Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Vague Intentions

I have never been a resolute person. Opinionated? Sure. Passionate? Absolutely. Resolute? Um, not really. Well, let's give Noah* a chance, shall we?

[Busy pause.]

No. He's way too complicated. Oh heck. As long as we've stopped, let's take care of that asterisk right now. All my life, I've been thinking that Daniel Webster wrote the first American dictionary, but it turns out that Noah, called The Father of American Scholarship and Education, became associated with dictionaries because of the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 (but under a difference name).

Roget's Thesaurus will be quicker, and time is important. I mean, this very evening is New Year's Eve so this blog has to be disseminated to the masses by then or the consequences will be unthinkable.

Resolute: determined, purposeful, decisive, firm, steady, constant, fixed, unswerving, unyielding, flat-footed (goodness!), resolved, convinced, strong-willed, decided, steadfast, persevering, persistent, adamant.

The antonyms are more my style: weak, changeable, unsteady, faltering, purposeless, aimless.

You see, then, that New Year's Resolutions would be folly for me, guaranteed failures. That's not to say that I won't scramble up on any bandwagon that'll have me. I was perfectly sincere when I signed up at Curves. I absolutely believed I'd show up and work out three times a week, even if my foot hurt or I had a cold or I was too busy with Christmas preparations, even if I have to pay for it whether I show up or not.

Therefore, I have developed New Year's Vague Intentions, which work much better for me. It's not that I actually institute any changes, of course, but at least I feel better about the whole thing. I'm pretty sure that I let "Intentions" be plural just to march along nicely with "Resolutions," but the truth is that I only declare -- well, mutter, sotto voce -- one. I don't want to feel overwhelmed.

This year's Vague Intention is simply to Eat Breakfast. I want to eat a meal within an hour of rising. I've already been awake for three hours and I've still not eaten. I'm told that my body is, as we speak, preparing for me to wander in the wilderness -- surely aimlessly -- for weeks, so it's conserving energy for that event by slowing down my metabolism to the coma level. I'm helping by moving only from my chair to the couch, so, between us, we've probably burned about four calories so far.

So yeah: Breakfast. Soon.

I mean it.

See you next year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bad Combo

Santa asked for a Wish List from me this year, and I was happy to comply. One of the best pleasures of the season is figuring out what to get my friends for gifts, but in the end, the known preference is probably better than the unknown.

For instance, when my buddy Mike, who shall remain nameless, asked about gifts for his sister, I asked if she'd read the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. She had not, declared my friend. Excellent! There's the gift!

Alas, sister Liz had in fact read at least part of the series. Mike went to the bookstore after Christmas and returned the book. He came back out with a gift card, since Liz doesn't remember if she was at #3 or #4 in the series.

So you see that a list can be very important, if less creative and romantic.

It's like the naming of the streets in St. Petersburg. I was so disappointed when I moved here on July 13, 1985, to discover that, with a sprinkling of exceptions, the streets and avenues are simply named numbers. Here I was in an exotic land with palm trees (They're not trees! They're pithy plants!) and draw bridges and tourists and the most amazing storms and the biggest birds ... and the most mundane street names, er, numbers.

But when I discovered how easy navigation was, I was delighted. You could tell me you lived at 5711 21st Avenue South, and I'd actually know how to get there. I lived on East Main in Rochester, but if you didn't know where that was, you just didn't know, and let's not talk about Monroe Avenue or Genesee Street.

So yay for numbered street grids and yay for Wish Lists!

I wanted a day-by-day calendar of quotes from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. There's one in the bathroom at The Longhouse ( and I always feel better -- uplifted -- when I read it. The wisdom, peace, and compassion that seep into me might last all the way to my car, so imagine how nice I'd be if I had my own daily dose of holiness.

Well, Santa brought it to me. Yay, Santa! Alas, it's from a strange publisher, indeed, a publisher who clearly wanted to give his customers a little something in addition to sacred words of His Holiness, a publisher named Andrews McMeel Publishing, at 1130 Walnut Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64106. This bonus is in the form of THE DAILY EXTRA on the back of each of three hundred and sixty-five pages. Oh wait. That can't be the right number, because Saturday and Sunday share a page. What the heck?

Okay. Let's skip the numbers and just get down to the problem. Here's the Dalai Lama for Friday, July 16: Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.

Fine. That's not so very very profound, but it's okay. But what ho! on the back of the page is THE DAILY EXTRA: Match the Artist with the Song.

  1. Summer Breeze
  2. Summer Wind
  3. Summer in the City
  4. Boys of Summer
  5. Girls in Their Summer Clothes

  1. Lovin' Spoonful
  2. Bruce Springsteen
  3. Seals and Crofts
  4. Frank Sinatra
  5. Don Henley

Still thinking about that honorable life, are you?

Here's October 6, with apologies to David Rogachefsky and Olga, born on that day: Mistakenly apprehending inherent existence in all phenomena serves as the root of all other delusions. And THE DAILY EXTRA: Cool But Disgusting Fact. "Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour -- about 1.5 pounds a year. By 70 years of age, an average person will have lost 105 pounds of skin."

Okay. Maybe thinking about rogue skin is easier than trying to understand what the heck was going on with that quote, but you get my point.

One more and I swear I'll quit. Says His Holiness: If you fulfill the value of a human lifetime through engaging in religious practice, then there is no point in worrying about death. THE DAILY EXTRA: Household Hint. "Old nylon stockings, cut lengthwise, make great ties for tomato plants. They won't cut into the stalk, are weather resistant, and are very strong."

Have mercy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Camels Are Lowing

Today's long-awaited blog will be a mishmash of Christmas images and thoughts, starting with the traditional Mahon Camel Cookies. Saudi Arabia is dear to this family's collective heart (and the family is dear to mine), so I started making molasses camels for them. I had trouble this year. I used the wrong recipe (from The Joy of Cooking), and produced a dough as stiff as pasta dough, which Olga tells me is as tough as the dog biscuit dough I'll be making for Benji later on. I let Mike test-drive the camel, and it came up substandard for both taste and texture, so I herded the rest into the trash and went back to the tried and true Ms. Crocker. As you can imagine, the dough sometimes gets stuck in those hooves, so we have to pretend that some of the camels are sitting down.

These festive bells are made with The Joy of Cooking's Rich Sugar Cookie recipe, substituting 100% of the vanilla with 150% of maple extract. Yum. Meee. For the paint, I beat an egg yolk with another drop or two of the maple, some water, and some food coloring.

Moving out of the kitchen into the living room, behold this package from a dear friend in The Land of Several Lakes. It was a tight fit in my mailbox, so I had to yank it out, and when I did, it fell to the ground and was hoisted, sort of, on its own acorn. As you can see, that acorn is really in there. I'm counting it as a Christmas Miracle, right up there with the fact that I was able to use Photoshop to erase enough of my friend's address to render him or her anonymous.

Now let's go outside to the Fallen Santa. I raved enough about this last year, but nothing exceeds like excess. Really, in the daytime, it looks as if hordes of barbarians entered the village and slaughtered all the brightly dressed townspeople. Or maybe the Florida sun melted all of Santa's helpers and then the cooler evening hardened them again. And again. I mean, it's cheerful in its own way, but gee, the same could have been said about my grandmother's funeral procession (sixty miles from Kane to Oil City, PA, at 40mph, the teenagers and mid-twenties in the last cars, laughing and singing with the radio, carrying on as if death had no sting).

Down a couple more blocks, though, you'll see this holiday-heavy lawn. These people keep the decorations inflated -- and aloft! -- all day and all night.

I sure hope the Santa Pilot stays clear of all that Spanish moss, which, by the way, was used to stuff furniture, like sofas and mattresses, in the Olden Days. This is on René's street. Further up 49th (maybe around 5th Avenue North), but sadly without a photo here, is a house with five trees in row, each in a rainbow color (=). [The preceding is not a ridiculous emoticon of a surprised person with vertical eyes, which would be surprising, indeed, but the equal sign, indicating the desire for equality under the law for non-heterosexual people, too.]

And look at this inclusive setup, on 58th Street: a dreidel and a manger. I can't tell if the dreidel is looking curiously at the manger or if it's acting in a menacing fashion, but it doesn't matter: They're together.

In checking the spelling of dreidel, I found out that it's a game of chance involving pennies or, preferably, chocolate money. Really now. A religion featuring chocolate and money? How bad could that be?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving is not even cold in its grave. Leftovers are still in the refrigerator. It's not even December. Yet my first Christmas card was in my mailbox yesterday. It was from my sister-in-law ... er, that is, my brother and his wife. I know she loves most holidays, so her eagerness to get started on Christmas is no surprise. In truth, the fact that she's a recent, first-time grandmother is probably what prompted the early cards. There's a photo of the little angel inside the card.

I have no doubt that this woman would call herself a Christian (heck, she may be one for all I know), but I further doubt she celebrates the birth of Christ at Christmas. I imagine she celebrates her joy in her family, and the special feeling of excitement that Christmas brings -- and who cares if it's simply residual childhood hysteria or the mob rule of gift-buying or the thrill of making special foods and putting up special decorations, the thrill of tradition-building or tradition-confirmation or tradition-breaking? Who cares what the source is? Christmastime feels good.

I think Christmastime feels good to Jews in America and Muslims (if they've been here long enough to get swept up in it) and whatever else we've got here. Hindus? Taoists? Is that even a religion? Who knows? Who cares? Christmastime is fun and warm and fuzzy.

One year, I celebrated the Chinese New Year with a small Hispanic family in Bogotá, Colombia. I got swept up. I twirled around, clanging my bag of money over my head, screaming and yelling with the best of them, making enough noise to chase away the bad spirits, as directed. I backed up into the celebrants behind me, all of us yelling and tumbling and laughing, to make way for the giant dragon roaring and swaying its way through the crowd. I felt exultant as I walked through the mist of lavender water the Buddhist priests sprayed on me as I left the celebration.

Did I believe the Blessing of the Money ceremony actually blessed my money? Hmm ... Since it was Colombian money and I returned home the next day, I'd have to say no. Was I now a Buddhist because I bought a candle and paid for it to be lit and placed in a room with hundreds and hundreds of other burning candles? Uh, no, but I'm glad I got to feel the astonishing heat of all those candles. I felt my hair move in the heat waves from so many tiny flames. Talk about the power of numbers! Years and miles and cultures away, I walked into the Mint Room at the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company in Boulder, Colorado, and felt the stunning yet exhilarating opposite sensation: Cold so cold it felt like my eyes were breathing frosty air ... except it wasn't cold at all. It was merely minty -- minty twenty feet tall and fresh from a workout.

The point is, I just don't think the motive behind the good feelings matters so much. As you know if you've been paying attention (and you know who you are), I don't have a television and I don't read the papers or listen to the news on the radio. Even so, I know there's fuss about the Obama family having a "holiday" tree instead of a "Christmas" tree. I love it that the Christians who object don't seem to know that the word holiday means holy day. They're so ready to be riled.

A tree by any other name would smell as piney.

Let's take a moment and look up yule, okay? Oh wow. This is fun. The word is taken from the Old(e) English word for the pagan midwinter festival, but after the 12th century, it means, ah, Christmas.

I got all fussy a week ago about the term African American. I was told that it's the politically correct version. I'm pretty sure that the PC versions of anything are just to shut up the real rabble-rousers, the squeaky wheels. The rest of the population doesn't much give a hoot. I'm that way with the term woman. I'm not a chick -- and certainly not a chic, which I'm seeing way too much on Facebook -- or a girl or a gal. I'm a woman. Hear me screech. But I'm finally, after too many decades, getting it that woman is just the PC term and most of that population -- women (and you know who you are) -- either don't care or prefer the term girl. I'm making a leap and suggesting that African Americans are the same way. They're probably just fine with being black. I grew up with them being colored, then black, then Afro hyphen American, and now African American.

Of course, I want to say, in a pouty, defensive tone, "Well, then, why aren't I called an Italian-American?" but then my mother's side, the Huckabone side, leaps up and adds Irish and Swedish and god knows what all. The wordsmith finally takes its head out of a book long enough to remark, "Africa's a continent, not a country," so at least I can make my whining easier: "Well, then, why aren't I called a European-American instead of a white person?"

I don't even know what we're trying to define here. I mean, if the guy's black, I can tell just by looking. If he's white, ditto. Those basic colors -- which, by the way, go together really well (cf your traditional wedding) -- don't describe the actual skin tones of Negroes or Caucasians, so we know that's not it.

Not to mention: We're all from Africa anyway, so what's all this noise? Furthermore, what's that got to do with Kwanzaa, er, Christmas?

I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who loves to give gifts and loves to get gifts but hates Christmas because it's expected that he should give and get gifts. My thoughtful, compassionate response is: tough noogies. Get out there and enjoy the lights and the corny music and the good cheer. Yes. Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


My first impulse when I need something from the hardware store is to think I need something from Home Depot, so congratulations to their PR firm. I'm trying to work my way out of that, though, so when Sven (Anne's Volvo, remember) needed new nuts, I went to the Gulfport Hardware Store. The man didn't have an exact match in terms of style, but he gave me self-locking nuts, which is a phrase I never thought I'd use. Ever. I don't even like saying they're "nuts." It just doesn't make sense to me, but "washers" doesn't make sense, either. Is it possible that a self-locking nut doesn't need a washer? If so, washers should be called lockers.

Well, yesterday -- Thanksgiving Eve Day -- I faced a car-painting crisis which involved taking off about a third of the paint that was already on Sven. That called for mineral spirits, in addition to burning a Jesus candle from the Hispanic section of Sweetbay and burying a Hot Wheels car upside down in my backyard. I ran off to the Gulfport Hardware Store, wearing my painting clothes because that's okay when you're staying local.

My painting clothes consist of bike pants for their non-restrictive qualities, and an over-sized tee shirt (which is my size), usually from my days of major blood-donation. They're all covered with paint, but I keep washing them and using them. Lately I've been turning them around and cutting a slit in the collar for a more fashionable v-neck style.

Note that my painting clothes don't include a bra. In my earlier years (if not yours), that might have been something to wiggle your eyebrows about. In these years, let's all just turn our heads aside and think of something pleasant.

Well, dang. I got there at two:forty-five and they had closed at two:thirty. I cursed my luck. Now I'd have to go back home and change my clothes in order to go to Home Depot. That's not local, you see. What ho! There's some sort of hardware store on Ninth Avenue, in that odd little jog between 58th and Tyrone. Aker's True Value, maybe. Something like that. I'll go there!

I went. The place looked closed -- it always does -- but it was open. Mineral spirits were the first thing I saw. The shelves were more than half-empty -- and I don't mean half-full. I don't remember if the floors were uneven boards, but it's the kind of place that should be floored that way, with squeaks.

The old man behind the counter made me and the customer behind me wait while he brought a handful of bills and checks to the back room. I entertained myself by reading a notice and wondering what it meant. "A donation of 50 cents is appreciated, to keep this service available. Progress Energy." Hmm. Progress Energy is the old Florida Progress which is the old Florida Power which is the old ... well, it probably goes on for another half dozen names. At least -- so far -- it still employs actual words, unlike, say, Wachovia, and it isn't a torment like Fifth Third Bank. Wait a minute. Maybe only banks have nonsense names. Hmm ...

Anyway, when the man returned, I asked about the notice. He may as well have told me it was a fifth third from Wachovia, but I think the notice meant if you pay your electric bill at this hardware store, please consider adding a fifty-cent tip.

That four-dollar can of solvent cost twice what it should have because I had to stop down the block and get a jug of Farm Store eggnog.

Well, I got back home and could not open that can. I was almost weeping with frustration when I decided I'd simply have to go back to Aker's and have them open the damned can. But then -- because my mother lives on? -- I knew I'd have to change clothes including, this time, underwear appropriate to a middle-aged woman. The old man was outside smoking. He tried but couldn't get it open. He told me to get pljdih, which I thought might be the other clerk's name. He was talking around the cigarette, using both hands to give himself a hernia over that cap.

I went inside and waited while the other clerk chatted up the customer, who did not want to buy a ten-dollar flashlight. "Batteries are included!" the clerk said. He asked if the man had a knife. He did not, but I did, so he was able to open the flashlight package. In the meantime, I found the smallest toy solider I've ever seen. It might have been half an inch tall. He was next to a penny. I put the soldier on top of the cash register and said, "This is a stick-up," but no one paid attention to me.

Finally it was my turn. The fortysomething clerk patiently explained to me that you've got to push down while you turn. Oh, gosh. What an idiot I am. It's probably from having worn a bra too long. I kept my mouth shut, though, because I knew the guy wouldn't be able to open that can. I was right. He got a pair of pliers and that did the trick.

I own a pair of pliers, by the way, but it's not natural for me to think about tools. If I can't do it with my own hands, I bring it to someone with bigger hands. It simply doesn't occur to me that the right tool might make my hands stronger. I can think of a hammer, but that's it. Well, perhaps my tool-consciousness has been raised.

I love marching into the ever-masculine Home Depot, going directly to the aisle with the mailboxes or the blue painters' tape. I love acting like I belong there amongst all the bearded, ball-capped men with their trolleys of 2x4s and heavy buckets of ... of ... of whatever comes in those huge tubs. But I really do prefer the intimacy of the little hardware stores. I wonder, though, what I'd be thinking if Aker's had also closed early because of the holiday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Cookie Blog

I apologize, once again, for the awful photographs. Clearly, I'm doing something wrong. One of you (and you know who you are) should take pity on me and help me.

In addition to apparently mishandling a camera, I'm also at a loss when it comes to processing the pix once I've taken them. Since I got my new computer, my old system is, I don't know, floating around in cyber space, yearning to come home. Now I can't figure out how to delete photos from the camera. It gets heavier every day.

But that's not why we're here! We're here to look at these cookies.

They're just sugar cookies, using maple extract instead of vanilla, and painted with egg-yolk colors, which the extract made darker, giving them a more autumnal look. But the leaf is hard to cut out. Dough's always getting stuck in the crannies, and the cookies are too big anyhow. Okay. I'll bring them to Mike's parents for Thanksgiving.

I made a bunch of little cookies and intended to color them like autumn leaves, hoping to convince Jill's other guests on Friday that, indeed, some Northern leaves are circular in shape, with scalloped edges. However, I started messing with the paint brushes -- surely influenced by Stillwagon on Saturday -- and look what happened. I made Korean fortune cookies!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Messy, Messy!

I was outside just now, fighting the wind as I painted the roof of Sven, Anne's 1998 silver Volvo S70. Benji was helping by thrashing around in a dirt puddle, chewing stickers off his dirty feet with an equally dirty mouth (see photo above). After his bath, I passed my computer and saw that I had a new email from a high school classmate. I read it, burst into flames, and spent a few furious moments learning how to block someone from my gmail. I'm usually a compleat idiot with things technological, but I was so very motivated that I whipped through the process as if I'd invented it myself.

Then I took a shower, needing no hot water at all.

The email has text first:
The devastation and ignorance being caused by this
Catastrophic occurrence will forever destroy the
Fiber and character of a once great nation
With little hope for correction or rebuilding
At the present rate of duplicity and complacence
Being displayed by the American public.
Then there was a painting called The Gathering Storm. There were human faces painted into the storm clouds. Now, I've never been familiar with famous faces. I'm usually reduced to saying things like, "Oh, you know -- that French Connection guy." I hadn't even laid eyes on a picture of David Letterman until a friend made me watch the Tenth Anniversary Show. Nope. I'd never seen him before. So I don't recognize all the people in the painting, but the main one is this black guy who would look just like President Obama except that he seems to have a bit of a moustache. A not-quite Hilary is next to him, and it looks like McCain on the other side, so it must be Biden (that was an earlier blog). And others.

These peopled clouds are squatting oppressively over a small town that looks like it's from the Depression Era, and the subtitle says -- unbelievably -- We're from the government ... and we're here for your guns.

The wit who arranged the email added: And your healthcare, taxes and your personal choice.

As if all that weren't graphically pleasing enough, there's the latest monstrosity from emoticons, the inventor of which should be made to read by blogs for the rest of his life. Not content with a winking, blinking, colorful Smiley Face, my, um, friend from high school added a big-eyed, orange-haired little girl swinging her legs (and one shoe lace has come undone -- awww!), clutching a teddy bear. The girl, unfortunately, is rather more demonic than endearing, with eyes like that Chucky person who was not in The French Connection.

Well, I became instantly incensed, of course. Obama is here to remove my personal choice. What does that even mean? Isn't that usually about abortion or gay marriage or something?

Well, one personal choice that's still available to me is what kind of junk I get in my emails. I hit REPLY and said, "No right wing stuff for me, please and thank you." I added more, then deleted it, then wrote something else instead, then deleted it. Reason, oddly, prevailed.

She wrote back immediately and said, "LOL - you liberals have no sense of humor! I won't send you any more truth."

Hah! If I thought I was furious before, that was nothing compared to my reaction to the LOL. But I've had a shower now and I'm sipping a soothing cup of coffee. I've turned the AC on and soon I'll have some lovely chicken kebab leftovers from the Pasadena Steak House, so all is not horrible in my world. But let me get this straight. I object to devastation and ignorance, duplicity and complacence, so I have no sense of humor? I object to calling the election of Obama a catastrophy, and someone thinks I should be LOLing instead?

That's when I figured out how to block her.

So here's the deal, then. I celebrate some diversity. I'm all about culinary diversity, racial diversity, sexual diversity (as long as the involved people are smiling). Give me cultural diversity and literary, musical, and visual diversity. Yay for religious diversity. Well, and go ahead and have your political diversity, just don't burden me with it.

No one has ever changed my mind about politics by sending me an email. I don't expect that to change. Look, one time I sent all of you in my Blog Group an email from Amnesty International. There was special action to be taken to try to, gosh, stop torture. One of you (and you know who you are) wrote back and told me to leave you out of my political mailings. And so I have. I did not write back and taunt him for being pro-torture (despite all evidence that proves it doesn't work, ahem). I didn't accuse him of losing his sense of humor (believe me! torture's a great topic for humor!). I just quit sending him political things.

I want my classmate to act like me. Is that so much to ask?

I see a woman every couple of weeks who sort of wastes the group's time by telling us, over and over, how her feelings have recently been hurt. She's had nearly thirty years of active self-improvement, so I'm always baffled by this annoying behavior on her part. "Grow some ova!" I want to shout. But today I was thinking that I'm just like her, except I don't tell you about it. I am so thin-skinned and so very tender and easily wounded that I can't stand to engage in political debate. I hear "you liberals," and my throat closes up. Tossing out my television and refusing to read newspapers, while certainly a sign of spiritual superiority, is nothing more than or less than self-protection. And that's what blocking Brenda McNulty, who shall remain nameless, is.

On a lighter note (yay!), I took the first of five painting classes with Keith Stillwagon. What a delightful mess his paints are! He's a frowning, muttering man who is nonetheless a total charmer. He somehow managed to make most of us begin some pretty good paintings. I have every faith that I won't be ashamed to hang my painting right in front of everyone before it's all over. Of course, not all that much shames me ... and "right in front of everyone" might include the crawl space in my new house (about which I continue to hear nothing).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gooses and Ganders

Well. Webster's Word of the Day is celebrating Halloween. Today's Word is lycanthropy: the delusion that one has become a wolf. Google, of course, has entertained itself and me with the messing of its logo. In fact, that's one reason it's my home page. Letting the kids in the back room play with the logo for special events is something like driving an artcar. It takes an American icon off the pedestal and onto the lawn for a picnic.

Today is Halloween. I can see from Facebook and Walgreens that it's a big fat deal to many people. It seems to be growing like the wart on a witch's nose, but I don't know why. I know my brand-new great-niece has a costume, and she's not the only infant to have one.

As far as Mike can make me do anything, he's making me go to his veterinarian's party tonight. We thought it might be funny to go as ghosts the old-fashioned way -- with white sheets and eye-holes -- but I haven't seen a white sheet in years. I'm not sure a floral or striped ghost would fly.

I met a thirtyish man in the Halloween aisle at Walgreens yesterday. He told me his girl (his language) wanted him to go as her pimp so she could dress up "cute, y'know." Oddly, I do know. I remember wanting to be, uh, cute and Halloween seemed to be the one time a year it could be attempted. I never did, though. I didn't know how. Still don't. Tonight I'll probably toss on my nun suit and be done with it. Mike will slap his monster mask on his face, becoming a magician -- transforming a "mask" into a "costume."

Terry Washburn, a boy from high school who scared me on a hormonal level because his very presence made me want to be, um, cute, complained on Facebook that his girlfriend is making him "dress up like a chick. UGH."

There's something fundamentally wrong with "chick" coming from a sixty-year-old's mouth. However, that leads nicely into my main point, about ganders and sauces, and so we're grateful to Terry.

When I was in fifth grade, my brother Jim was in seventh, and he'd made a papier-mâché mask with one eye and one horn. It was purple. You know the song. My dad had a pair of knit pajamas -- tee-shirt material -- that were purple enough for Halloween. They were medium blue.

Jim was going as a chick, although I'm quite certain we said "woman," and if we didn't, I'll simply rewrite history and say we did.

To that end, he went out back and borrowed a bra from Bernice Recchio. She was my best friend Kathy's mom, our backyard neighbors, and she was big enough that a twelve-year-old boy could fasten her bra around his scrawny chest. Naturally, Jim stuffed the cups with toilet paper and continued with his costume.

I put on Dad's pajamas and, just as naturally, stuffed the groinal area with toilet paper and continued with my costume.

I assure you that nothing sexual was going on. I was merely filling that vacuum which Nature is said to abhor.

Alas, it turned out that we were allowed to emphasize some body parts but not others. If I'd spent fifth grade in the time of codpieces, it would have been a different story. Indeed, the thrust of the costume would have been the groin. But this was 1960 or '61, and after Mom laughed herself sick, she made me remove the toilet paper.

I've been sullen ever since.


Please read the next entry, which is also for Halloween.

Sarah’s Metamorphosis

A Piece of Fabulous Flash Fiction
by Sloan Davis
with his kind permission

His voice hummed deep and soft in her ears even after she hung up. Had he actually said she was the prettiest thing on two legs? Her face flushed at the thought. She reached for the salve and, rubbing the ointment over the pimple that had appeared that morning on her nose, felt warmth emanating from the pus-filled lump. She went to the bathroom mirror and saw to her disbelief it had tripled in size in less than an hour. It was a full blown boil. The Autumn Ball would have to wait. She couldn't go with him, not now, not like this. In the kitchen she poured herself a steaming cup of coffee and sat at the breakfast nook table and cried. All her plans, dreams, chucked upon the rocks. He would meet somebody new. She rubbed the back of her neck and felt another lump, but this one wasn't a boil. She ran back into the bathroom in time to see her shoulders cave in and a large hump, not unlike Quasimodo's, rise below her skin. Panicked, she darted to the phone, but it was too late. Her skin cracked. Long ugly hairs grew out of the boil. Her fingers stretched and bent with long sharp nails. A front tooth fell out. She spun around in her kitchen in an absolute daze when something inside her bubbled and boiled until she couldn't stand it any longer. She opened her mouth and screamed, "Happy Halloween!"

Copyright 2009 by Sloan Davis

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chained Enterprise

Let's get the immediate things out of the way: Tonight is drumming with Buddy Helm (dot com) at The Longhouse ( from seven to nine. And tomorrow is Circus McGurkis (dot org) from nine to four, rain and shine. I'm looking forward to both, although tomorrow I'll be in front of Liz's house at six-fifteen a.m. in the morning, which is a purposeful redundancy, a reminder of the insanity that led to me agree to such a godless hour.

Or what do I know? Maybe six-thirty is a godly hour. I've rarely seen it.

I'm concerned right now about those low book prices that the Icky Stores are promoting: Walmart, Amazon-dot-com, and Target, where -- unbelievably -- the customers are called guests. You can read all about it at if you haven't heard about it already. Basically, if I can get a brand new Barbara Kingsolver hardback for ten bucks, why would I ever pay twenty-five bucks again? Given that, why would anyone ever publish a writer less than (so far) Kingsolver, less known, less proven?

This is not to mention the independent bookstores who simply can't afford to match Walmart's prices.

The dilemma here is that, gosh -- those chains sure are cheap and convenient, aren't they? Yep. I needed a copy of the APA publication laws (believe me -- these people are not into "guidelines"). I called Haslam's. They don't stock it, but they can order it. Well, I believed I needed it right then, and even if I didn't believe that, I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm an American and I deserve instant gratification.

Mercy. Is that whole John Lennon INSTANT KARMA thing a reaction to that whole Red-Blooded American INSTANT GRATIFICATION thing?

Well, I called Borders and they had it and I got it and now I wish I'd waited. If I really want to be the change, then I'm going to have to, um, be the change. I can't cheat and go off to a chain just because it's faster and cheaper. I'm all for free enterprise except for when I'm not. I'm not for it when big fat corporations like Walmart can and do stomp out the Little Guy. I don't know what the solution is. Man, I can barely articulate the problem. But I do know that my books will have to come -- finally! -- from independent bookstores.

The profit Haslam's makes pretty much stays in Pinellas County. The profit Walmart makes? I hate to think.

I have a dear friend, Kati, who works for a non-profit organization that helps indies stay alive in the face of the chains. How awful that such an organization is even needed. It's like the American Civil Liberties Union. Too bad it has to exist, but as long as it does, it's got my membership.

Remember when Walmart was first spawned? It absolutely raved, in red, white, and blue tones, that all its items were Made in the U.S. of A. Remember that? Now you'd be hard-pressed to find any item made here.

It'll be hard to give up Amazon because I buy really cheap used books there. I'll consult with FlaHoos. She'll tell me where to get them.

Well, it took a little doing, but I've been buying nothing but Fair Trade Certified coffee for years. Now it's time for books.

And then vegetarianism.

But first I'm taking Mo back to the hospital.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lost Art

I was waiting at the airport last night and wandered over to a display case featuring the Sister Cities program in Tampa. Six countries were represented: Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, Colombia, and Israel. Each country had sent a small gift. Italy, for instance, sent a colorful miniature wooden horse pulling a wagon. It looked like a gypsy wagon, like those teeny Italian cars at Mazzarro's on 22nd Avenue North which Vitale Bros. has painted. There were five at my last count -- cars, not brothers -- and they're a ball to look at: such detail! such color!

Israel's gift was a small slab of silver with a rendering of the city of Ashdod etched into it. Because of its placement on the shelf and the mirrored surface thereof, it was easy to see MADE IN ITALY at the base. That seemed ... sad? funny? Well, odd at best. Oh. I suppose it could have seemed cooperative, couldn't it?

Nearby, in that short hallway leading to the smokers' exit, was a replica of the cathedral at Oviedo, a gift from Spain too big for the display case -- too big for the hallway, too. It was six or seven feet tall, its spire cramped against the ceiling. The whole thing was crowded in that spot. The plaque describing it was mounted on a stubby post, which I had to bend over to read, yet which came up to the third floor of the cathedral.

Well, maybe Ovideo had a dozen of these impressive buildings cast in bronze and keeps them in a (big) back closet until they sister up with another city. I just googled it because I really couldn't remember if it was a cathedral or a castle, and I was taking notes with my Swiss Army Pen (a photo of which is displayed here, not for the first time, but I'm sick of not having photos on my blog), on the back of a business card that was already full of notes. It turns out that one of the relics at the cathedral (not castle) is the sudarium, the cloth used to cover and clean the face of Jesus after the crucifixion, not to be confused with the Shroud of Turin.

Good heavens!

I wonder how many people even look at that Sister Cities display. Thousands of people walk, rush, struggle through that airport every day, but checking out the miniature paintings from France in the display case probably isn't on their itinerary.

Harmony Pharmacy had a kiosk at the airport. For $35 you could get a flu shot. I can't imagine a less medical setting than an airport, unless it's a Walgreens drug store, where you can also get a flu shot. Yes: You can get one. I'm not going to.

In other news, it's Columbus Day, and for a change, Monday falls on the twelfth. Remember when Columbus Day was a nice day? Years ago, I bought A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I just didn't have the heart to read it, though. Look at this, an online excerpt taken from the book at

Then, on October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.

And that little injustice didn't even involve blood.

It pleases me, in a gloomy sort of way, to think that things were good -- or at least better -- in The Olden Days, whether I mean cave days or Mom's time, and that things are just getting worse. I watched Impromptu again Saturday night, the movie about Frederic Chopin and George Sand. There was a little dope-smokin' goin' on, and a fellow viewer exclaimed, "They had that back then?"

Maybe each generation thinks it invented all the vices. Maybe it takes a perverse pleasure in Being Bad, like rival high schools bragging about how awful the food is in the cafeteria. Or maybe things -- that is, people -- have stayed pretty much the same.

After the movie, my friend said she wished she'd lived in times like the movie, with the balls and the gowns and the tea in the garden. Yes. Except that she'd have been the servant sewing those gowns, working sixteen hours a day, six days a week. And she sure wouldn't have gotten Columbus Day off!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Smooth Moves

Now that some gas stations insist I use their brand credit card or actual cash in order to get fuel at the marquee price, I haven't quite found my gas station. I want to use my debit card and I want to get the price that's advertised. That means I'm driving around until suddenly my car is gasping for sustenance, and I stop at the next place.

The other day, it was the Shell at 58th and Central. I'd been there once or twice before and have enjoyed the classical music swelling incongruously at the pumps. That day, though, it was plain old rock 'n' rock. Perhaps that should have tipped me off.

In any case, I marched off into the little store because I'd be using cash, thanks to its maddening Shell-cards-only policy. I whined to the silent clerk about having to make two trips to get the stated price for a fill-up. I mean, this is America. Cheap, abundant gas at great convenience to myself is a birthright. I handed him some collateral: a twenty-dollar bill. He barely looked at me.

I removed the trigger from its holster and jammed it at my tank. It wouldn't fit. Great. I wiggled and poked some more until reason struck: I'd grabbed the diesel pump. Yes, Virginia, size does matter -- and hallelujah for that.

I decided that instead of a fill-up, I'd just get the twenty, thereby saving me that journey back to the store. I never want to tell them I'm just getting twenty dollars' worth because the system will take as much time to pump those last fifteen cents as it took to get that far in the first place. I felt a tad smug, as if I were outwitting that blank clerk somehow. Yep, I felt that way right up until it hit $19.85 and slowed to the pace of molasses in ... oh, well, tourists in July.

And then today, I took a Publix gift card and went off to buy coffee and other life-saving supplies. The checkout girl -- a teenager obviously new to the job -- couldn't get the price on an item, so she asked me the price. Right. Like I'd know. If you put me on The Price Is Right, and offered everyday items like bread and milk, I wouldn't have a clue. I've never known how much things cost. The clerk just sort of stood there, helpless. I suggested brightly that she call for a bag boy. She said they were short-handed and other clerks would get mad if she took their bag boys.

I told her to forget the item. By now I had two people behind me -- and we were in the Express Lane. She finished up and I swiped my card. It wouldn't take. I tried again. It wouldn't take. The clerk tried. It wouldn't take. I tried again. She tried again. I gave up. I said I'd pay with real money. Turns out I didn't have enough real money. The clerk and I stared at each other. "What do I do now?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said.

I snapped, "Well, find someone who does," and she managed to do that.

While she was explaining the problem to the supervisor, the woman behind me, who'd been waiting peacefully, said, "I noticed you're using a Publix card."

"Yes," I said, suspicion and mortification dawning.

"Well, but this is Sweet Bay."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Milestone

I like firsts. The first time I felt a Florida summer rain, I couldn't believe it: warm rain. I hadn't known that was possible. My first kiss was actually three kisses and I remember pointing out the exact placement of each one to my best friend. Lips, yes, they were all on my lips, but one was off to the side, see? It seemed important to note that.

The thing about a first is that you remember it, but you don't remember a last, since you don't really know when that is. I mean, my life isn't over yet, so I don't know if my first trip to Africa, for instance, was also my last. See?

Well, I had a first today, and if I weren't such an exhibitionist, as demonstrated by blogging, I'd say I was embarrassed by it.

I'm copyediting a woman's third novel and we're using hard copy. I've set myself up at a pretty table. I've got the Chicago Manual of Style and the dictionary. I have pens in three colors. I have coffee and water and a scratch pad. I'm ready for action.

Well, I've never been certain of the spelling of Manhattan. I really think there should be an e in there somewhere, probably at the end. Manhattan came up in the manuscript so I pushed out my chair and stood up. I went over to my computer and typed Manhatten into the Search line. It turns out that all the vowels are a's. Okay. Good. It's conceivable I'll remember that for the rest of my life. Finally.

Great, but did you notice that I actually left my workstation to go check it online instead of picking up the dictionary that was at my elbow?

Yeah. Wow.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Collector

The car in front of me at the ATM had a bumper sticker: I COLLECT MATCHBOOKS! That's infinitely better than I SELL MARY KAY COSMETICS (too commercial) or MY CHILD IS CITIZEN OF THE MONTH (too boring) or McCAIN/PALIN (too damn bad).

Still, I can't even imagine where our matchbook-collecting friend bought such a bumper sticker. Do you suppose there's a matchbook collectors' association? Do they have monthly meetings and yearly conventions in Miami -- or Buffalo? What do they even talk about? Well, perhaps they trade them like baseball cards. In fact, before I step over a line here, let it be confessed that I, in fact, used to collect matchbooks, too. True, it was during my misspent youth, and they mainly came from various dirtball bars and diners in Western New York, and I often stole from my own collection when my lighter ran out of fluid, but still, it was a collection. Well, and it's also true that there was no organization to the things. I suppose the true collector has custom-made racks for displaying his or her goods. Maybe some are so precious -- from Czechoslovakia, say, before it became the Czech Republic -- that they're kept in velvet-lined boxes, safe from damaging light and the dull gazes of the ignorant.

Most of the matchbook collections I've seen are displayed in a tasteful jumble inside a dusty, over-sized brandy snifter. There's usually a stolen beer sign blinking erratically on the wall.

My new neighbor collects key chains. Now, that's not a bad collection target. Most of them are free, and once people know you're collecting, they'll give you all the key chains you can stand. What would insurance companies do without key chains with their logos and phone numbers? I've been to a couple artcar shows that give swag bags to participants. The bags are always full of key chains. Well, and baby-doll heads, too, but that's another story.

My neighbor has strung her four-hundred-plus key chains along the top of her living room walls, sort of like Christmas tinsel. She has placed a special marker at every hundred chains so she never has to count them again. The collection is twenty years old. She's only thirty-four. She's got three miniature Etch-A-Sketches which, in my tight little World of Collections, would be illegal. Duplicates aren't fair.

Besides way too many pieces of paper and unwashed dishes, I only collect blue-and-white teacups. And saucers. In another era, I wouldn't have had to say "and saucers." I had a group of women over once and, with a gesture sweeping enough for any duchess, showed them my custom-made teacup (and saucer) rack and invited them to choose their favorite for the coffee I was serving. One woman chose the cup, but not the saucer. I suppose she thought it was just a short, round mug, and what the heck, that's pretty much what it is.

I've broken many of the teacups over the years both because of the aforementioned misspent youth and because of happenstance. For a while, I made it a point of honor that I never bought my own teacups. I wanted them to be gifts and souvenirs from friends and family. But every now and then, I'm in a shop and I see a cup that I simply must have, so I have it.

The trouble with a collection, though, is that it automatically makes me a Collector, and I'm pretty sure Collectors have to know something about the items they're collecting. I know only as much as is printed on the bottom of the saucer. I have one teacup that was made in "Occupied Japan." My heart stopped when I first read that. The cup was so beautiful, but the wording screamed atom bomb! death! destruction! humiliation! remorse! Well, maybe those last two are just my own. I remember thinking it seemed so petty and nasty to make the Japanese put those words on their goods. They'd already lost, for pete's sake. Why rub it in?

Here's some irony: I only drink coffee out of my teacups. And I drink my tea out of coffee mugs.

At least my collection is practical. I use the teacups and saucers every single day. But what about the impractical collections? What happens when you're truly sick of your teddy bear collection, yet people keep giving you teddy bears because, really, losing interest in a hobby is not generally signaled with announcements and fanfare? What happens, in fact, to sentences that start out as questions and yet sort of meander off into statements so that the question mark at the end seems ridiculous?

Oh. I see.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dan, Dan, Dan (Head Sadly Shaking)

I subscribe to Merriam-Webster's online Word of the Day. It's also the hard-copy dictionary I use. Today's word is irenic which means operating toward peace. Fine. But what really caught my eye was the spelled-out pronunciation: eye-REN-ik.

Hmm ... I've never seen that kind of spelling in a dictionary before. I snatched up the book and looked it up: i-'re-nik with a horizontal mark above the first i, making it a long i, which, if Mister Google would provide a wider selection of accent marks, I wouldn't have to explain.

I don't know if the online pronunciation is done "phonetically." I'm not certain of that term, but whatever it's called, I wonder why it's not presented the same way both in the dictionary and on the line. My first thought was that they're dumbing it down for online use, but that's just fear and snobbery talking. You can actually listen to a very formal fellow speaking the Word of the Day like the narrator in film strips from the fifties, so, really, the online user isn't dependent upon the written clues to pronunciation.

Then I thought maybe they just didn't want to repeat the pronunciation key online. It's on every page of the real dictionary. Space is no object, though. Well, somebody knows why it's done this way. I'm just not the one.

There's also a Did You Know? section on the online version. I really object to this title. That's for grade school, isn't it? for barely important side-facts? Did You Know ... that the world is round? It's just too cute for the serious yet exciting history of a word. In fact, today I learned that irenic comes from Greek mythology, from the goddess of peace, Eirene. That's where our old-fashioned woman's name Irene comes from, too, and "Goodnight, Irene," was the top song in my birth year, 1950.

What more do we need to know?

Here's the Book Report:
  • Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler. I couldn't tell if I'm too depressed to feel or if the writing just doesn't move me, but there were scenes that should have been powerful, but weren't. I think this was her first novel, though, and I'm currently reading a more recent one from this Southern writer. I described one scene to Mike last night and he said, "Don't you read any happy books?"
  • The Host by Stephenie Meyer. The six hundred and nineteen pages flew by. I kept reading long past bedtime, long after my eyes were begging for moisture. She's very good at all degrees of suspense, from real Don't open that door! scenes to simple eagerness for more. I don't know that I'd read her work twice, but reading it once is sheer enjoyment. I'm smiling now, just thinking of it.
  • Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. Read it. She's good.
  • The Ballad of the Sad Cafe & other stories by Carson McCullers. I liked the title story best, although it was really sad (!). Damn Rebels!
  • The End of Overeating: taking control of the insatiable American appetite by David Kessler, M.D. I fear this is fiction after all. Still, I got some good information out of it. Because it's non-fiction, it took me a long time to read it.

He said a whole lot of interesting things in that book, and here's one of them. Our culture has devolved to the point where it's pretty much okay to eat any old time at all. When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to just eat when we wanted to. There were specific, regular mealtimes. I only remember gum as snacks. He said that European business meetings don't have the bagel tray and lattes.

Yikes. And look at movie theaters. True, I've not been in one in years, but when I was a girl (admittedly a frighteningly long time ago), there were popcorn and Milk Duds. That was true even fifteen, twenty years ago. There weren't hot dogs and nachos dripping with melted processed cheese spread, which actually comes pre-melted.

A couple weeks ago, Mike and I agreed that desserts in restaurants are always disappointing. The more layered they are, the bigger they are, the more disappointing they are, even though the photos and descriptions are so very enticing. Well, but then he made the exception of that Vienna Sumpin' Sumpin' Pie he always gets at Good Times -- ice cream with strawberries in a sinful sauce, on a crusty pastry of almonds. And I made the exception of the cinnamon roll at Panera (which is as big as your face -- yes, yours) and the Apple Strudel at Good Times.

So I suppose if I wrote Kessler's book, it would be something like The End of Overeating: except for things with cinnamon; well, and pizza; ooh! and vermicelli! by Barbara Nicolazzo, 2X.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The N Word

Here's poor Mo, trying to take a nap with the camera flash in his eyes. He's got a hair cut that would make any groomer cringe. In the first place, he had those three surgeries on his back -- all in different places -- so he has four levels of fur up there, counting the untouched hair.

In the second place, his under-carriage was cleanly shaved last week so the sonogram could be performed. That's when I discovered, to my ignorant amazement, that he has nipples.

Now, it was already concluded at lunch yesterday -- at the Kopper Kitchen on Central Avenue and 56th, eating the best patty melt in the world -- that it's okay to mention nipples in a blog if they belong to critters or human males. Human females must be excluded from the discussion. Well.

Anyway, why in the world does a male cat have nipples? Male humans, I get (and for the men who refuse to experience pleasure there, well, I'm sorry). But why critters? Symmetry with the females? Irony? Oversight?

I have a couple women friends who've gone without bras for decades. This is for comfort and health, not exhibitionism. They're in need of tee shirts designed with nippouflage in mind -- tee shirts with a dense enough design in the tip-of-the-chest area that coverage is achieved. That's my next project, although I get immediate satisfaction from the name: nippouflage.

This next picture is again of Mo. I looked all over for him -- all over except for on the edge of the tub between the shower curtain and the liner.

Cast your minds back to the mailbox question on August 20. The woman chose the plainer box, the one shown within the body text. She blamed her classy neighborhood, implying that it wouldn't stand for anything less conservative, but I don't believe her. It doesn't matter, but I wish she could have just chosen, without any bogus explanation.

And my car? Well, I got the pricey, Toyota-built distributor assembly installed. I went home, and then to my massage, and then to Panera, and then I couldn't leave because my car wouldn't start. This was actually good news, because my mechanic finally had a chance to see my car in non-action. He was able to get to it before its mood passed. He banged some things under the hood, and when one of the bangs started the car, he said -- with immense satisfaction -- "It's the starter." We'd replaced one eighteen months ago (the plural pronoun is used as a sign of solidarity), so the starter had been removed from the list of suspects. It turned out to be a lemon. The starter was ordered -- no rebuilds! -- and installed, and I didn't have to pay for it. Yay.

And my computer? I woke up Saturday without an internet connection. The call to Bright House determined that it was my computer's fault. I won't go into the painful story of trying to back up my data and losing all my processed photos. Four days later, the computer guy came over. I was prepared to pay big bucks for a new computer. Instead, he spent about forty-five seconds in my chair before announcing that my Norton Anti-Virus software was the problem. Indeed, Marty removed Norton, and my internet connection sprang back to life.

How can such things happen and not be prevented? How can Norton keep selling its product? Why doesn't Bright House go through its gyrations and then, just before it blames the customer's computer, ask, "Do you fraternize with Mister Norton?"

I hate to quote an outdated beer commercial, but why ask why?

Because I can't help it, that's why! Why, for instance, is my PREVIEW mode here at blogger dot com so terribly unlike what I get when I publish? If the text wraps around the photos in a stupid fashion, it's Mister Google's fault entirely. If it works okay, it's because I was doing it right. Yikes! I have to re-publish! It's leaving only three or four characters on a line. Grrrr!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Whose Story?

I had lunch with a new acquaintance yesterday, a photographer. Although she's a prize-winning photographer (yay!), she's also a fairly new one. She took a black-and-white photo of another artist's watercolor of eggs in a nest. She did some magic with it, and it was the first prize she ever won. When she brought the painting back to the artist, he told her to keep it. It was entitled New Beginnings, and he felt that my friend was the one with the new beginnings, not himself.

Well, that's a nice enough story, isn't it? But here I am, being disagreeable again. I love the photo of the eggs and, even more, the watercolor of it. But all that back story does nothing for me. It may actually detract from the pleasure. What if, for instance, I love the egg piece because it reminds me of gathering eggs with my grandma when I was really small? That memory, stimulated by the painting, doesn't conjure new beginnings for me. It conjures the past: my past.

I was at the photographer's house, and I saw a gorgeous ... um, piece. It's a wooden board maybe four feet long, with seven or eight five-inch pieces of wood glued onto it like big rectangular buttons. Each is painted in beautiful seashore colors, bold and happy. I love it.

But then I'm told it's made from wood found in the artist's yard after Hurricane Ivan. In fact, "Ivan" is in the name of the piece, which I forgot because I wanted to. It might have been something like Ivan's Gift, which is okay, but. But. I love the thing for its color and shape. I don't need the history to appreciate it even more. Like the egg painting, this extra information takes away from it.

My photographer said that many people ask for the stories. Yes. I bet they do. And they should be told. But I, apparently, am one of the ones who doesn't want to know.

I'm wondering if it's a form of territorialism on my part. When I buy something with a sticker on it, I remove the sticker. I don't care if it's a watering can or a trash can. I don't care if the sticker's on the bottom or inside. It's not mine until I remove the sticker.

Somehow, not wanting to hear the artist's story about her own work seems connected. If the painting is now mine, then I'm going to tell the story of how I found it and what it means to me. It's the artist's prerogative to tell her story about it, right up until she sells it. Then it's mine.

Well, as you know if you've been paying attention (and you know who you are), I don't like naming things anyhow -- neither cars nor cats -- and naming a piece of art seems extra awful. If art is in the eye of the beholder, then you're better off keeping it Untitled.

As I left my photographer yesterday, she pointed out a watercolor that had somehow ended up in her garage. She doesn't remember where it came from. She doesn't especially like it. It's on my desk right now, just so I can watch it. There's no room on my desk, of course, but there's no room on my wall, either. (I really need that new house!)

There's a volcano in the picture (which I'm sharing) and a village at the bottom (which I'm not). The house roofs are thatched. The colors are absolutely beautiful -- a lot of olives and sages with just enough blue, purple, and red. The whole thing is very restful. Even the volcano seems to be having a post-prandial smoke, with nothing fatal in its evening plans. I mentioned the church, but the photographer looked at me askance. Oh. She's right. There is no church. But I see a holy man anyhow, so there may as well be a church.

If the title turns out to be Happy Hour, I'm not going to be happy.

You Facebookers will find out this evening which mailbox was chosen. You Bloggers will have to wait till the next blog.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tidying Up

Let’s do a little housecleaning, shall we?

You know my poor car has been stranding me for about a year now, and you remember my agonizing about loyalty: Do I stick with my beloved mechanic or switch to the place that actually fixed the problem?

Not to worry! The new place didn’t fix the problem, despite its two-hundred-dollar solution. I got stranded at a fancy house at the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club while delivering a mailbox. The well-off woman and the sweaty, raggedy artist made awkward conversation while waiting nearly an hour for Triple A.

And that’s another story. I so resent getting letters from AAA, telling me I’m over-using their services. In the many years when I’ve used their precious services not at all, did I get letters thanking me for being so kind as to give them money for absolutely nothing? I did not.

But let’s get back to the mailbox, okay? You Facebookers know that I took a commission for a mailbox. The woman wanted a peach background with palm fronds on top. Well, after the first ten minutes, I saw that I wasn’t giving her what she wanted at all. I was giving her what I wanted her to want. I went out and bought another mailbox and painted it per instructions. (Hey! I didn’t get fired just to follow instructions!)

I brought both boxes and gave her a choice. Which do you think she chose? The one at the top of this blog, or the one below this paragraph?

But let’s get back to the car, okay? I’ve heard of jump boxes, so I looked at some online. I even watched a video on how to use one. That’s my solution: A charged battery that I carry in my car. When it acts up, I jump it with the jump box, and I’m not stranded, I’m merely inconvenienced for a couple minutes. I can handle that!

Ah, but the clerk at the auto parts store said, “Sweetheart, you don’t need a jump box. You need a master ultra-static relay. You can only get ’em at the dealership. It’s a hundred bucks. It’ll fix your problem.”


Oh wait! Not yay. Toyota had never heard of a master or slave ultra-static relay. Neither had Jon, the aforementioned beloved mechanic. The plan now is for me to show up at nine tomorrow morning. He’ll install a brand new, Toyota-built distributor assembly. I made him give me a percentage on how sure he is that this would solve the problem. I have, after all, had a new starter, new alternator, new battery, new fuel pump, new fuse, and new fuse box in the last year. And look at me! I was also willing to have a new master ultra-static relay!

He gave me ninety-six percent, so we’re on.

Okay. And remember those holes in my lawn? They turned out to be big beetle bugs. I rarely see them alive. I can’t imagine how they spend their days. I do, however, have photographic evidence of how they spend their afterlives. Look at that! Spiders have strung up at least two of those giant beetles. One was tied up to this little pot of flowers that, clearly, didn’t have enough to drink that day, and the other was roped up to the rosemary. What the heck? The bugs are empty, too. Now, maybe the spiders are carrion-eaters. Maybe they just wait for the bugs to die and dry out and then they drag them home. They’re decorative planters, for all I know, and soon we’ll see spider-sized geraniums spouting out of the bugs’ ears. Still, I suspect foul play, both before and after death.

I have no idea why I must take such horrendous, out-of-focus photographs. My favorite soothsayer sayed a man would teach me -- for free -- so, step up, lads!

And books. I’ve just read The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I really liked it. A Southern friend has no interest. She said she lived it. Or maybe she resents everyone pushing it on her just because she has a beautiful accent. In any case, I liked it a lot. It’s a book about a book about the relationships between the colored help and the white helpees in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s.

I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass was good, too. In fact, I’ve had a nice run of good books, which I deserve, having read Close Encounters of the Third Kind just before John Updike’s The Widows of Eastwick. I had enjoyed The Witches of Eastwick in the eighties and so expected to enjoy this. I was wrong.

I just finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, as prompted by my wise friend in Minnesota, Kati. Parts of it were too intellectual for me. I had to stop and think. And parts of it were so profound, I had to stop and think. And it was funny and suspenseful, with cats and wealthy foreign men. Well, I guess all the men were foreign, since it was written in French (but read in English, I assure you).

Anything else? I guess not. I’m just waiting for my computer to give the go-ahead to Well, and to Facebook and my bank, too. Suddenly, I’m told that those sites are having problems with their security certificates. I doubt it. I fear it’s my own computer. If it were universal, I could accept it with good grace. I’d just sigh and wait. If it’s just mine, though, I’ll burst into flames.


Hah! instead of anything dramatic, I merely eed the right man with the right question. My computer's time had reverted to January 2002. No wonder it was upset!

Thanks, mcd.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Here in the Pasadena Shopping Center is my little Curves Weight Loss Center. The Power to Amaze Yourself, the sign says. Right next to it is Kumon, a tutoring business (Math Reading Success says the description, complete with no punctuation). Its slogan is Let Your Child Amaze You.

So maybe with all this amazing stuff going on, it's no surprise that it happens at Blockbuster, too, on the other end of the shopping center. "Did you find everything you were looking for?" asks the perky clerk.

"Yep," say I.

"Awesome!" she gushes.

Now, a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico could be awesome, I should think, or something to do with mountains. If the word grandeur springs to mind, then go ahead -- say it's awesome. But finding Disc Two of the Third Season of The Office? Nice, but not awesome.

I know the kid is just using kid talk, but I guess I'm middle-aged enough to find it offensive.

And oh! you don't want to be with me when the waitress calls us "you guys," especially when it's another woman and me. You guys is way beyond just kid talk. Our whole country talks that way, including people who hate it, including, I'm saddened to say, me.

No one says You're welcome anymore, either. I thank the clerk at Publix and he says, "No problem." Well, yeah. I didn't expect it to be a problem. The cash register told you how much everything was. It totalled it up. It added the tax. It figured out how much I saved. It told you how much change I should get back, plus it's the lesser-paid bag boy who's asking me about my paper-plastic preference, so, yeah, "No problem" is probably correct. I just don't see it as the appropriate response to Thank you.

Today at Blockbuster, the price was suddenly $1.99 per video per day, instead of the regular $1.00. "What?" I exclaimed. "The price doubled just since yesterday?"

"No. It started today."

Fine. She pointed out that it hadn't actually doubled. I pointed out that one penny away from two bucks is two bucks in anybody's book. She pointed out that some people think they're getting a deal by having it "under two dollars." I pointed out that her mother wears Army boots.


I'm copying this from an email I got this morning:

Reports in Newsweek and the LA Times indicate that Attorney General Holder is on the verge of appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody.

Unfortunately, the reports indicate that the investigation may be limited to low-level CIA operatives who went beyond techniques authorized in the “torture memos,” letting high level government officials who commissioned and authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” off the hook.

It is absolutely critical for Attorney General Holder to know that the American people support a full investigation -- wherever the facts may lead -- and that those who authorized these horrific violations of human rights must be held accountable.

Now please go watch this video and take the action it suggests, if you agree:

I know I have at least one reader of this blog who thinks torture's just fine, but every study done about torture shows that it doesn't work. It doesn't make people tell the truth. It's true that it terrifies and humiliates and permanently damages people, physically and mentally, but that's generally not the truth torturers are looking for.
Or is it?

Sometimes when I have the least little pain -- say a paper cut -- I wonder what it would be like if I had paper cuts all over my body, all the time. I wonder if that would make a good torture technique. What about an earache? In addition to everything else, what if torture victims also were given earaches, something to plague them between waterboarding sessions? Sometimes when my back goes out (I don't know where it goes, and I can't say I blame it, but still, it really hurts), I think, what if I were a slave and I had to go out and tote dat barge anyhow?

I think about that when I see street people sometimes. Some of them walk so awkwardly, with shoulders all skewed this way and that. I'm guessing they don't get a lot of chiropractor care. They just have to keep moving, no matter how painful, no matter the condition of their shoes.

I remember overhearing my parents talk when I was a kid. I believe now that the Ku Klux Klan was in the news then, and that the American Civil Liberties Union was defending the Klan's right to meet peacefully. That's what the ACLU is for. Mom said if we decide that the KKK isn't allowed to meet peacefully, then maybe we'd decide that oh, the Republican Party wouldn't be allowed to, either. It really had to be a right for all, or none.

I later discovered it was the issue that lost a whole lot of members for the ACLU, but I'm with Mom. She was right.

Now you know I can't stomach "news," but I'm pretty sure the United States has its own rules about torture, and that people in the Bush administration broke those rules. I believe they need to be ... hm ... "held accountable"? Would that do it? What does that even mean? Or should they be "punished"? What if they were subjected to the same torture they permitted? Do you think that would stop them? Or would we be just as bad as they?

And so what if we were?

What I can't stand about it is the cold cruelty of torture. If it were passion of some sort, it wouldn't seem quite so bad. But this is cold-blooded. It's discussed. It's decided exactly who will do what for a particular form of torture. And I suppose various employees develop specialties. Jesus.

There's a scene in the movie Stand by Me that just kills me every time. The big boys -- the JD's (junior delinquents, to the uninitiated) -- take the smaller boy's ball cap and play keep-away with it while he scrambles, in vain, to recapture it. The thing is, it belonged to his dead older brother and it really meant something to the kid. See? It's the meanness that makes it so awful, the complete lack of sympathy or empathy or compassion.

Well, I recently read the daily meditation page in the bathroom at The Longhouse. It was a simple statement from the Dalai Lama: We must be compassionate to all. All.

After I read that, I actually made a point to feed Nero every day, even though I'd started to dislike him because I think he bullies my Mittens. But surely Nero is part of this all His Holiness is talking about, so I do it. In fact, I just went out on the porch, and there was Nero in a chair, out of the rain, skeeters circling him. I sprayed him and Mittens with mosquito-repellent, which they both despised.

So we must be compassionate to Bush and his ilk. Man. I don't know.

A friend called and interrupted this blog with his opinions on this stuff, which I did not ask for. I guess now I'd have to say that at least two of my readers think torture's okay. Damn. Anyway, he says there can be no rules in war. The other side's going to break the rules, so we may as well, too. But, but -- the Geneva Conventions?

Well, I can't quite just shrug. I can't just shake my head at this torture stuff and get back to my book. So I'll write a blog that's remarkably informed (for me, who prefers the Dave Barry System of Research [ask someone else]), and I'll provide a link which I hope you'll follow, and I'll even put up a picture of a yawning cat, our dear dying Mo, so that his sharp, bared teeth may be a lesson to us all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Miracle Nothing

As you know if you'd been paying attention, I joined Curves last week. It turns out that you can't actually get fit that way. You have to go to the workout. Drat. Anyway, in a similar fit of self-loathing, I, uh, bought something. I suppose if I had a television, I'd have bought some fabulous jewelry from the Home Shopping Network, just to make my fat self feel better, or maybe I'd have ordered an amazing exercise system that works all my muscles in only fourteen minutes a day, so I suppose I should just be grateful that I only have a computer, and that I only ordered twenty seven-ounce packets of Miracle Noodles.

Near as I can tell, these noodles are a vegetable fiber, even though they contain zero dietary fiber. They're a filler -- a carb-free, calorie-free, fat-free filler. Like tofu, they take on the taste of whatever's around them. I committed two recipes: an Asian thing with shredded cabbage and a hot peanut sauce, and my own delicious macaroni salad. It was a costume ball, with the Miracle Noodle masquerading as elbow macaroni. Its mask kept slipping off, the hat tipping, the robe sliding off the shoulder, revealing not succulence but pestilence.

The only real trouble with the Miracle Noodles is that I'm simply not going to cook. I discovered, too, from post-purchase research that most people say the noodles work best in Asian recipes. Heck, if I'm going to bother to cook, I want to cook something I love.

I spent forty bucks for the things, which includes shipping, and since they're packed in some gelatinous, translucent substance that smells a bit like fish (but may taste like chicken), they're heavy. And that's what inspired today's blog for me. If these noodles weighed, say, five pounds, I'd have tossed them -- and my money -- out with Monday's trash and been done with it. You'd never have known about it. But it's a whole different thing when there's such substance. I feel truly wasteful throwing out twenty pounds of stuff.

The hole was dug even deeper when, refusing to throw the noodles out, I offered them on Craig's List. I put them under Health and Beauty and am asking ten dollars for the whole mess. Since my ad will stay on the list for a month, I think I have to keep the noodles in my refrigerator, even if I change my mind about tossing them out. They're good till mid-November, as long as we understand that "good" means many things.

As a special offer to my Blog Friends, I'll let you have the things for FREE. Just come and get 'em.

But let's move on to more pleasant topics, like my new license plate. Notice anything strange? Yes. The tags expire in September 2011. We Floridians can now renew for two years at a time. The price jumps thirty-five percent on September 1, so people born in the last quarter of the year (and you know who you are) have the option of renewing early, to enjoy the savings for both years.

I did that yesterday and while I was at it, I personalized my Imagine plate with -- you guessed it! -- BIEN50. It will be centered on the plate, which will cover up John Lennon's self-portrait, but that's what you get when you mix art and bureaucracy. I'm convinced they let a Republican design the plate. The background sky could easily have been much better, and the lettering for IMAGINE breaks the very first rule of typography: Make it legible. Still, the extra money I paid goes to local food pantries, so it may be sadly ugly, but at least it does some good.

Olga was over here the other day. Yes, the same Olga who needs to upload a photo of herself as my Follower. She, like too many, appears to be in the Witness Protection Program. Ah. Maybe I'll call those faceless Followers Stalkers. Will that urge them to show their faces?

Anyway, we saw a butterfly dragging a dead leaf as it lumbered from one branch to another. I thought it was gathering material to build a nest, although it is the wrong season and, um, the wrong species. It turned out that it was carrying its Significant Other, with makin' whoopee on whatever they use for minds.

I never know in the insect world who's doing what. Bugs are just too alien to me. I mean, when monkeys are making babies, I get it. Ditto ducks and dogs. I think the water mammals might baffle me, though, and I know bugs do, so it took a moment to figure out that the butterflies were mating.

I know in the bird world, the males are the showoffs, strutting their brighter colors to capture the females' attention. Mammals, too, have the males pounding their chests and smashing their horns to show who's got the best sperm. Of course, we're mammals, so I don't understand why the females are the ones who, for instance, jump on the backs of motorcycles wearing leather short-shorts and teeny bikini tops while the males driving the bikes are covered (except for their heads, of course) in thick denim and leather. I suppose it's the same thing that made girls in my high school wear their fat winter coats over their above-the-knee skirts (jeans and even slacks making the dress code cover its eyes with the back of its hand and feel faint). Our bare legs were out there in the cold. We wore our little white sneakers (kept white with baby-shoe polish) and little white ankle socks. In the Buffalo Snowbelt.

Something got turned around. I mean, women's magazine covers hint at the treasures inside: How To Make Him Really Hot, Top Ten Ways To Turn Him On. Huh? When did that become an issue? Goodness. Just say yes. That'll turn him on.

Well, I guess we got civilized. We crawled out of the caves and moved to Madison Avenue and Wall Street. Now instead of roaring and charging, the human male mammal buys a car that'll do that. Okay. Maybe my metaphors are getting puréed here, but, really, look at our progress: The males spend a lot of money to show us they've got the best sperm, and we females spend a lot of money to make sure that fine sperm goes to waste. It's like my Miracle Noodles. I've found a food that delivers absolutely no nutrition or calories or fat or protein. Next thing you know, we'll be sending it to Ethiopia.
I apologize for that awful photo of the butterflies getting it on. All the others were actually out of focus, and it's an auto-focus camera. But did you notice the ACCENT MARK? I'm so thrilled! My friend Luis turned me on to that. Yay!