct the three or more of you have formed.  They want to create a new adjunct line, a second line with a view of what's happening up front.  Even in a store like my local Walgreens, with an actual "Line Forms Here" sign and a set of posts to follow, some jerk will come along and stand off to the side, bouncing around like they're on speed, muddying the line waters and causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. This is also the type of person who thinks that the single long line of polite people waiting for a set of registers is composed entirely of people too stupid to spread out.  Why look at all that open space!  There's no line over by that register, I'll stand over there! It's a wonder more of these interlopers don't get clocked with a six pack of beer or pelted with school supplies. Does line jumping happen at places that actually sell firearms and live ammunition?