Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Secrets of a Happy Marriage

I learned a great lesson on how to keep a marriage happy from the French master chef Jacques Pepin. He was on the radio on Thanksgiving Day (on NPR, of course—you know me!) talking about cooking for the holiday with Lynne Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table. She does a turkey day program every year called Turkey Confidential. Listeners can call in and ask all manner of questions regarding the preparation, cooking and serving of virtually anything you can imagine. It’s quite informative, and lots of fun to listen to if you happen to be alone in the kitchen on that day!

Lynne Rosetto Kasper

One of her guests was the aforementioned Jacques Pepin. He’s very amusing and entertaining, and being a Frenchman of the old school, I must say that he is also charming. In the midst of all the discussion of how to choose your ingredients, how to clean, slice, and dice them, how to safely cook them and how to beautifully serve them, Monsieur Pepin slipped in the most valuable nugget of info of the decade. I will share it with you. Perhaps many, many marriages and other relationships can be saved.
Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin noted almost offhandedly that there was a point on which he and his wife disagreed. They therefore did what she wanted, as their plan is that when they differ, they do what she wants. At the same time, when they agree on things, they do what he wants. This, he avers, is completely fair. I agree. It just ain’t never gonna happen in this marriage. You recall that I am married to the Center of the Universe, so we handle things differently.

In our marriage, CoTU handles all the small decisions, and I handle all the big decisions. We’re just so lucky that in all these years we’ve never had to make a big decision.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hair and There

I have no idea why I spend so much time and energy ironing the backs of my pants. Let’s face it, by the time I drive anywhere, they’re so wrinkled, I might as well have spent that time drinking. Unless I’m dressing to have people over at my own house, I hereby vow to stop wasting time ironing the backs of my pants. Until the guilt gets me. It got me. I’ll iron ‘em, I promise.

But it’s a lot like combing the back of my hair, or more specifically, the hair on the back of my head. I twirl my round brush with one hand, wave the hair dryer over it with the other hand, and then I check it in the hand mirror, to make sure I don’t look like a wacko. Well, at least not like a wacko who doesn’t know enough to fix the back of her hair. Then I get in the car to go where I’m going, and the headrest makes the back of my hair look like Woody Allen. From the front. Seriously, it ends up looking like a matted and misshapen stuffed animal is perched on the back of my head. It’s gross.

This brings me to a question that’s been bothering me for years. Now I’ll bring it up here and it can bother you, too. Or perhaps you’ll have an answer for me, and I can start sleeping through the night.

We –that is my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I --will go out on a Saturday night with friends. In preparation, we shower, shampoo, rinse and repeat. I fix my hair, he shaves, we dress, I put on makeup, not necessarily in that order. But close. I frequently iron my pants, his pants, and God knows whatever else happens to need ironing.

I’m pretty sure the other couple we’re going out with goes through the same rigmarole. Except for one thing. At least half the time, we see other adult men in a restaurant or at the theatre who, while nicely dressed, and driving nice cars, don’t seem to own a comb or a hairbrush. Or if they do, they don’t know what it’s supposed to be used for.

Now I understand that men of a certain age (though I’m uncertain as to what the ‘certain’ actually means here) are no longer trying to attract a mate, having already accomplished that feat. Same thing can be said for women. But I never see women who go out (except on the way home from the gym) without at least trying to make their hair look decent. Women may not always curl, straighten, flat iron, or spray their hair, but I’ve yet to see a woman on a Saturday night at a restaurant who hadn’t at least COMBED her hair. Men? –not so much. I’ve seen hair that looked as if it hadn’t even been combed when the barber cut it. It’s scary.

Again, I can even comprehend that it slips a guy’s mind, and he’s more interested in who won the Big 12 game that afternoon, and what dinner’s going to cost him. The real mystery is how his wife doesn’t pleasantly suggest that he comb his hair before they leave home. You know, a simple, “Mortimer, your hair looked so nice when you combed it last month. Would you like to try that again tonight?” Unless his name isn’t Mortimer, and then it just wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Maybe she was busy ironing her pants.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leaves, Snow, Pollen, Moles: The Four Seasons

Thanksgiving is behind us, and if the first snow has not fallen where you are by the time you read this, it cannot be far behind. We had a flurry here Monday morning. Happily, it didn’t amount to anything. We can only hope that we get the last of the leaves raked up and hauled away before the white stuff really descends.

I think it’s a sign of old age that we have begun to view the change of seasons only as they relate to dreaded household chores.

We have not yet put the leaf rakes and yes, I admit it, power leaf blower into that bleak section of the garage known as ‘off-season storage’, and we’ve begun to bemoan the prospect of winter and snow shoveling. As winter ends, we’ll start fretting about the spring pollen that clogs our screens and fills our deck. Just as that’s clearing away, we’ll be worrying about the lawn and the moles and the carpenter bees. And then, of course, we’re back to the leaves. Perhaps we’re ‘glass half-empty’ kind of people.

Now this would not be such a bad thing, but it does keep us from what life coaches and zen masters call ‘living in the moment’.

Today we should be enjoying the comfy temperatures that enable us to walk the neighborhood in just a sweater, instead of the heavy coats and caps that are soon to come. We should be enjoying the fact that it’s not yet dark at 4:30, as it surely will be a month from now. We should be enjoying the relative beauty of the brilliant reds still clinging to the row of burning bush shrubs that line our driveway, and the wonderful crunch of the dried leaves under our feet on the paths in Babler State Park. Are we doing this? Not so much. We’re changing furnace filters, fighting the woodpeckers opening knots in our cedar siding, and lamenting the impending ice age that is sure to come.

Have we learned nothing from the sixty-something winters we have survived? It’s as if we are embarking on new and unseen territory as fearsome and threatening as the surface of Jupiter. Is this why so many clear-thinking seniors have become ‘snowbirds’ and spend the harsh winter months in the balmy and temperate southern states?

Last year we spent Thanksgiving with our son and daughter-in-law in Washington, D.C. From there we drove to Englewood, Florida at the generous invitation of friends. We spent five delightful days there, but I believe that in some deep-seated way it altered my ability to experience winter.

We ran into some very cold and blustery weather en route home, and it was as if I had no winter coat and gloves. I believe that somehow my body had decided that Florida was right, and anything else was wrong. And while I’m not a Florida person in general, by the time we returned to St. Louis on December 8th, my body was inexorably altered. I endured last winter with incredible disdain for the cold and damp. Every 30° day felt like a 20° day; twenty felt like ten, and I pretty much felt like Sam McGee who needed to be ‘cremated’ just to defrost. I survived, without Sam McGee’s incineration, but my suffering was intensified by my newfound world view.

This year it will be different. We’re not visiting Florida till February, at which time it should feel like Paradise. By the time we come home, it will be time to put the snow shovels into dry dock and welcome the pollen. Meanwhile, I’m putting on a sweater and going out for a walk.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Overheard at 30,000 feet

Ah yes, the airplane trip: a dependable source of frustration, humor and shared germs. Squished carry-ons, people who won’t turn off their cell phones, talkers who want to yak in your ear, and the incessant coughing that turns the aircraft into a flying petri dish. Yet it gets us where we want to go, and by and large, it’s all just fine. Every safe landing is a happy landing, I like to say.

None of which keeps me from laughing about some of the escapades we experience or witness in flight.

On a recent trip home from Sacramento, I changed planes in Phoenix. After most of us were in our seats, our intrepid and unflappable flight attendant, Shonda, brought a young boy of 9 or 10 aboard. She seated him in the aisle seat in the row across from me. As a result, I was treated to the following overheard conversation.

Wait—I got ahead of myself. I was seated on the aisle, too, and the young boy shared his row with an older couple; the wife was at the window, and the husband was in the center seat. Now, back to the eavesdropping  entertainment.

Boy: My last name’s a color. Guess it.

Man: Green.

Boy: Nope.

Man: White.

Boy: Yep.

Man: My last name’s a position—guess it.

Boy: Pitcher.

Man: (Chuckling) No. What’s the opposite of right?

Boy: Left.

Man: Right.

Boy: Do you live in Phoenix? We live in Mesa.

Man: I live on the opposite side of Phoenix in Sun City.

Boy: Sin City?

Man: No, Sun City, like the sun shines in the sky.

Boy: I thought you said ‘sin’ and sin is bad.

[Oh great—this poor man’s in for a 3 ½ hour lecture on original sin and the evil nature of man from a 9-year old, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.]

It got real quiet in their row after that.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Break-In or Break-Out?

The day started off innocently enough. We had slept soundly. Everything looked and felt normal. There were no overt signs or sounds of a break-in…

I got up, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and dressed for the gym. I grabbed an armload of laundry and headed downstairs to toss it all into the washing machine, where I had casually dumped a couple of towels and cleaning rags the previous morning. The plan was to fill the load today and run the thing at capacity. But then…

I opened the lid, and found it empty.


Where are the things I had left inside? I looked around the laundry room. Nothing on the floor. Nothing on top of the dryer… Then I looked inside the dryer.

Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh—scare me to death—the missing laundry was in the dryer, clean and dry! There was only one conclusion: a burglar had gotten into the house and done this tiny load of laundry!

I struggled to get my breathing under control, and reached for the phone to call 911. Then I realized I should tell my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) first. I wouldn’t want the sirens to be his first awareness of this.

I found him upstairs at his computer, and broke the news as gently as I could. “Honey—I’m sorry, but there’s a problem downstairs. It looks like we’ve had an intruder, and I’m not talking about another squirrel.”

Of course, he jumped up and freaked out. “What? Where—what happened?”

“Calm down,” I said, there doesn’t appear to be any real damage, just a load of laundry done.”

He sank back down in his chair, and attempted to wither me into shame with an icy glare.

No explanation was forthcoming.

“Hello???” I prodded. “You know, some things are givens. The sun will rise in the east, the Mississippi flows south, highway 40 will jam at the 141 overpass, and you do not touch the washing machine. These are not facts because I wish them to be so, they seem to be forces of nature. Well, at least the first two. The others I have come to believe because of so many years of observation and experience. I open the washer and expect to see what I left there the day before. It has always been so. You can’t do something so unexpected and out-of-character and think I’m not going to be stunned. I need an explanation.”

“Ummm… it’s really no big deal… I wanted to clean my new lens cloths, and you were in that all-day workshop, so I stuck them in the washer and did it.  Dried ‘em, too.”

“But,” I struggled to say with aplomb, “it seems that there’s always been a force field in the laundry room that repelled you from the washer and dryer. Remember the time I was away on Father’s Day and left your card and gift inside the dryer, knowing full well you would never run across it accidentally? I had to call you and tell you to get it out and open it. That space has always been sacrosanct—what’s next? You’ll be rinsing dishes and putting them into the dishwasher? Please—where’s my real husband, and who are you really?”

He turned back to his computer with a smug smile. “CoTU, here. Where ya gonna hide my next present?”

I’m not worried. There’s still the vacuum cleaner closet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Marriage and Al Gore

Al Gore had a good week last week. He was on The Colbert Report Tuesday night, and sparred competently with the amazingly agile and witty Stephen Colbert. My husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I enjoyed the spectacle immensely. When it ended, I blithely commented that Colbert hadn’t even plugged the new dance studio Gore had opened.

“Dance studio?” the hub inquired.

“Yeah, it’s based on math formulas. It’s called the Al-go-rhythm,” I deadpanned. He threw a throw pillow at me. Maybe that’s how they got the name. You know: throw pillows. Sorry.

Then Wednesday as I was preparing our lunch, listening to Neal Conan’s Talk of the Nation on NPR, and soaking up the pun-ditry and wisdom of the ‘political junkie’ Ken Rudin (his cohort for the Wednesday show) CoTU moseyed into the kitchen. I subtly pointed at the radio so he’d know that I was focused on what was being said, and implying that he might be interested, too. He was.

He also began quietly foraging in the pantry for a snack to tide him over the next ten minutes or so while I created a chef’s salad for me and a turkey wrap with black olives and sun-dried tomatoes for him. Often, when he does this, I point out (helpfully) that a meal is just moments away. He then (helpfully) points out in response that his snacking has never dulled his appetite for a meal. Case closed. This time, I chose to save my breath, since my helpfulness has never deterred his snacking anyway.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gore again espoused the breadth and depth of the scientific community’s belief in climate change and the human component thereof. Although he said it much better than that, and didn’t have to use ‘thereof’.

CoTU popped some dry-roasted peanuts into his mouth and said, “He does a fine job of stating the facts, outlining the situation, and proposing solutions.”

I stopped chopping tomatoes for the salad and gave him a cold, hard stare. “This man has been vice-president of the United States, holds numerous honorary doctorates from respected universities, in 2007 he won an Emmy, a Grammy, the Nobel Peace Prize for heaven’s sake, and pretty much everything but the Heisman trophy—but believe me, I’m sure nothing would mean as much to him as your glowing assessment of his competence.”

“Yeah. I’m sure he would,” CoTU agreed, totally missing my sarcasm. “Is he divorced now?”

“I guess so—I recall hearing that he and Tipper separated about a year ago. Why—are you planning to fix him up with someone?” I asked.



“You want to date him yourself?” I suggested.

He choked on a peanut.

We went back to listening to the interview, enjoying the rich repartee of the co-hosts with their guest. Soon our lunch was ready and we sat down to eat, still listening to the radio. When the program ended, we did our usual post-mortem on it—what we thought about the points made, and the other ideas that had come to mind while we had been listening.

As we cleared the table and put the dishes into the dishwasher (and when I say ‘we’, I mean me), CoTU suggested we head upstairs to double our entrendres. (Insert your favorite euphemism here.)

“Cool,” I said. “As long as you’re not going to be thinking about Al Gore.”

“And as long as you’re not going to blog about this,” he added.


“You know, maybe Al and Tipper would still be together if he had spent less time working on the environment of the planet, and more time working on the home environment,” CoTU said.

“Or maybe Tipper got tired of polishing his trophies,” I remarked.

“So to speak…” he mumbled.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back to Back

Our mattress is done for. We used to love it, and even on the best of vacations, we would talk all the way home of how much we looked forward to sleeping in our own bed.

I have a long history of back problems, dating back to my twenties. (Yes, I can remember back that far, thank you very much.) My brother has the same problem with the same disk, so we blame our parents. That’s fair, isn’t it? My kids blame me for everything they suffer from, so why should the buck stop here? I ain’t no Harry Truman, you know…

Anyhoo, this summer my back issues seemed to escalate, and by the fourth of July had really flared up (pun intended.) I was walking like the 2000-year old man: hunched over and grimacing in pain.

My husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) suggested I try sleeping in the guest room. I gracefully declined, unwilling to believe I could blame my troubles on the mattress I had so loved and relied on for so long.

The problems with my back continued.

CoTU again suggested I give the guest room a try. After all, our guests were gone, and though that mattress is significantly older than the one we currently share, he posited that I had nothing to lose. I again declined, this time without a trace of grace, and got down on the floor to resume the physical therapy exercises that usually grant me relief. But like the Cardinals’ bullpen, there was not nearly enough relief to be had.

Within a few days I gave in to his urging, and gave the guest bedroom a try.

That room is now known as Lourdes.

The very first morning I woke up and walked upright for the first time in weeks! I slept better, felt better and moved a whole lot easier. Knowing CoTU as you do, you know how pleased he was to have been proven right.

Except for one thing. Now he can’t lure me back to the bed that causes me so much pain and discomfort.

He tried enticing me back with tales of his ‘invisible friend’. “She’s really special. She’s really hot,” he said.

“She’s really imaginary,” I replied.

Both beds are available for conjugal visits, but I insisted that he boot out his invisible friend before I agreed to go back. No more references to her, her specialness, or her hotness. “She doesn’t take care of you like I do,” I helpfully pointed out. “I haven’t noticed her helping with feeding you, for instance.”

“True,” he agreed. “But she doesn’t have to.”

Ouch! “You’re going to die,” I deadpanned.

“In your arms?” he asked.

“No, I’ll be the one in handcuffs.”

We’re going shopping for a new mattress. Today.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Wild Kingdom

You remember my bunco club, the Dicey Housewives of West County, don’t you? Yes, the ten of us have been getting together for years on the second Monday of the month to play bunco. There used to be twelve of us, but the other two let sanity overtake them, and they dropped out. We ten survivors probably laugh too much to be tolerated on a regular basis. It’s better this way.

Anyway, over the years we have come to realize that in July and August we are too scattered (geographically, not mentally—that’s permanent) to gather enough members for our usually rousing evening of throwing dice and rotating among the tables. (If you don’t play bunco, just visualize a game of musical chairs punctuated by a gaggle of giggling grandmas asking each other what number we’re on.) So we do what otherwise normal women do—we go out to dinner instead.

Here I will pause to point out that alcohol is not, and has never been involved in our get-togethers. We’re all pretty sure we could be dangerous with a glass or two of chardonnay in us.

But back to our story…

At our August dinner, everyone was laughing, talking and sharing stories. We try to keep each other apprised of the comings and goings in our families, the travels, the remodeling, the moving, the medical issues, the not-to-be-missed recipes, and the ways in which our husbands drive us batty.

Suddenly Jan says, “Oh, Leah—I was thinking about you! The other night I was getting ready for bed, and last thing, I’m about to go to the bathroom. I lift the lid on the toilet and see that there’s something in there! I think, ‘Oh, the grandkids were over earlier, and one of them forgot to flush.’ Then, as I’m about to reach for the handle, I see this thing BLINK at me! Then I realize it’s a frog! I close the lid as fast as I can, and start yelling for Stu (her husband) to come in. My voice got so high-pitched, he thinks I’ve hurt myself or something.”

No, Jan did not take a picture.
Consider this a facsimile.

Jan went on to tell us how long it took for the two of them to get the frog flushed away. The next day, she called the Metropolitan Sewer District to report this, and to see what could be done to keep it from recurring. She was redirected to the water company. Jan thought she had a “you won’t believe this” tale to tell, but the customer service representative at Missouri American Water Company was unfazed. “You wouldn’t believe how common this is,” she said.

She also said that there was virtually nothing that could be done to prevent it from happening again.


This led us all to speculating about what might have happened if it had been a snake or a rat. Yes, we all spoiled our appetites ‘going there’. But we all vowed to keep our toilet lids down at all times, just in case. Not that it would help much if a snake wanted to slither out.

But as the laughter died down and we were all grimacing at the possibilities, I had a thought.

“Jan,” I began. “I’ve never had a frog in my toilet before, so what made you start this story by saying that you thought of me the other night?”

“Well,” she began, “You did have squirrels in the attic, a chipmunk in the ceiling, and mice in the garage. You’ve had more in-house wildlife than anyone I know.”

“So I’m like a cross between Martha Stewart and Steve Irwin?” I asked.

She agreed. I went home and polished my squirrel traps.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'll Take "Names & Jobs" for $800, Alex

By popular request, we’re back with another installment of “I Chose This Profession Because of My Name”.

You may recall that we’ve shared examples in the past of people whose names almost prophesy their professions. Doctors like Dr. Wink (the optometrist), Dr. Bonebrake (the orthopedic surgeon), Dr. Fang (the dentist), Dr. Wisdom (the oral surgeon), and my personal favorite, Dr. Philpott (the urologist.)

And they’re not all doctors. Remember Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut? She fits in quite well here. There was the pilot, Ross Aimer, and the dietician named Kathy Kitchens Downie. If only she hadn’t married Mr. Downie, she could have emphasized the Kitchens more. Still…

So now that I’ve refreshed your memory, here are a new crop of discoveries:

A woman metalsmith whose last name is Hammer. (Sorry I didn’t jot down her first name when I saw her interviewed on the Newshour.)

An expert on animal breeding at an animal preserve whose name is Ron Sweisgood (pronounced “Sways good”.)

An archivist at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia by the name of Sarah Forgey. (Yikes—and they hired her!)

The trading floor guru of UBS, and frequent guest on CNBC, named Art Cashin. How could he have possibly chosen any other profession in the world? Of course, if his name were Cashout he’d have a whole bucket of problems…

The veterinarian named Dr. Hoot! (Thanks to astute reader and blogger “Sunny in Seattle” for contributing this one!)

And my current favorite, the Bangor, Maine Home Depot employee, who, in June, presided over a nest of mallard eggs, and protected them till they emerged: no—wait for it—it’s worth the wait—Brenda Hatch.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

200th Post and Celebrating Two Years

Happy Anniversary to the Blog!

Yes, here at FITNY (no, that’s not a chic New York gym—it’s Funny Is The New Young) we’re turning two years old, and this is my 200th post! That seems worthy of celebration. In other words, let’s have some cake. So while you dig in (chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing) feast on my 200th offering. And as they used to sing in the theme song to Golden Girls, thank you for being a friend!

In all the years I’ve been writing this blog (yeah, I think ‘two’ can be ‘all’) I have refrained from getting political. And that’s not easy for me. I’ve been a news junkie for as long as I can remember, and I thrive on listening to and reading about all things political.

But I decided before FITNY ever saw the light of day that it would be neutral, politically. No commentary, no opinion. Just those slice of life stories that (I hope) make you laugh.

And even I get overdosed on the political at times, and this week has definitely been one of those times. It’s been hard to keep from shrieking at the ‘leaders’ who have their moments in front of the camera and use them to blame others, no matter which party they represent.

So please believe me when I tell you that what you are about to view is completely apolitical. It’s a simple observation that the gentleman who is third in line to the presidency was recently seen quoting Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons) of The Big Bang Theory. This is frightening. Not politically, but socially. Sheldon is brilliant, but insufferable.

I recently caught a news snippet of John Boehner, Speaker of the House, (and yes, if you remember your high school civics class, you know that in the event of the unthinkable, and the president AND vice president were both incapacitated, John “Cry Me a River” Boehner would become President of the United States.) Boehner was in front of a microphone saying, “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”

Now I admit to being a little sheltered at times, but the only other time I had EVER heard that expression was earlier this year on The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon told his friends, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d ALL have a merry Christmas!” Which, to be fair, rings a little sweeter than the Boehner version.

[Sorry, but despite my best efforts, I could not find the clip of this rare and special moment in the annals of situation comedy to share with you, my treasured readers...]

So if we were worried about leadership, set those fears aside. Speaker Boehner is taking his cues from a genius-level Ph. D. physicist: Sheldon Cooper. Even if he is fictional. Hey, the guy’s won an Emmy and a Golden Globe, so at least he’s distinguished.

Check it out. And wipe the cake crumbs from your chin—there’s no candy and nuts to be found here, and Christmas is nearly five months away. Good thing there's an anniversary to celebrate! Cheers!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More of the Birds and the Boys

When last we met, I told you everything you need to know about the birds and the boys. I showed you pictures of a bird building a nest in the hanging planter of geraniums on my deck. I also took my life in my hands to show you a photo of my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU), handling a bit of yard work. Why was that taking my life into my hands? Let’s just say that CoTU was less than pleased with being ‘outed’ as the kind of outdoorsman who wears more protective gear to trim shrubs than certain sherpas take to Kilimanjaro. I’m just saying…

Now why he actually posed for the pictures with no caveats as to their possible publication in this blog is beyond me. It’s been nearly two years since I started this venture and he might have noticed that just about everything is fair game. Then again, I’ve been with this man for more than 16 years, and you’d think that I might have noticed that he doesn’t always notice. Anything. But that’s another blog post for another day.

Meanwhile, I have new photos to share! The baby birds hatched a couple of days ago! When we first peeked into the nest, it was amazing to see lots of little semi-translucent bodies, wings and skulls that were scarcely recognizable as birds. Now they have fuzzy heads and the clear beginnings of feathers on those teensy bodies. It’s a remarkable thing to see.

Day One: Look at those limp bodies, and that one open yaw!

New definition of 'piling on'. Such bug eyes!

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

See the mama bird at far left? She's going in with food!

Look at this dude! Talk about a bad hair day! His fuzziness reminds me of the famous Albert Einstein photo!

Now when I post a photo of a deck sighting of spindly legs, and open mouth waiting to be fed*, I may have to clarify: is it a bird—or is it CoTU?

*One of CoTU’s favorite questions, asked frequently throughout the day is “Is it time for me to be fed yet?”

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Birds and the Boys

Yes, it’s summertime here in St. Louis, as it doubtless is where you are, too. The thing is that summer in St. Louis means living in a steam bath. We are known for the Gateway Arch, the fabulous baseball Cardinals, toasted ravioli, and the Endless Humidity Festival. It’s seriously like living in a terrarium with countless heat lamps accelerating the moisture content of the air. It’s hard to breathe outside on days such as the ones we’re having now. The heat index here was 115 a few days ago, and unlike what they say in Phoenix, it is NOT a dry heat.

Yes. I am done complaining.

But there are other signs of summer. Look at this! These adorable LBJ-birds (Little Brown Jobbies) are building a nest INSIDE OF MY GERANIUM pot! I watched them over the course of several days, and they were diligent, indeed. Now the nest is complete, and contains four little bird eggs. It doesn’t get much cuter than this.

And speaking of cute, check out my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU). Of course, when he sees this post, he may decide to become my EX-husband, but hey—he posed for the pictures. What did he expect? He ventured out one day (before the heat index went into the 100s) to trim some shrubs, and when I took him some cold water this is what I saw! I had to get the camera.

People go on safari with less gear than this. He’s wearing safety glasses, hearing protection (that leaf blower IS noisy, after all), a knee support brace, and a dust mask. Yes, my intrepid protector, braving the front yard.

Thanks, CoTU, for your caution and good sense. Good thing you don’t have to build a nest inside a hanging planter. You don’t have the equipment for it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Headlines, Deadlines and Unbelievable Stuff

A couple of observations on the small and somewhat obscure items in the news, submitted for your amusement.

First, this tiny headline caught my eye in the newspaper recently: Wounded man dies in restaurant.

Nothing special, you think? Well, maybe, except for one thing. The article went on to say that the death actually took place in a White Castle. I’ve never heard anyone refer to White Castle as a ‘restaurant’ before.

Second, there’s a report that 54-year old Catherine Maria Pileggi was upset that her multi-millionaire boyfriend wanted to end their relationship. She stabbed the 70-year old Ronald Vinci several times in the chest, shot him in the head, cut his throat and fractured his skull, according to the police in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She said he died in a fall.

Really? From what—the 104th floor balcony you pushed him out of? Shouldn’t you have thought of something just a touch more believable before you stabbed, shot and slashed him? What were the odds that the police (not to mention the undertaker) weren’t going to notice those nasty and bleeding wounds?

That’s all for today from FITNY—where funny is STILL the new young, and where you still can’t fix stupid.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Storm Center @ Baby Central

I attended a really fun baby shower this weekend! The parents-to-be chose not to know the gender of their baby till it’s born. I kind of love that—the fun of the surprise appeals to me. This is not to say that I don’t completely understand wanting to know in advance so that you can purchase the clothes and accessories that go along with your baby’s gender identity. I do get that, and I respect both positions. It’s great that parents now have a choice.

These particular parents are decorating the baby’s room in a monkey theme, and the most adorable (and completely gender-neutral) gifts were opened! More fun than a barrel of –well, I won’t go there.

So anyhoo, the thing about showers in general is that there are generally games played that just make you wish you were home in bed with a fever of 104 and body aches. They normally range from annoying and cloying to degrading and undignified. Not this time.

Little Mama’s sister handed everyone a diaper pin upon entering the home. You were to hold onto your pin, and not say the word “baby” throughout the shower. If you heard someone else say the ‘b’ word, other than the Little Mama or the hostess, you were entitled to confiscate her pin. The guest with the most pins at the end of the shower won a prize. Best. Shower game. Ever. Props to the genius Auntie!

Back to the issue of sex. (Not yours—the baby’s.)

There was a recent article in the newspaper (remember those?) about a Canadian couple rearing their baby without regard to gender. The baby is named Storm (as in Storm of controversy?), and the mother is quoted as saying that Storm should be able to develop his or her own sexual identity without having to conform to social stereotypes or bow to predetermined expectations associated with gender.

I get this, too. It’s kind of a noble objective, but talk about an uphill struggle… Sure, now the baby’s four months old, but what happens when it’s four years old and needs to use the bathroom at school? Gonna have to choose one of those doors and eschew the other.

Storm’s probably got some cool monkey clothes, though. And I do like the name. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pat, Chris, or a couple of other either-way-type names…

This all reminds me of something I read in the ‘70s called The Story of Baby X, or some reasonable facsimile thereof. It was a fictionalized version of the same controversy, and was completely cutting edge at the time. It made for some good reading, and really provoked some thoughts about how we program our kids along gender lines.

Wish I could find it now. I might share it with Little Mama. Or with Storm’s family…

Meantime, it’s something to ponder.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Happy Birthday to Decrepit Old Me

You may officially wish me a happy birthday! I celebrated yesterday, and let’s just say that there will be a social security check coming in the near future. You do the math.

So it was a wonderful day—lovely cards, e-cards and Facebook posts wishing me a happy day, a prosperous year, good health, long life, clean fingernails, and something about memory loss… I forgot exactly what. It was great to be remembered by so many people, and I enjoyed every single message.

My husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) took me out for a fun day’s adventure. We went to Soulard Market, which is a wonderful indoor/outdoor produce/meat/spice market. We walked up and down several blocks in the neighborhood and had a fantastic lunch at Bogart’s Smokehouse on South 9th St. Wow! We love barbecue, and this was an amazing—I said AMAZING lunch. Don’t mob the place, we still want to be able to get in there when we want. Mmmm… the brisket and the pulled pork were both great, and the sides were wonderful, too. Yeah—I kind of dropped the diet notion for today because it’s my %*#&#@ birthday. Wanna make something of it?

Anyhoo, we were driving home (skipped the museum plan in favor of a nap) and I thanked CoTU for not taking me to Denny’s for a free meal. I might have complained just a little about turning 62. CoTU commented that when we met I was a kind of ‘chipper young thing’. (These are words not normally in his vocabulary.)

I said, “Yeah, and now I’m old and decrepit.”

Boldly, he said, “That’s okay—it’s only going to get worse.”

“Hey,” I said. “I’m working out almost every day-- that’s not a great observation to make!”

“No—that was a compliment! Like saying I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow. Um… but the opposite.”

“See,” I answered. “So it’s the opposite of a compliment, which in our language is called an insult.”

“I don’t think it applies,” he replied. “At least not to me.”

“Right—men can age and not worry about it. They think they’re attractive no matter how out-of-shape and wrinkled they get,” I observed.

“Wait—are we talking about ME now?” he asked.

“Would it matter? I mean we thought we were old at 50. Now we look at those pictures and think we looked pretty good. So in ten years, we’ll look back and wonder what we were complaining about at this age, too. Let’s just enjoy it while we can.”

“Okay. Want to stop for dessert on the way home?” he wondered aloud.

“Your pickle was dessert,” I advised. “Save room for dinner.”

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cheated by Time!

Here’s a perfect example of a mixed blessing.

I’m just days away from another $%&#* birthday. I will turn 62 on said birthday. I recognize that not everyone got this far, and that, in fact, it’s something of a privilege to still be up and about at this age. You know what they say, every day above ground is a good day. They say that. They’re pretty much right.

Still… what don’t hurt, don’t work. They say that, too.

So as 62 has been on my radar screen, I’d been thinking, well, at least now I’ll qualify for a “Senior Discount” at Kohl’s!

Yeah. Then this came in the mail.

Whoops-- she's tipsy!

Now the Senior Discount applies to anyone age 60 or more! Somehow I feel cheated.

There had better be cake...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Let's Not Give Pigs a Bad Name

Men and scandals. Now there’s a topic to mine.

Men and sex scandals. Nearly synonymous with the former.

I think I could write all night and day about the number of prominent men who have brought about their own downfalls by their sexual misdeeds. I’ll keep it short.

Last week the awful stories about the head of the International Monetary Fund attacking a maid in a New York hotel was a painful episode. Infidelity is one thing—assault is quite another. Then followed quickly the Schwarzenegger announcement of an out-of-wedlock son. Gasp—the Governator cheated on Maria?

In the wake of these stories, Time Magazine’s cover read “What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs”, to which the ever-witty Roxanne Roberts responded (on the best hour of radio of the week: Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR) (yes, remember—nerdissimo here) that there was no reason to badmouth pigs.

So, need we recap the famous and powerful men who have self-destructed on the basis of their inability to control their sexual urges? Sure, why not?

To name a few, let’s start with John Edwards. I used to think he was a highly principled man of good character, a man who stood up for the little guy and wanted to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Lesson to be learned? --don’t rely on me for a judge of character. I missed that one by a mile. Bad enough he cheated on his wife (and kids), then he lied about it for a protracted period of time, and denied being the father of a child who he now acknowledges is his. Meanwhile, his wife of twenty-plus years was dying of cancer. Criminy, John—you’re pathetic.

Tiger Woods—the serial philanderer, no—make that multi-philanderer, or serial/multi-philanderer. Am I the only one who lost track of the number of women he was involved with? This guy was on top of the world career-wise, had a gorgeous wife and kids, and threw it away. Now he can’t seem to get his game back, lost his family, lost his endorsements and the respect of the general public. Really, Tiger—for what? You were a guy who seemed to have his moral compass straight. Your parents brought you up with solid values and a strong ethical base. What happened?

Then we can go on to people like Senator David Vitter (R-LA) who was on the D.C. “Madam” list, and acknowledged that he was a customer of the call girls. There’s New York congressman Christopher Lee who had to resign over e-mailing a shirtless photo of himself to a woman who was, sadly, not his wife.

There’s the history of Wayne Hays, Wilbur Mills, Gary Hart, Bob Packwood, Gary Condit, Jack Ryan, Mark Foley, Elliot Spitzer, John Ensign, Mark Sanford (remember the “Appalachian Trail” story?), and of course, the sad impeachment of an otherwise distinguished president, Bill Clinton. Gosh, and I nearly forgot Larry Craig, known for his “wide stance” in the men’s room.

So what can we learn from all this?

Well, now there’s an article in the paper about New York congressman Anthony Weiner (D) sending a “lewd” photo of himself via Twitter to a 21-year old college student. Female. Weiner claims that someone hacked into his account and did this without his knowledge.


It’s hard to know what to think. His gender has set him up to make us doubtful of his claims of innocence. But it’s still possible that he has been wronged, and was set up by a cretinous hacker. We are not here to judge, after all.

But I am reminded of a line from an old tv show from the ‘80s. A father was lamenting the fact that his daughter, Rita, was a slut. His friend tried to console him with the line, “You name a daughter ‘Rita’—what do you expect?”

I just wish his name was not Weiner.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Words: Rare, Medium and Overdone

Trends, fads, fashions—they can be seen in so many aspects of our lives. Not just hair and clothing, but we see trends in architecture, landscaping, foods, cars and speech. Yes. Speech.

Words come and go, and we’ve recognized that before here at FITNY. (No, that does not stand for Fitness-New York! Think about it!) But now I am not referring to the new additions to our dictionaries that are announced annually. I’m just talking about usage. Well, no—I’m talking about OVER-usage.

Since I tend to use this space as a forum for complaining and kvetching about things that irk me, I’ve tried to hold back on this topic, as it could be viewed as petty. Well, petty or not, here I go.

In the Rumsfeld days, the overused phrase of the day was “connect the dots.” You could not listen to a sound bite of a single politician or public leader without them connecting the dots on one issue or another. Previously, we all reached conclusions, but that became passe’ as we learned to connect the dots. That expression is still with us, but its use seems to have abated somewhat.

The first time I think I noticed this was in the 1970s when Richard Nixon used his “let me say this about that” and “let me make one thing perfectly clear.” Well, actually, I think those expressions became overused more as a way to mock Nixon than anything else, but still…

Recently we’ve adopted “at the end of the day” as the expression du jour. I don’t know who started it, but again—you can’t sit through a newscast (remember: I am the Uber-Nerd, I still watch tv news) without hearing this numerous times. People used to say things like “when all is said and done”, or “in the final analysis”, but no more! Now at the end of the day you’ve heard at the end of the day a zillion times. It’s boring.

My current peeve has been over the extreme overuse of “iconic”. No one calls anything ‘characteristic’, well-known or ‘representative’ any more. I think Brian Williams used “iconic” forty-seven times in last night’s broadcast alone. Well, not really. But he thinks everything is iconic apparently, and since he does at least one story a night about dogs, the dog lovers are iconic, the shrimpers on the Louisiana gulf coast are iconic, their boats are iconic, the storm damage is iconic, the Joplin hospital is “now iconic”, and the rescue shelters are iconic. Really.

But the real reason I bring up this topic at all is that I’m here to predict the next highly overused expression in our society. Ready? Here it is: full stop.


Yep, in England the period at the end of a sentence is called a full stop. It’s cute, it’s quaint (to me), and I like it when I hear a Brit use it.

But Sunday I heard David Gregory use it on Meet the Press. (There’s my nerdiness showing again.) David is not a Brit, hence it was not cute. The very next day I heard an American pundit use it on the radio. I’ve heard it twice since. I foresee a spate of “full stop” usage that’s going to grate on my nerves. I expect it will become epidemic within a short time.

I’m going to have to put on my eyeshades and armbands, whip out an adding machine (yes, I’m that old) and start tallying up the usage. It’s about to explode, and I’m just saying you heard it here first.

Don’t thank me. All I did was connect the dots.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Don't Leave Us, Skype!

So Microsoft wants to buy Skype. I guess they’ll call it MicroSkype.

Help me understand this: Skype is not exactly profitable. Its current owners paid $2 billion for Skype a few years ago. Now Bill Gates is paying those guys $8.5 billion. That’s a tidy little profit, according to my in-depth analysis. (See preceding paragraph.) Wish I had something Bill Gates wanted to buy…

Anyhoo, it sounds like they’ll start charging us for something we’ve been using for free for a long time. That’s going to p-, p--, perturb people off. But after all, they have to do something to recoup their $8.5 billion, I suppose.

Or perhaps they could just throw some ads on it, as so many of the popular websites have done. Isn’t that how we still manage to get online news from so many sources without actually paying for it? (Except for you, New York Times—you’ve dumped on us again.)

I mean, when my daughter connects with us through Skype, maybe she could hold up a can of tuna fish, or a tube of toothpaste, and it would be like product placement in the movies and tv. You know, like when you’re watching Modern Family and there’s a gallon of Minute Maid orange juice on the counter. You get the subtle message to buy Minute Maid, without anyone actually saying it.

When the grandkids come on to video-chat with us, they can show us their current favorite toys and books, and in this way, Lego, Toy Story 3, and Leap Frog get their own commercials, too. Yes, we’re a small audience, but we are the easy marks for those fresh-faced, adorable little kids who call us “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. That ought to be worth something.

If Zachary’s wearing a Nike tee shirt, or Kaitlyn’s in Izod, bingo! –instant ad!

My kids and I often exchange reading suggestions, and end up reading a lot of the same books. Maybe we could line up some of our favorite volumes on our desks when we Skype. So many possibilities…

I’m not sure how any of this would benefit Microsoft, but I have time to work that out. I’ll get back to you on that.

Since all those predictions of videophones that were so prevalent in the ‘60s never came true, and Skype came along to fulfill that empty promise, we’ve come to rely on the technology to allow us to see our loved ones, no matter how far away they are. The fact that it started out as a free service was totally unbelievable. If that now changes, it’s going to really upset a lot of the 170 million Skype users.

We’re likely to cause an uproar. We might even label it Gates-Gate.

But in the meantime, Mr. Gates, you wanna buy a blog?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Welcome to Nerdville

I’ve told you many times before that my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I are nerds. And while I don’t like to brag—we’re world-class nerds. I mean, other nerds are embarrassed to know us. That’s just how ultra-nerdy we are.

Here’s what I’m saying.

We can’t just replace our dishwasher when it dies. We research it to death. Other people watch the ads in the newspaper (see? –non-nerds don’t even get a newspaper) to see where they can get the brand they like, get the best price, or free delivery. Us? No, we start with Consumer Reports (yep! –we have an online membership) and from there we move on to online chats, forums, even Amazon’s website to read user reviews. Nerdville.

Same thing with a cleaning service to do a “move-out” deep cleaning of my in-laws’ condo. Don’t just get a name from a neighbor—no, we go to Angie’s List, comb through their ratings and reviews, make the phone calls, ask the questions, and make an informed decision.

Last week it was the same thing when our freezer bit the dust. Research, research, research. Look at the ratings, the dimensions, the wattage, the energy efficiency, the reliability—have I left anything out? No. Then I scour the websites of the big local and national retailers to find the best deal on the make and model we identify as what we want.

So. Do you think I’m gloating about what a great job we do? Not even close.

1. Dishwasher: The compartment for the drying agent leaked from day one. Hello, repairman! Our glasses don’t fit well in the upper racks, so loading it is not pleasant to this day.

2. The cleaning service that was supposed to take four hours to clean the condo took EIGHT! And they didn’t even touch the oven! What? I hesitate to tell you that they turned off the refrigerator—a big no-no in a vacant condo.

3. Freezer: Can’t turn it off. The instruction book says to press the electronic pad’s ‘down’ button till you get to ‘0’. Sorry—it goes down to ‘1’ and no further. Repairman’s scheduled for Thursday. [I was turning it off to wash down the interior, per the book’s instructions, before loading it.]

Moral of the story? Quit the investigation, bag the inquiries and the research, and pick one you like the looks of.

At least you won’t feel cursed by the universe and doomed to make the wrong decision. Not to mention the time you’ll save.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Weaving Friendship

I have a friend who’s fortunate enough to spend the winter months with her husband in Naples, Florida. Wait—that came out wrong. They live together all year, it’s just that they travel to the warm and sunny gulf coast of Florida to escape the relatively harsh winters we have here. You know, they’re called ‘Snowbirds’.

Anyway, because my friend is witty and clever, she refers to this sojourn as “Adult Winter Camp”. They rent a condo, and have made friends with many other couples who reside there. There is a clubhouse, and there are activities sufficient to keep anyone from even thinking of becoming bored.

When my friend posted on Facebook that she was at Adult Winter Camp, I asked her to make me a lanyard. That is what I think of as a good camp activity. I suppose I could have asked her to make me an ashtray, but I’m pretty certain that ashtrays are completely passe.

Ashtrays and lanyards are all I know about summer camp, and I couldn’t think of any correlated winter equivalents. So I stuck with the lanyard.

I remember trying to weave those doggone strips of plastic into a cohesive length of consistent proportions during a summer of playground ‘day camp’ at our local school. I believe I was about seven years old. I failed miserably. Starting the thing was tough, but making it smooth and even was even tougher. My red and white pieces were so discombobulated I was afraid that the outcome would be pink. I hated pink. I hated failing. No lanyard resulted.

Meanwhile, my brother made a fine lanyard. Was he nearly three years older than I? Yep, but that did not assuage my feelings of total inadequacy. If they’d been grading at the playground, they’d have given me a D-, just to keep me from having to repeat Lanyard 101. My brother? I’d say he’d have gotten an A. Okay, more like an A+. Not that I’m bitter.

So my friend returned from Naples a few days ago, just in time to come to the April meeting of our stellar book club, The Bookees. I was the host, and when the very tan and smiling woman in question arrived, she presented me with a lanyard! Blue and yellow, it is ten inches of sheer loveliness! I laughed so hard I almost cried—she took my joke and ran with it! Now I’ve got a cool gift from a sweet friend, and if they gave grades at Adult Winter Camp, she’d have gotten an A. Okay, an A+.

I was so touched by her thoughtfulness that I ran upstairs to get my copy of Billy Collins’ “The Trouble With Poetry”. I read his amazing and insightful poem “The Lanyard” to the assembled Bookees before we began our discussion of our featured book. I maintain that this simple work is the single best summation of the mother/child relationship in all of literature. Yes, all. Read it here, you won’t be sorry. Billy Collins is a former poet-laureate of the United States, and I recommend all of his books. Yes, all. Again.

Official thanks to my friend, the lanyard-maker. Next month the Bookees meet at her house. I’m making her an ashtray.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


It’s that time of year again? --already? No, I’m not talking about the daffodils blooming and the pollen counts and the school board elections. It’s time for the announcement from those fabulous people who brought us the Oxford English Dictionary! Yippee, new words added to the book that the experts credit with keeping us civilized. Wait—did I go too far? Yeah, well at least the OED, as the grown-ups call it, is considered the ultimate source authority on the English lexicon.

Now, please don’t make the unconscionable error of confusing the OED with the ODE, the Oxford Dictionary of English. The ODE people started their publication in 1998 to spell out, if you will (and you know you will), how language is used in everyday life. Last year their additions included such words as chillax and bromance.

Some of the more highly publicized additions to the OED for 2011 are not really even words, per se, but initialisms. I refer to LOL, OMG and FYI. You are reading a blog, so I will not insult your intelligence by spelling those out for you, so to speak. They join other initialisms such as IMHO, TMI and BFF, all of which were added in recent years. This year, the acronym wag was also added, and since I didn’t know what that meant, please don’t be offended by my mentioning that it stands for women and girlfriends. Wow. How did we get along without that as an official word till now?


All of which reminds me of some lunchroom talk a coworker shared with me many years ago. We were federal employees on the Presidio in San Francisco, and our lives were filled—FILLED, I tell you—with initialisms, acronyms and total alphabet soup. We worked under a CO (Commanding Officer), wrote DFs (Disposition Forms) on the R&D (Research and Development) or QA (Quality Assurance) within the DOD (Department of Defense.) We worried about RIFs (Reductions in Force), or what we now call downsizing. Do you see what I mean?

One day over lunch, my supervisor was telling some of us that he had been unloading all his job stress on his wife the night before—telling her about a meeting with the CO about R&D, an AFSCME meeting he had attended, and the DFs he’d written for the DOD. He was exhausted. Then he asked his wife about her day. “Well,” she said, “I used the MOP on the kitchen floor, took the KIDS to school, went to the A&P for FOOD, and took an NAP after lunch!” What a woman! She became our personal hero.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Was I On the Roof?

I’m the kind of person who likes to deal with things openly and frankly. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a little softening of a big blow, as in the old joke about “Mom was on the roof.” You remember that one, don’t you?

A long-married couple is reluctant to take a vacation, because they are worried about the health of their elderly parents. The brother encourages them to go, saying, “I’ll look in on Mom and Dad, don’t worry.”

The couple goes on the trip, and when they return the brother is there to greet them. “How’s Mom?” the woman asks. “She’s dead,” says the brother, sipping his coffee.

“Whaaaaaat??? Mom’s dead, and that’s how you tell me? Couldn’t you even break it to me gently, ease me into it—you just blurt out MOM’S DEAD?”

“Well, how should I tell you?” the dolt asked.

The woman, flustered, said, “You know, if Fluffy had died while we were gone, you might say, ‘Gee, there was an awful accident… Fluffy was on the roof… He lost his balance and fell. I rushed him to the vet, but there was nothing they could do… Fluffy died.’ At least it would soften the blow!”

The brother nodded, and went on sipping his coffee. “Now,” the woman continued, “how’s Dad?”

“Dad was on the roof…” he began.

So, yes! –it’s wise to consider the feelings of the person you’re interacting with, whether face-to-face, on the phone, or by e-mail. I’m not talking about sugar-coating the truth, just a respectful and considerate regard for how your news, comments, opinions or information will be received.

So combine this viewpoint with the (nearly) universal disdain, dislike and abhorrence of the telephone answering menu. You know—“For business hours press 1, for directions press 2, for our fax number press 3, for complaints, hang up and dial our competitors.” Doesn’t everyone hate those? When I dial my doctor’s office I spend so much time listening to the announcements and the choices that I sometimes forget why I was calling. Oh yeah, it was about my short-term memory problems, but that’s not important right now.

Here’s where the two points I have been trying to make come together. I have had numerous occasions recently to help my father-in-law clarify some retirement issues. In so doing, I placed calls to his benefits office in the giant, well-known, Fortune 500 company he worked for. When I got through the first couple of menus, and reached the line for retirees’ benefits, I got this, “If you are calling to report a death, press 1.” Holy smoke, talk about a smack in the face! It took me aback, but I was really grateful that my 88-year old father-in-law wasn’t listening! I wondered how discouraging that must be if one of their retirees who might have serious health problems or be severely depressed placed that call and heard that as ‘option number 1’. I’m not all that old, and my health is good, and I frankly did not take kindly to hearing that. In fact, in the process of clearing up the questions we had, I reached the same recording several times in the course of the week, and each and every time it felt weird to hear those words said out loud.

So here’s my advice to you, if you happen to work in human resources, or public relations, and you have any influence whatsoever when it comes to scripting the phone recordings: think of how your message might sound to the caller.

Maybe you could try, “If you’re calling to report a retiree on the roof, press 1.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Plane to L.A.

You never know who you're going to end up sitting next to on an airplane. Countless stories have been told about the mis-matching of seatmates: someone who wants to be left alone to work, read or sleep finds that the adjacent seat is occupied by a person who wants to make a new best friend. It's frustrating and annoying and you can't do a thing about it.

Last week I was on a flight to LAX; due to a mix-up I ended up being one of the last eight people to board the plane. I knew I was going to be relegated to a middle seat.

As I reached the third row, an attractive blonde woman with1980s eyeliner and artificially inflated lips grabbed my arm and said furtively, "Do you want to sit here? No babies, no fat people-- it’s a great row!" I was a bit taken aback, and half-expected her to open her overcoat and offer to sell me a Rolex for ten bucks.

But I like to sit in the front of the plane, so I said, "Sure," and scooted in. She even offered to shove my coat into the overhead bin for me.

As we both settled into our seats, she said how glad she was to have a ‘normal’ person in the middle. Clearly, mistaking me for ‘normal’ was a key mistake on her part, but that’s not important right now.

Half an hour into our flight, Ms. Aisle Seat leaned over me and addressed Ms. Window Seat excitedly: "So what do you do-- I heard you talking about casting?” (Apparently she’d been on a phone call before I boarded.)

The startled woman in the window seat gave a simple, dignified answer. "I'm a manager, and I scout talent," she said.

Ms. Aisle Seat gushed, "I starred in _________ and _________. I'm Cindy Lou Picketfence! I used to do a lot of informercials! I sold more product than anyone else on tv in the ‘90s! I also developed a line of food supplements!"

The promo went on quite a bit longer than that, and of course that's not verbatim, but her name's not Cindy Lou Picketfence, either. These shows were like the “Friends” and “Law and Order” of the 1980s. She was not the star of these programs, but she had long-running roles, and that's certainly impressive. So while you probably wouldn’t recognize her name, you certainly know the shows.

Cindy Lou kept telling us (by this time, my book was put away) tales of her costars, and what they’re doing now. Okay, this was pretty entertaining, especially when she trashed her husband's celebrity ex-wife, but I did feel a bit like the old maid aunt chaperoning the cheerleaders’ party. I was captive, yet strangely unable to participate.

A couple of times I offered to switch seats with the actress, just to get out of their way. But she was committed to staying on the aisle because she had two tiny dogs in their carrier in front of her feet.

Amidst a lot of "Do you know so-and-so?“ and “Remember Whosits?“ these two found out that they actually grew up in the same town. I'm here to tell you, folks, that although people bemoan St. Louisans asking, "where'd you go to high school?", that is not a query limited to our burg. These women were from southern California, and they simultaneously blurted that one out! I laughed out loud, and I guess they'll never know why. They learned that they went to the same school, about ten years apart, and knew a lot of the same people.

Ye Olde High School
Small world. Smaller plane. And a teeny weenie middle seat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Seeds of Many Meanings

When you go out looking for yarn in California, you might get more than you bargained for.

My daughter and I were heading over to a yarn shop in Sacramento while I was out there visiting. We both knew it might not be open, given that this was a Sunday. Well, we were going on a whim, since we had been in that general vicinity on another errand, so it was no big deal.

As we approached the strip mall in question, she pointed to the sign that said “Kelly’s Yarns” with an “Open” sign in the window, and a handful of cars in the parking lot, so we pulled in and parked feeling pretty optimistic.

Kelly’s was next to a shop called “Green Pastures Hydroponics“. My daughter hesitated as she took her keys out of the ignition. “Um, Mom…” she began, “The place next door--it might be a medical marijuana dispensary…” She seemed very concerned that I might be appalled.

“Really?” I asked. “What makes you think that? I don’t see any of the standard buzzwords, you should pardon the expression. Besides, don‘t forget I lived in San Francisco in 1974, so I‘ve seen pretty much everything.”

“I’m just saying,” she explained, “that so many storefronts in California that offer plants actually turn out to be ‘clinics’ for the dispensing of medical marijuana.”

“Well, what’s weird is that both shops are marked ‘Suite 130’. And come to think of it, the plant place door says ‘Use other door’, and the only other door is on the yarn shop. Hmmm… At the very least, this is a little peculiar.” After all, I thought, they could have saved some money and materials and just shared one sign: “Kelly’s Yarn and Weed”, or “Bong and Bling“. I mean on “Harry’s Law” the window is painted with “Harriet’s Law and Fine Shoes”, so there’s a precedent. Sort of…

We went in. Along the right side of the spacious establishment were rows and rows of lovely wooden bins with a gorgeous array of colorful, seductive yarns-- silks, cottons, wools, blends-- you name it, it was there. Pattern books, supplies, knitting needles (also known as ‘sticks‘), totes-- all the things that make me want to spend money like a drunken sailor. (No offense to any drunken sailors who might be reading this.) I can resist shoes, purses, jewelry and lots of other things women often get accused (sometimes rightfully) of overspending on, but let me loose in a yarn shop or a fabric shop, and I’m likely to leave with a slightly melted Visa card.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the store, there were multiple rows of planting and growing supplies for the budding home-based plant aficionado. There was an endless array of grow-lights, plant stands, terrariums, seeds and nutrient products.

A young woman came out from behind the counter under the hydroponics sign and offered to help us. We told her we were just going to browse some yarns. She informed us that the owner of the yarn shop wasn’t in, but that if we wanted to buy anything, she could handle that. We thanked her, and went back to our petting of the sweet, soft hanks of promise.

If the hydroponics are ‘just add water’, then the yarns seem to me to be “Instant Sweater”-- just add sticks (and a whole lot of time.) So maybe if I were opening a yarn store, I’d call it “Sweater on a Stick”. And if I were opening a fabric store, I’d want to call it “Cutting Edge”. These are just two of the reasons I’m not opening either one.

The woman from plantville came back several more times to make sure we didn’t need help. I should have asked her if we could put some yarn and knitting needles under her grow lights to make a sweater. But since I didn’t want my daughter to disown me, I kept my thoughts to myself.

Anyway, it was a quiet Sunday in the strip mall, and no plants or supplies were sold while we were there.

We did, however, make a dent in the yarn supply. And the pattern my daughter chose? I must confess-- it’s in the Seed Stitch.