Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Marital Bliss

As a lover of language, I occasionally encounter a word or expression that enthralls me. Sometimes, however, I come across one that disturbs me.

Let’s talk about one of the latter: marital bliss.

Let me stipulate that I am in a happy marriage. We respect each other, love each other, and take good care of each other. We show each other extreme consideration.  I cannot stress this enough. All is well here on the home front.

All the same, I plunge ahead to plumb the fallacy of marital bliss.

Even superficially, ‘marital bliss’ just sounds inane. It evokes cartoon-character, lovesick goofballs mooning at each other. Images arise of intertwined arms and necks and lips, and the crazy period early in a relationship where neither of you ever comes up for air. Of course, this leads to brain damage, which is why it can’t possibly go on for long.

‘Marital bliss’?  Who comes up with this stuff?


My adorable husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU), may have a tendency to use “selective listening.” I realize that this is a common trait in the male of the species, and of course we women may have comparable flaws, but that is a topic for another day, or more likely, another columnist.

CoTU also has a tendency to believe that he is right, he is always right, and that his way of doing something is far and away the best possible, if not the only way. To do anything. Everything. The combination of these two traits sometimes leads me to homicidal thoughts, but I say in all humility that I control the impulse.

My point, and I do have one, can be demonstrated in this brief exchange that took place between us recently.

I had refilled the clear glass hand soap dispenser in our powder room earlier in the week. I did so, knowing that the scant half-inch of soap remaining in the bottom of the vessel was an opaque white, lotion-y soap, and the refill stuff, just slightly shy of the 55-gallon drum, was a clear soap.

In so doing, I had full awareness that CoTU was likely to be dissatisfied with my decision to commingle the two soap types, and that I would hear of his displeasure in the very near future. I considered that, and still chose to jump off that cliff, rather than waste the remaining white soap from some previous gigantic vat-o-soap. But nothing happened. No words of rebuke, no indication of irritation, no tsk-tsking.

Interesting, I thought.

Four full days after this little chore was executed, I was reading an e-mail at my computer when my husband came upstairs with his camera in his hands.

“Did you see that soap dispenser?” he asked.

“I did.”

“No—you couldn’t have,” he said.

“Yeah, I use that bathroom every day, and I always wash my hands,” I pointed out.

“I don’t think you saw it,” he insisted.

“In the powder room—Honey, I’m not joking—of course I saw it.” I was nodding as I said this, to reaffirm my position.

“You didn’t notice it, did you?” he persisted, still unconvinced that we were on the same proverbial page.

Me: “You mean the swirls and whorls of the two soaps, looking like a lava lamp of clear and white?”

Silence. I could almost hear the gears in his engineering brain click into place.

“Yeah—that’s so cool. I just took some pictures of it. How’d you do that?” he wanted to know.

I could tell you, babe, but then I’d have to kill you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Flight of the Phoenix

It’s been two weeks since my return from a fun-filled trip to Sacramento where I visited my two grandsons, ages 6 and almost three. (Oh, and their parents were there, too.) Parenthetically, if you will. Obviously I will, so why shouldn’t you?

Anyway, I boarded my flight to Phoenix (since I can’t fly direct to St. Louis from Sac,) set to take off at 4:10. Everyone was seated, all the carry-ons were stashed properly, and all the electronic devices had been turned off. I was turned off too, but that had more to do with the onion-breath on the person sitting next to me. Honestly, if you pay Southwest an extra $12.50 for early boarding, can’t you make it $15, and guarantee a non-stinky seatmate as part of the deal?

The flight attendant launched into her detailed explanation of how to buckle a seat belt, for those flyers who had just been hatched on the plane, and had never been in a car, van, Six Flags ride, or space shuttle. Hell, rickshaws probably have seat belts these days, but I digress. As usual.

Okay, we heard about seat belts, tray tables, electronic devices, flotation cushions and oxygen masks. We’re all set, and Miss Perky informs us that we are indeed fortunate to be flying today with two of Southwest’s top pilots. Really? They rank them? I wonder how the pilots feel about that… (I know, I touched on this in a recent post, but it’s obviously bugging me. My blog—I get to repeat myself repeat myself if I want to.)

So Fabulous Pilot comes on the air to welcome us aboard, tell us it’s 105° and sunny in Phoenix (multiple redundancies there) and that we’ll be on our way momentarily. Well, he was nearly right. Moments later he’s back on the p.a. to tell us that we’re on hold due to a delay in Phoenix.  “As soon as we have any information about what that is, I’ll let you know.” Fair enough.

Now it’s gotten to be 4:15, we should already be up in the air, but we’re still on the ground physically, and up in the air metaphorically.  Fabulous Pilot returns with the following news. The delay is caused by a sinkhole on the runway in Phoenix. We’re going to be on hold for at least an hour. The passengers are welcome to “de-plane”, and they will keep us advised.

People rush off the plane like lemmings to the cliff’s edge. I decide to go, too, as I’d rather pace than sit. Also, if I’m likely to miss my connection in Phoenix, perhaps I’ll buy a sandwich to take on the plane.

My phone blips with an incoming text message, repeating essentially what the pilot already told us: one hour delay in take-off. While I’m perusing the sandwich array, another text comes in: expected three-hour delay. I make a mad dash for the ticket counter, where approximately a hundred other people are swarming, hoping to make other arrangements.

Luck is on my side. When my turn comes, the agent says he can send me through Las Vegas on a plane leaving in ten minutes. That is, if I’m traveling alone; there’s only one seat left on the plane. I go back on the 4:10 to grab my carry-on while he prints my boarding passes. He tells me he won’t be able to move my luggage, which of course I already figured, but at least I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight, and not on the floor of the Phoenix airport.

Again a stroke of good luck—the gate for my Vegas departure is just two away, and as I board, they close the doors behind me. I get the middle seat in row 5, and neither of my seatmates reek of body odor or offending foods. The gods are truly smiling upon me. Of course, the people in seats 5A and 5C are probably wishing I’d been rerouted through Cleveland so they could have kept that middle seat empty, but such is life.

I missed the flight attendant’s monologue, but since the two top pilots of Southwest were heading to Phoenix, I assume she told everyone that they were being transported today by two average-to-substandard pilots. I’m just guessing here.

Meantime, I called my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) to advise him of the change, and to tell him to take a nap, because now I was due in at 12:35 a.m. The flight actually arrived at 12:45, and by the time we waited for a Southwest employee to be satisfied that my luggage was NOT, in fact, coming in, and to fill out the report on my missing bag, it was 1:00 a.m. Which means we got home at 1:45. Which means it was well past 2:00 when we got to bed.

Well, I reasoned, this was an adventure. And that sinkhole on the Phoenix runway was probably a big story on the news. Nope. Never heard a word, nor saw a photo. I wondered if that whole story was bogus.

Today I searched and found only this: Looks pretty benign to me, but I’m all for overdoing safety, especially when it comes to flying.

Meanwhile, my bag took another day and a half to arrive home. I’m not sure where it went, but I hope it had a good time. Here’s a picture of the tag Southwest put on it. Scary, huh?




Monday, May 20, 2013

Poundstone Begets Sedaris, or Keeping a Straight Face at 10,000 Feet

 Yes, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I posted about laughing out loud in several random locations while I was reading Paula Poundstone’s book, I Heart Jokes. I feared being thrown out of the car dealer’s waiting area, and was visibly ostracized in the dermatologist’s office. I can’t help it if I have a sense of humor. Really.
So how weird was it when I was flying home from Sacramento last week reading David Sedaris’ hilarious new tome “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”?

The flight began with the usual spiel from the flight attendants. This time, though, “Mandy” included a mention that we were being flown by ‘two of the best’ pilots Southwest has. Really? So is there an official ranking of the pilots? If so, does that imply that you sometimes start out telling your passengers that they are being commanded by ‘two of the most average’ pilots in the realm. Or even worse, “Ladies and gentlemen, today we are being piloted by the two very lowest-ranked captains working in the industry. Let me assure you, though, that they are still going to get us there. Or so they say.”

But I digress… Back to my reading material. After all, if we are in the hands of the best Southwest pilots around, why bother listening to what to do in the event of a water landing.  How much water is there between Sacramento and Vegas, anyway?

Again, I found myself chuckling lightly at first, then slammed with Sedaris’ crazy observations that would elicit a real belly laugh. Realizing, however, that any peculiar behavior on an airplane can lead to wildly undesirable consequences, I tried to put a lid on it. I can control this, I said to myself. I know he’s going to be extremely funny, and I can stifle the giggle response.

Well, that was easier said than done.

Every time I chortled, even softly, my seatmate wriggled uncomfortably. Geez, it’s not as if I was singing Whitney Houston songs, and disturbing the general calm of the passenger population. In fact, I heard every word of a conversation between a man and a woman in the row ahead of, and across the aisle from me, for the whole 2 ½ hour flight. I doubt seriously that anyone more than one seat away from me could hear me laugh. And no one tapped these people on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but I don’t care to know about your workflow, your security procedures, or what your toddler will and will not eat. Keep it down over here.”

Still, I worried that someone could do more than look askance at me while I cracked up over David Sedaris’ observations of his father, his partner and himself. I worked a little harder at self-control.

Then I came to the section about learning foreign languages, and the phrases that he picked up. Self-control went out the proverbial window. I defy you to read about his learning German, hearing jokes in a bar, or his meeting readers at book signings without laughing out loud.

The flight attendant glanced over at me. I put Sedaris back in my carry-on. At least Time magazine could be read with a straight face. For now.

Monday, May 13, 2013



I can safely say that I know less about the Rolling Stones than anyone else of my baby-booming generation.  The sum total of my knowledge lies in these three statements: 1) There are four guys in the band; 2) Mick Jagger is their lead singer; 3) Their biggest hit of the ‘60’s was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.  And frankly, I’m not that sure about number one.


When my son encountered “satisfaction” as a third grade spelling word, his unforgettable teacher introduced the class to the Stones’ famous anthem. What she did not do, however, was introduce them to the true path to satisfaction:  memorizing poetry. 


As children we all started learning rhymes subconsciously. Usually it was the a-b-c song, or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.  Eventually we learned the jump rope ditties required to be a part of the playground scene. Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance, most students balk at the notion of memorizing anything.  Ask your kids to commit a poem to memory, and prepare to hear a loud chorus of groans and moans.


High school students who know every lyric of the most obscure and absurd songs ever written still claim that being required to memorize poetry is brutal, punishing, and offensive in ways that defy description.  This is likely because it requires such exhausting tasks as reading and concentration.  They don’t know what they are missing. Words are powerful, and words that rhyme are magical. Poetry connects us in our marrow.  You never know whose cells share your poetic DNA until some serendipitous event occurs.


For example, take the night my husband and I were in a restaurant with our good friends Dave and Betty.  When my husband used the phrase, “There are strange things done…” Dave and I simultaneously, and without further prompting launched into a recitation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, given that my hubby had unwittingly offered up its opening line. Dave and I amused ourselves, and amazed ourselves at how automatically it spewed forth.  Our respective spouses’ jaws dropped. They could not have regarded us with more disbelief if we had picked up straw hats and canes, and done an old-fashioned buck-and-wing across the dining room floor in striped blazers and straw hats.  I couldn’t recall as many of its verses as Dave could, so I eventually looked up the old poem and set about memorizing it all over again.  If it ever comes up in the future, I want to be ready. The competitor in me wants to be able to match him, line for line. And I found once again, that for pure satisfaction, not much can beat memorizing poetry.


I originally learned that work of Robert W. Service in the tenth grade English class of a wonderfully earnest and enthusiastic teacher; she inspired students to learn. The poem came back readily, and I took pleasure in re-learning it.  That competitive side of me, (which certain small-minded people sometimes describe as cutthroat) can only hope that at some future trivia competition they ask for the name of the derelict boat in this poem.  (Look it up.) 


I confess that these days my personal preference is to read the work of our former poet-laureate Billy Collins.  He can make me laugh till I hurt my stomach muscles (who knew I had any?), and he can stop my heart with a simple poignant line.  Oh, to write like Billy Collins!


Now the famed former First Daughter of Camelot, Caroline Kennedy has published a book titled “Poems to Learn by Heart”. It’s filled with a hundred poems for children (and adults) to take in and enjoy. Huzzah!


So it’s not only baby-boomers who enjoy this secret pleasure.  Five or six years ago my first and oldest friend, then aged 101 years, mentioned in a letter that she always recited “The Day is Done” by Longfellow at bedtime.  She did so because her late husband had done so before going to sleep each night. This simple nightly ritual clearly made her feel closer to him, and somehow eased the pain of losing him.  Of course, that compelled me to seek out “The Day is Done” so that I, too, could recite it to myself at bedtime, spiritually connecting me to my dear friend.  She left this world a few years ago at age 102, but I recite it still, and keep her in my heart.


Poor Mick.  He was just memorizing the wrong stuff.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Paula Poundstone Made Me Do It

Here is a golden oldie from the early days of Funny Is the New Young... Walk back in time with me...
Paula Poundstone Made Me Do It

You know, some things that are just fine in the privacy of one’s own home should not be done in public places.  I’m usually pretty tuned in to the proprieties of basic good manners and common sense.  But in the past few days I’ve succumbed to some social pressure (I’ll explain in a moment) and I’ve been doing it in the customer lounge at my car dealer (just an oil change, thanks for asking), and in the waiting room at my dermatologist’s office.  (Just a check-up; thanks for your concern.)  What am I doing?  I’m reading Paula Poundstone’s very funny book, “There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say”.  The pressure?—it’s due back at the library tomorrow.  The problem?—I can’t control my laughter.

Now there was a time when I didn’t find Paula Poundstone funny at all.  But in the past few years, hearing her on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, ‘the NPR news quiz’, I have developed a full appreciation of her humor.  I look forward to her appearances, and she never fails to crack me up.  I’ve pretty much learned to time my coffee sips to avoid her input, so as to keep from squirting coffee out my nose.  Ouch.  Please don’t laugh—it’s happened more than once.  Okay, more than twice.

Now I’m reading this book, and I can’t renew it because it’s on hold by another (probably selfish) patron, so I’ve taken it with me to the oil change and the skin screening.  I can tell you that several customers of my car dealer moved to the other side of the room when I: 1. couldn’t control my laughter, and 2. I was continually doubled over, clutching my sides.  Now, I was able to keep silent, so maybe they thought I was sobbing to myself, but I guess it wasn’t pretty.  It rarely is.  Anyway, they were sure to establish distance. 

In the doctor’s office, there were only a couple of other people, both older-looking men, both dressed casually, and both successfully ignoring me.  Or perhaps they feared that I was some psychopath about to burst into a hellish rage, and felt that their best hope for safety was to feign ignorance.  Well, feign away, boys, I may be crazy, but I don’t act on it.  I’m just laughing with (not at) Paula.

I’m not sure where she gets these thoughts, but I’m pretty sure they’re not normal.  But then again, maybe ‘normal’ is just a setting on your dryer.  In any case, I’d love to know what makes her tick.  She finds a funny way to look at life’s ordinary events, and is able to ask questions we wouldn’t have thought of on our own.  With her to guide us, we learn about the Civil War, Helen Keller, Charles Dickens, the Wright Brothers, Joan of Arc and more.  Yes, she explores all of these topics (and more!) in her book, and you wouldn’t believe some of the great (and questionable) stuff you’ll learn. 

The real lesson, though, is to keep the hilarity at home.  It’s much safer there.  And then you won’t have to wonder why the dermatologist put you in restraints.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Son of Coincidence

So remember that whole ‘coincidence’ post from a couple of months ago? The one where weird names kept coming up in clumps after an absence of thirty-some years? Or an author I learn about for the first time then presents himself in an e-mail from a totally unrelated third party? And I recognize that an actress I see on tv must be the daughter of Meryl Streep, because of the uncanny resemblance, and almost simultaneously the girl is being quoted in a magazine article I was reading during the commercials… Yeah—those coincidences.

Get ready. It’s happened again. And again.

A few weeks ago, my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I were watching an episode of American Pickers. If you’re not familiar with it, let me say that two guys from Iowa (Mike and Frank) drive around in a big van, looking for the ultimate yard sale. Actually, most of the time they find people who’ve been collecting stuff for years, and have buildings just chock full of old collectibles. Mike and Frank buy the stuff to sell in their shop, or to customers they’ve developed over the years. Back at the shop, Danielle finds them leads, and manages to hold the fort while the guys are on the road.

CoTU and I get a big charge out of seeing what they find, and watching them arrive at a deal with the sellers. CoTU didn’t want to watch it at first, probably because we are both such pack rats, and this hits a little close to home. Hey, at least we’re not on Hoarders. I had to persuade him that since the show is on The History Channel, it must be vaguely educational. Anyhoo…

On this particular day, Mike and Frank were on the road, and Danielle was actually taking a little vacation to New York. The guys had convinced her to take something with her that they bought on an earlier ‘pick’. It’s a papier-mâché model of a cat from the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in Central Park.  Ultimately, Dani (like we’re BFFs now) meets with the widow of the sculptor (he was Jose de Cleeft, she is Lorrie Goulet) and arranges to have the cat displayed in a New York museum, where there’s a current show of Goulet’s work. This was all so very cool. Dani meets artist, artist sees cat, cat vacations on display. Nice.

But back to my story. So I may be a little old Midwesterner, but I’ve been to New York numerous times, and have also been to Central Park many times. I have never, let me repeat that for emphasis (why else would I repeat it?), NEVER seen or heard of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. Don’t know why. I’m sure that if my relatives really did love me they would have taken me to see it when I visited them in New York. But alas, I was quite surprised to learn of its existence.

The very next day (cue the Twilight Zone theme music) I was reading a book that I had heard about on (what else) NPR. Fresh Air, to be exact. It’s called “What Happened to Sophie Wilder”, by Christopher Beha. On page 118, Sophie and her husband are walking in Central Park, and stop at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture. They have a major heart-to-heart there. “Hmm,” I thought. “That’s funny, coming just a day after I first heard about the sculpture.”

Fast forward less than a week. Done with “Sophie Wilder”, on to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. (Amazing, by the way.) Yep. Page nineteen! I’ve barely cracked the spine of the book, and Nick is growling about Amy expecting him to remember that it’s a favorite of hers since childhood.

This is all pretty ‘woo-woo’ if you ask me. Three slaps in the face with the same reference within a single week. I’m not sure I believe in coincidence, but I do believe in Alice. At least now I do. I keep dreaming of tea parties and going down the rabbit hole. Or maybe that was the political conventions…

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is It Stupid in Here, Or Is It Just Me?

Yes, I know it’s been hot, not just here, but all over the United States. So, indeed, it is hot in here and it’s not just me.

But I’m asking about ‘stupid’, not ‘hot’.

As in, how is it possible that a clerk at the deli counter of a prominent food-selling establishment doesn’t know what “three-quarters of a pound” means. You think I’m joking, or judging harshly, but I recently was waited on by a perfectly nice young woman who ably served up a pound of sliced turkey. She then politely asked if there was anything else she could get for me. “I’d like three-quarters of a pound of the roast beef,” I answered.

She hesitated. Just a touch, but I caught it. I thought maybe she hadn’t heard me, but she didn’t ask me to repeat it, she just reached her vinyl-gloved hand into the deli case and pulled out a wad of sliced beef. “Plunk!” it said as it hit the scale, weighing in at .38 lbs.

“How’s that?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, “three-quarters of a pound,” now convinced she had indeed not heard me the first time.

Then it came: “Oh, that’s more than a pound, right?”  Ruh-roh.  Now I get an Academy Award nomination for being kind and supportive and helpful, when I wanted to do a Johnny Carson spit take and ask her how she could have possibly graduated high school without knowing how much three-quarters of a pound is.

“It’s actually less than a pound. Your scale will read ‘point seven five’,” I told her.  “Okay, whatever,” she answered, and ultimately came up with the meat.

“Whatever?” My confidence in our education system dropped several points in that exchange.

The very next day I noticed on my Visa bill that a subscription I’ve carried for years suddenly went from $32 a month to $42 a month. Since my public school education took place in the 1960s, I saw right away that that was approximately a 30% jump. I called their customer service line to find out why.

The lad Michael, clearly unhappy with his career choice, sullenly told me that it was because my ‘special offer rate’ had expired. I informed him that I had been a subscriber for over 30 years, and didn’t have a special offer rate. I could bore you with the repetition of our respective positions which went on for a while, but I’ll spare you.

Finally, I believe I outwitted Michael, who, to be fair, seemed to be unarmed in a battle of wits. I asked him if there were any special offer rates currently in effect. “I’ll check,” he offered.

“Yes, I can give it to you for $3.77 a week, which would be $16.34 a month.” Again, thanks to the educational standards of the ’60s, I could see that this was preferable to spending $42 a month. “Sold,” I said.

And my third and final example (due only to the space limitations of this column) of the decline of intelligence and common sense in our civilization comes all the way from London.  According to an article in the Associated Press, a man there started a major fire in his apartment by attempting to dry two pairs of boxers and socks in his microwave. The appliance was destroyed, and the apartment suffered serious smoke damage.

Is this so hard a concept? Food in microwave, clothes in dryer.

In London, I guess it’s hot and stupid.