Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Generally Speaking

People say things without thinking. To be sure, this generalization applies to me, too. I once had a teacher who enjoyed saying, “All generalizations are false, including this one.” Still, as a whole, we say things that we often realize in retrospect, were foolish.

Of course you and I experience this less often than some people. You probably think I’m headed for the politicians, don’t you? Surprisingly, I’m not. Fish in a barrel, and all that. No, I’m getting at the inane things announcers say in commercials. Specifically I am addressing one in particular.

I’ve been hearing a mattress company ad on television lately that raises my blood pressure and sets my teeth on edge. Oh sure, lots of ads do that, and I couldn’t tell you the name of this advertiser even if I thought it advisable. There are dozens of them, and they all sound alike. Mattress Giant, Mattress Firm, Mattress Source, Mattress Direct, Mattresses R Us… I think you could play MadLibs and insert any noun after the word ‘mattress’, and you’d find there’s a company somewhere operating under that name. Like Mattress Canary. I’m just saying.

Here’s the irksome line: Nothing is better than a good night’s sleep.

Yeah, it sounds innocuous enough. We all like to sleep soundly. Heck, I’ve gotten to the point where I could safely say I cherish a good night’s sleep. It makes the world a better place in which to wake up. A good night’s sleep refreshes and rejuvenates us. On nights when we’re disturbed by storms, nightmares, sickness, phone calls or whatever, we really feel reduced the next morning. It’s harder to get going, harder to focus at work (or play) and our senses generally feel dulled at whatever we attempt.

But ‘nothing’ is better than a good night’s sleep? Really? Not a cure for cancer? Not selling the house you’ve already moved out of? Not finding the siblings from whom you were separated as children? Not getting pregnant when you thought you couldn’t? Not holding your newborn child/grandchild/niece/nephew/neighbor? Not winning the $389 jillion Power Ball jackpot? Not reading a headline about WORLD PEACE? –universal disarmament, clean water for everyone, renewable energy breakthroughs, a return to sanity and civil discourse? Really?

I know, I’m getting carried away, and it’s just a mattress commercial, but I can’t get past the unconditional, unqualified, categorical, absolute and unrestricted notion that NOTHING is better than a good night’s sleep. It sounds like one of those things you wish you’d never said.

A good rant, like a picture, may be worth a thousand words, but a generalization, like Yogi Berra’s famous observation about the verbal agreement, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. And you can take that to the bank.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just Enough of a Good Thing

We just returned from a week on the sunny gulf coast of Florida. And you know that when I say ‘we’ I mean my husband, the Center of the Universe (CoTU) and I. In contrast to previous Florida visits, this time the weather was perfect. Every day was warm and sunny. Even the days that began as cloudy and overcast became bright and beautiful by late morning.

Our trip was planned as a visit with our dear friends, snowbirds who we’ll call Fred and Nadine. Because those are their names. Kidding—they are not, and I’d like to protect them from any fame that might come their way as a result of this column. Also, I would not like for them to sue me for invasion of privacy, or for anything else for that matter. Moving on…

We walked on the beaches, we sought out several art fairs, we poked around numerous antique shops and we drank more than a little wine. Life was beautiful. There was much relaxing, reading, dining in, dining out, and the ever-popular collecting of sea shells. By the seashore. I’m done.

So this was a lovely vacation for us—we were able to spend lots of time with each other, and with Fred and Nadine, who are always gracious and generous hosts. They encourage us, dare I say they try to entice us to buy a condo nearby and join them there.

I see the appeal of wintering (that is now a verb, I believe) in the warm and sun-kissed clime that is Florida. I love the idea of spending a week wherein the biggest decision you make is “Soup or salad?” I just can’t see myself spending months at a time there. Too much happiness.

No that’s not it. Here’s the real reason: I’d miss my stuff. I don’t mean shoe collection, kitchenware or tchochkes. I mean the stuff I work on every day, like my sewing machine, my fabric stash, my yarn and my knitting books. I missed the computer and the internet a lot, and while it’s true that we could take a computer down there with us, I’d have to share it with CoTU, and ‘share’ is not a word that comes to mind when we speak of CoTU. He got his name for good reason. His “It’s All About Me” coffee mug suits him to perfection.

So I can relax with reckless abandon for a week, and I’d be willing to try two, but I’m pretty sure that into my third week on Fantasy Island I’d start to go a little crazy. Without the hobbies of golfing and boating that so many people enjoy in Florida, I think I’d be rather a lost soul. There are only so many online Scrabble games I can play at one time, and even those look a little fuzzy after a couple of glasses of Riesling.

The bottom line is that we will remain in St. Louis, probably forever. Winter is winter, summer is summer, even when they both occur in the same week. This is home, and we claim it. Besides, even if we decided to move tomorrow, it would still take us five years to clean out the basement. We have a lot of stuff, and just enough happiness.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is My Phone Smarter Than I Am?

For the past four years I have said that I did not want a Smartphone. I said it so often that I began saying that I didn’t want a phone that was smarter than I am.

All four of our kids and their spouses have Smartphones. I maintained that I was perfectly happy with a compact device that enabled me to make contact while away from home. I rarely used it for conversation, per se. I wanted the reassurance that in an emergency (mine) I could call for help, or in an emergency (anyone else’s), they could reach me.

Sure, we’d had numerous dinners out with one of the kids when a question came up that one of the wisenheimers answered with the help of the internet, simply by picking up his or her cell phone and Googleing for help. Still, I wasn’t prone to joining that club.

Then suddenly, inexplicably, a few months ago I decided that I had been kidding myself. I, too, wanted to be able to connect via satellite to the worldwide web from the chair crammed into a meeting room, from the noisy seat in the airport waiting area, from the passenger seat of a car. I, too, wanted to be able to look up the name of that guy—you know, the one in the movie with what’s her name—oh yeah, Glenn Close, where they—well, not that it matters, I just WANTED to. I wanted to be able to put my hands on that knowledge wherever and whenever the urge struck, because, let’s face it, at my age when I plan to look something up when I get home, odds are that it will never again cross my medulla oblongata. And if you don’t know what that is, you can look it up on your Smartphone.

Now if you know me at all, you know that in my General Rules of Life book, the top five includes the following: Don’t ask for anything. Part and parcel of this is never to say “I want ______.”  Somehow I have adopted the worldview that the less you ask for in life, the greater your worth as a person. Now, I know that this does not make sense. I would spend serious time counseling anyone I know to abandon such a tenet. Yet I can’t seem to shake it as a personal credo. Until now.

My former inclination to eschew any requests for anything of a material nature went right out the window. I’m sixty-two goddamn years old, and I don’t think I have the right to ask for (by which I mean buy myself) a particular cell phone? That’s nuts, and I know it. So I broke my rule and I asked.

Then I researched all the data plans, the activation fees, the software and the hardware and I did the hokey-pokey till all the numbers swirled in front of my face and made me slightly nauseous. But I pulled up my socks and went to the kiosk of the best deal and got Smartphones for the Center of the Universe and me.

Now I can find any quilt shop in the United States because I have an app for that. I can read the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today in the palm of my hand, because I have an app for that. I can scan the bar code of any item in any store and comparison shop it across the universe because (wait for it…) I have an app for that.

But more importantly, I can play Scrabble with my son, Wordfeud with my stepson, and soon Scrabbleicious (I think) with my son-in-law. And I can do all of these 24/7. This makes me very happy. It’s a cool way of being connected around the clock.

Now I don’t mind that my phone is smarter than I am. I just need an app for my addiction to it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Running the Race

I’m running a marathon. Don’t faint—it’s not the 10K for cancer research. It’s not the 5K for heart disease.  It’s the never-ending race against the relentless dust and grime in my house.

How does it accumulate so fast? It seems as if by the time I’ve finished dusting and vacuuming I could write my name in the new deposits on the coffee table. Is that fair? Shouldn’t I at least get one day’s grace?

I feel so good when I’ve cleaned the whole house that you would think I’d be looking forward to the next time I attack it. You would be wrong. I still curl my upper lip and flare my nostrils at the thought of Windex, Formula 409 and Lysol. At the end of a day of cleaning, I’m sure I need a good detox from inhaling all those fumes.

I guess I like it being done, not so much the act of doing it. I can think of a thousand things I would rather be doing, and so can you. You know how it is: your baseboards need dusting, your windows need washing, your shower has soap scum and if only modern technology hadn’t eradicated waxy yellow buildup, you’d be battling that, too. There are not enough hours in the day, and this is now that I’m retired from ‘work’. And did you notice how I shifted this from my problem to yours? You’re in this, too.

How did this happen? When I worked full-time I was gone fifty to fifty-five hours a week, including the commute. I always fantasized that when I retired my house would be neat as a pin and clean as a whistle. (Why pins and whistles constitute the gold standard for household presentation I cannot explain, but they do.) I imagined that my closets would all be color-coded, hangers lining up like little soldiers—all their heads and shoulders at the same precise angle. My shoes and purses would look like the gorgeous photos in splashy magazine layouts, which are clearly shot just to make us all feel inferior.

I fantasized that my kitchen drawers would all be so neat and tidy that Martha Stewart could drop in at any time and pluck a spatula of just the right size and shape from the second drawer. If Oprah herself had rung the doorbell, I could welcome her in without a mad dash through the house to pick up a stray newspaper or coffee mug. And if Dr. Oz ever dropped by to inspect my medicine chest, I’d be so proud when he opened the door to see my neatly organized and categorized supply of pharmaceuticals, not a single one out-of-date.

Need I tell you that none of this has come to pass?

My closets still look like I frantically ransack them for the perfect item on a twice-daily basis. The house is tidy, but my floors have a protective coating of dust that the Guinness people are coming to measure on Friday. The outsides of my windows make me cringe when the sun shines. I’m a failure.

One of these days I’ll wake up with an uncontrollable urge to clean everything in the house. That will be the day I sign up for the marathon at the Senior Olympics. I’ll just have to find out whether Windex would disqualify me under the doping rules.