Thursday, January 24, 2013

O Come, Let Us Abhor Her

I was at Publix yesterday when the woman ahead of me made her purchase, pushed her cart out of the way, and starting singing this Christmas carol as if a choir of angels were behind her.

The girl at the counter rolled her eyes, two other shoppers nudged each other, and I wondered what was wrong. Of course, January's three-quarters over, so I guess Christmas tunes are passé. Would it have been better if the woman had been singing a Negro spiritual in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or maybe A Bicycle Built for Two for the upcoming Valentine's Day?

"What the–?" another customer started. He apparently didn't know how to finish, so he just wrapped it up with, "Whatever."

By then, of course, I realized that it wasn't the woman's choice of song that was so wrong. It was the fact that she was singing in a public place unabashedly.

I'm incapable of witnessing an anomaly and acting as if it's not there, so I said to her, "You're clearly a soprano. I'm an alto myself."

She stopped singing long enough to say, "Oh, I can sing alto, too," and began again, only in a deeper voice.

I left then because the winning lottery ticket was in my pocket, but I did wonder why we treat people singing in public as if they're loony. Would a whistler have been more welcome? I think so, yes, as long as he was whistling to himself, quietly, absentmindedly. That's the key, I guess. We can hum and mutter to ourselves, but we can't do it out loud for all to hear. In fact, that's what continues to be so annoying about cell phone usage. It's the out-loudness about it, the to-othersness instead of to-yourselfness.

On the other hand, aren't you moved when watching a flash mob? I sure am. Man, what a wonderful surprise! Such cooperation! Such community! At first, though, when the first singer or the first violinist or the first dancer starts up, people turn and frown. It's only after a couple others join the first that the joy begins to show in people's faces. So yes, as long as an entire group is doing something out loud, it's okay. It's when the loner does it that we think something's wrong. Eccentricity is only okay if a crowd is eccentric ... which sort of defies the definition of eccentricity, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Discomfort Zone

I don't know if it's Age creeping up on me with its arthritic knees and shaky memory, or if Depression is trying to drag a dark blanket onto all my activities, or if it's just Winter nudging me toward the fireplace, toward a nap, toward my interior. Whatever it is, I don't want it.

I didn't want to go with Gale to hear Ann Patchett speak at the Writers in Paradise conference, even though I did want to. I wanted to stick with my comfort zone: dinner with Mike and Ruth on a Saturday night, like always. Except that I didn't even want to do that, and so I didn't.

One of my New Year's joys is to note everyone's birthday and anniversary in my new datebook. When I get to May and don't note Mom's birthday, I stop and add up how many years she's been dead now and maybe I tear up and maybe I don't. I'll see that my niece will be thirty-seven in August, and I try (and fail) to imagine my having a thirty-seven-year-old child. It's a pleasant stroll down soon-to-be-Memory Lane.

I expect to be slightly busier this year, and decided to get a datebook with more appointment space. I got it early, too, when the selection was best. This new one doesn't waste any pages on pretty pictures, knowing, as it does, that so many of us mean business. But when January came, I found I just couldn't get used to this new format, so I went back and got a different desk calendar. This one, it turns out, is smaller but has lines drawn in. Ah, that'll help.

Yes, except that I can't get use to it, either. It's too, too ... I don't know. It's just too small or too large or too tall or skinny or plain or something. Today's mail brought me my familiar and beloved Engagement Calendar from the Sierra Club.

I feel better, thanks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Delicate Balance

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, birthday. I'm aware of this because I made an appointment with a black friend who said we'd meet on his birthday, and because I at least skim each day's Writer's Almanac and it was mentioned today. It also noted his assassination. That's pretty much what I think of when I think of Martin Luther King – his death.

I remember when Watergate was ... doing whatever it was doing. I thought, "Man! I hope my grandkids don't ask me about this because I don't even know what Watergate is!" And that's because I've never been interested in current events. Happily, I've never been interested in producing offspring, either, so those theoretical grandchildren have never queried me.

It was sixth grade that introduced me to the phrase current events. We were to bring in newspaper clippings about what was happening in the world. I don't remember ever cutting up a newspaper. I'm pretty sure I didn't listen to anyone give a report. I definitely don't recall enthusiasm on anyone's part.

I maintain that ennui to this day. I can get crazed about presidential elections, but only if someone around me starts it. Left to myself, I tootle around, never caring one way or another. Or I'll get an email from Amnesty International, become appropriately outraged at the injustice in a middle eastern country or a midwestern state, click on the TAKE ACTION button, and get back to my life.

I don't mind this sort of purposeful ignorance when it comes to pop culture. Who really cares about that? How is it ever actually important? Television comedians have to care, since they have to make jokes about current events in all the categories. I can't think of anyone else who should care.

My friend Ruth is eighty-five. She subscribes to People magazine, just so she can "keep up." With whom? Why?

Today, however, I feel really bad that I haven't kept up. It's all James Earl Ray's fault. Had you asked, I would have floundered, but at least his name would have been familiar. I would have come up with the fact that he's a black guy from the sixties or seventies who was either a politician or a musician – or maybe both.

In fact, however, he's the considered assassin of Dr. King. And he's white. Some time after a televised mock trial, according to Wikipedia, the King family concluded that James Earl Ray had had nothing to do with MLK's death.

Fine. It's moot by now, isn't it? although it sure wasn't then. Still, I should have known. But I don't want to keep up. I don't want to be aware of current events, unless they're events in the lives of my friends – and they never are. I'm much more interested in Andrea's father's visit from the Amish man who performed chiropractic on one of his horses.

Still, when someone knocks me out and the EMT asks me who's president, I want to get it right.

◘  ◘  ◘

It's true that a photo of my cat Ruthie may be misleading since she doesn't think balancing on the fence requires any special skill. Still, she is gorgeous, isn't she?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ain't Love Grand!

My new friend Paul is a furniture-maker, but he'll take other jobs, too. He came here to look at my fence, which is  s-l-o-w-l-y  toppling over to the east, threatening to crush the biker's grandchildren when they visit.

Alas, Paul he won't be mending and replacing the fence any time soon. The furniture always takes precedence.

I called him today, though, because my nine-drawer chest needed some professional help. The drawers weren't sliding in and out properly. That had been the trouble when I'd first brought the piece home, but by putting the drawers out of order, things worked well enough.

Then I brought the thing to Derrick Johnson (, and he put the drawers back in their proper order again and now they don't fit again.

It took Paul less than an hour to methodically figure the drawers out. Some required the removal of thumb tacks someone else had tapped down long ago. Some required the shaving of paper-thin curls of wood. Two of the drawers had to trade places. I myself would have applied some cursing hammer therapy, but that's why he's a furniture-maker and I'm, um, retired.

Then he leaned against the filing cabinet and we chatted. When it was time to go, I pulled out my cash and asked him how much I owed him. "Just give me a smile," he said.

Oh my. Do you know how long it's been since someone has flirted with me? Me neither: that's how long. I felt as if I were blushing and scraping the floor with my toe, but I hope I just acted like my own self.

Still, when I walked him out to his car (of course I did!), we stopped by my poor murky pond, another chore he's going to do as soon as the furniture-making lets up. He told me in clear, easy terms how to rig a filter that would sift out the algae in a couple of hours. And because I was still breathless about my smile, I listened to him.

Please understand, Gentle Reader, I don't "rig" things. I don't fix things. I don't figure them out. I either get someone else to do it, or it doesn't get done.

But as soon as Paul was gone, I was off to Home Depot. I bought things I didn't even know existed. I don't think the pond will be pristine in just a couple of hours, but I believe it will get clean.

And it's all because of ... not love, of course, but something akin: the first step of affection perhaps. Love lifts people up. It really does. It inspires. It makes us want to do better, be better. And humans must want that sort of encouragement or those sappy Christmas movies wouldn't last a single season.

I got that today, and now the fish – providing they still exist – will be all the better for it, and so will I, and so will you.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Generally, I swear like an intoxicated seafarer all day long. I didn't grow up that way and sometimes I wish I wouldn't. My mother, who always had a cool head, muttered damn now and again, and my Dad, a lapsed Catholic / born-again Christian (oh dear), would let loose with an imposing, rhythmic Jesus Christ Almighty! a couple times a year, sounding like a wild-haired Moses calling fire down from the sky, but that was about it from Dad. I vaguely remember we five kids weren't allowed to call anyone stupid, and once my older brother was mildly chastised by Mom for calling someone a son-of-a-bitch. She pointed out that the insult was really to the mother, not to the person, and that was hardly fair.

My pal S.Y. recently deFriended me on Facebook because I shared a poster that had The F Word (fuck) in it. I didn't even use the word myself, but I guess just permitting it into our small mutual world was too much for her tender sensibilities. She, too, is a born-again Christian who has had lovers out of wedlock since her conversion. I don't know if the rules are hers or her god's (I suspect the former), but apparently it's okay to fuck, but not to say it – or even read it.

And that's fine. God knows I have my idiosyncrasies.

I used to drive Jimmy to meetings several times a week. I didn't much like the guy but I was being of service. I used The F Word a lot. Well, one night when he was sitting in my car in front of his apartment, completely ignoring all my body language and the running motor, he told me my self-esteem would be greater if I would quit using The F Word. I told Jimmy his self-esteem would be greater if he'd use a man's name.

That's when I started using The MF Word (motherfucker).

But "bitch"? I think it's a perfectly lovely word for "carp." There's more sting to someone bitching than someone carping, and that's useful. I don't mind it for a female dog, except for the adolescent sniggering that often accompanies it. I don't mind it if someone says I'm acting bitchy because, yes, I am complaining or, more likely, touchy.

What I do mind, and mind heartily, is the gender-specificity of the word as an insult. It's bad enough to engage in name-calling, but basing the word choice on gender is just as offensive as basing it on race, color, or creed.

That sophomoric tittering I mentioned up there? That's how I feel when I say someone's dicking around. I can't quite just say the phrase, but I'm working on it. I'd never call a man a dick, though.

Every time I pick up a needle, I prick myself, but I'd never call a man a prick.

With the advent of youngsters calling men and women dude, my complaints about gender would be moot ... if I weren't a middle-aged woman who simply but firmly refuses to succumb to pop culture. Of course, some men have been called bitch, too, but after the initial thrill ("Hah. How's that feel, you– you– ... uh ..."), I just can't endorse it.

This morning, I was driving down 49th Street South, headed for the French bulldogs I tend, and the driver in front of me slowed down because a woman on the side of the road was yelling at him. She wore a toxic-green vest and, done yelling, shook her head sadly. We recognized each other as having been in a painting class together, so she didn't yell at me, but she was visibly upset. Then I noticed orange caution cones on the lines in the center of the road. That was weird.

And then I saw people trotting on the right side of the street. Maybe they even had numbers on their backs. I'm not sure. I was too busy trying to stay within the cones and not run over the people.

They weren't even running single-file, and it got scary. I nearly ran into one woman and I yelled (through my closed window), "Get outta the way!"

She yelled back, "I'm in a race, bitch!"

I still don't know what the real story is, but I doubt the cops are to blame. There are plenty of fund-raising run-a-thons here in Gulfport, FL. The police know how to manage that. Someone dropped a ball somewhere, though, for automotive traffic to suddenly be in the middle of a foot race.

It took me a long time to cool down from being called bitch like it's my name. I told myself the woman probably reacted out of fear. Or she was raised by people who don't mind name-calling. I certainly knew it wasn't personal. It wasn't Barbara Nicolazzo she was screaming at. It was, um, The Woman In The Artcar Whom She'll Never Forget she was screaming at. Still, I know it takes about twenty minutes for the adrenaline to ease on out of my system, so I just fed the French bulldogs and came here to tell you all about it.