Monthly Archives: October 2011

Costume choices, 2011

Driving back from my vacation in Maine this weekend,  I was trying to figure out what to be this year for Halloween.  There is nothing like a long, long drive to get the gears in your mind going.  And mine were whizzing all day!

There are the usual choices – a witch, a scarecrow, a nun.  There are the second rung choices like a bumble bee, a pirate, or since I just got back from New England, a pilgrim.  I stopped trying to be a princess when I was four years old.  That’s when I dressed as the most beautiful princess, walked out the door with my brother and my goodie bag, tripped over my princess dress and ended up face (and dress) down in a mud puddle.  I was not born to be a princess, and I did not work myself into the role.

But as I was thinking about this year’s costume, I happened to check out the New York Times, where there was an interesting column:  What the Costumes Reveal    by Joe Nocera.  And suddenly, I got a whole bunch of new costume ideas.

I could go as a horse’s ass!  I could go as a heartless bastard!  I could go as a housing foreclosure lawyer!

You see, Nocera’s column was all about the law firm of Steven J. Baum, a firm that specializes in housing foreclosures in the Buffalo, New York area.  They are a humorous bunch of folks, and they really know how to have a good time.  I’m just bummed that I wasn’t invited to their Halloween Party last year.  Because the employees — whose jobs it is to throw people out of their homes — were encouraged to dress up as homeless people!  Nocera’s column has pictures to show some of the more special costumes.  How spooky!  What a hoot!  Can you think of a better costume?

  

Photo Courtesy of the NY Times

Well I did.  This year, I am dressing up as “A Progressive Check Writer.”  I’ll do it by wearing my heart on my sleeve.  I’m going to double my regular annual donation to the organizations I normally support that help the homeless in the DC/NoVA area where I live.  And I’m going to send a matching one, in honor of the law firm of Steven J. Baum, to the Buffalo City Mission, whose job is a little busier thanks to the law firm of Steven J. Baum.

   Next year I’ll be a horse’s ass.  This year (and last) it’s been done.

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Sweet Reaper

I am no longer the Grim Reaper!  I may not yet be up there with Santa, but I can now say that I can give the Easter Bunny a run for her money.  Today I can pass on some really good news.

That’s not usually the case, you know.  It’s because I work in medicine, and I hear about everything that can possibly kill, maim, and/or injure you.  I know exactly what you should fear.  I know what produce is riddled with bacteria today, why you shouldn’t ever eat runny eggs or sprouts of any kind (I do anyway).   I know way more than I want to know.  And I always share with my friends and family.

They hate me.

But really, what would you do?  I try to temper it, tone it down, but, well, what if I don’t tell someone and something bad happens?  Fortunately, most people I know have my emails sent immediately to their SPAM folders, so I satisfy my need to tell and they satisfy theirs to ignore.  Everybody is happy.  Ish.

Finally today, I am able to pass on good news.  Sweet news.  The best.  Today I learned that candy is no worse for you than granola.  Yup.  It’s true.  They just try to make us feel guilty for sucking down those gummy, gooey sweets.  When I read the news,  I tore open a package of PopRocks, twisted the top off a Coke and celebrated.  Yahoo!  Crazy Man!  Outta site!  Groovy, even.

I am not talking about dark chocolate, here.  Folks have been trying to convert me to that crap for a decade.  “Oh, it’s healthy.”  Yeah right.  It tastes like dandruff.  Dark chocolate has all the sweetness of my 7th grade math teacher – the one who longed to return to the days when she could smack kids.  Keep your dark chocolate.  Gimme Skittles.  Gimme Dots.  Gimme Twizlers.  Give me that new mint Three Musketeers bar when I am pretending to have adult tastes.

Yes, today’s headline brought me the news that I could, on occasion, choose between granola and gummy bears without feeling guilty when the gummies win.

Next thing I know, there will be a news report that one three-pack of Peeps provides 100 percent of USDA recommended levels of 10 essential vitamins and minerals.

I can’t wait.

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Merde 101

[I am on vacation.  What follows is my entry into a memoir writing contest.  My 1st prize notification apparently got lost in the mail.]

            Struggling to understand the chatter surrounding me in Geneva’s Cointrin Airport, I cursed in French for not having learned the damn language.  Merde (Shit)!  Fils de pute! (son of a bitch)!  I knew French curse words would come in handy because my family and I had plopped into Francophone Switzerland for a five-year stay.  My husband, John, had taken a job in Geneva.  We all jumped at the adventure. John wanted the professional challenge, I wanted to travel around Europe, and our six-year-old son, Jacob, wanted to ride in a gondola while yodeling.  Fantastic!  So we schlepped all our crap to a place where none of us could speak the language.  To a place where, in fact, they spoke a language I had already flunked twiceMerde!

           It wasn’t just french classes I messed up.  I also butchered the language while trying to actually communicate my first time in France, too.  Two years after we married, John and I visited our close friend, Fran, who was living in Paris.  John designated me the family French speaker, saying “You took it in college, didn’t you?”  Oh well, I thought, I’ll try.  Did I mention to him that I remembered almost nothing?  Nah.

            Our first morning in Paris, Fran sent us off on our own to see the city while she went to work.  Pointing out the subway, she said, “The Metro’s cheaper if you buy a “‘carnay’ — a book of tickets.”

            We got to the platform, and I practiced my line: “Je voudrais un canard.” “Je voudrais un canard.”

            “Lease, you’re about to ask for a duck,” said John.

            “Oh.”

            We laughed about it later with Fran, at a café near the Centre Pompidou. “It’s a damn good thing I’ll never really need to know French,” I told Fran. Merde!  Those words haunted me for the five years I did need to know it, a decade later.

            Actually, I was really excited about being in Switzerland, traveling around Europe, living a completely new life.  Switzerland is a magical place.  Breathtaking scenery surrounds you wherever you go.  Just looking at the snow capped mountains rising up from behind Lake Geneva made me feel like Julie Andrews – I always wanted to sing.  But full-time French made me want to scream.  It was a major pain in the ass (une douleur importante dans le cul).  I WILL LEARN THIS, I nevertheless promised myself.  THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM, ISN’T IT?   But I also steeled myself to be repeatedly humiliated on an international basis.  It was important, though, that my son didn’t see my embarrassment too often.

            I immediately enrolled in a French class; a mime class would have been more useful.  La Migro, the local grocery store, offered what were considered the best local language classes.  In spite of my history, I fully expected to be fluent in no time; after all my life was a French immersion class.  I started to learn slowly.  I thought I was doing pretty well, in fact.  But after a year of hard work, I flunked the final.  I was devastated.

            This is not the Sorbonne, I thoughtI can’t master grocery store French?  I am living and breathing in French every day.  How could I possibly have flunked?  I can even successfully talk to people on the telephone in French where I cannot mime, and they understand me. 

            Well, they usually understood me.  There was one major exception – giving directions to our house.  Native French-speakers couldn’t follow my simple directions, even though our house was incredibly easy to find.  Repair people had a particularly tough time.  It was humiliating.

            In Switzerland, most major routes are “la Route de Wherever.”  If you are driving on the main route to Geneva, it is called “la Route de Genève.”  Ours was a farm road and it wasn’t on the map.  So to get to our house, I would tell people (in French) to get off the Autoroute at the Nyon exit, turn away from Lake Geneva, and take la Route de Ste. Cergue.  (Ste. Cergue is the town just up the mountain from our house, a popular place for cross-country skiing and hiking.  Everybody in the region knows it.)  I told them to proceed uphill towards the mountains, two miles past the Avia gas station.  Then, on the left (au gauche) there is a line of seven brown Swiss chalets that looks like a cuckoo clock display.  We lived in the first cuckoo clock.  How could anyone miss it?  But French-speakers often just didn’t show up.  I was really starting to hate French.

            A year into our adventure, though, I realized that I had no choice but to learn the damn language.  That’s when we got a puppy (un chiot; un jeune chien), an adorable English Springer Spaniel, Cooper.  Dogs are welcome travelers throughout Europe.  Well behaved dogs, that is.  We wanted to travel, so Cooper needed training.  Merde.  Luckily, I found an obedience class that was held in a field where Cooper and I often walked, just across la Route de Ste. Cergue.  We enrolled.  Naturellement, it was taught in French.

            The first of three classes was great.  Cooper was a star.  I understood what they were saying — Sit!  Stay!  (Asseyez-vous! Restez!)  My French was very good!  (Mon français était très bon !)  Cooper and I sauntered home.

            But we foolishly went back the next week.  The class of about 20 people and 20 chiots was asked to line up for the exercises (ligne pour des exercices).  We were asked to walk forward (de marcher en avant) – “So far, so good, Coops!” I said to the cooperative little guy.  Cooper wagged his tail.

            Then the teacher/drill sergeant stepped up the pace:

            Tournez à droite!”-- Turn right!  I turned left.  Cooper went straight.

            “Tournez à gauche!” –Turn left!  I was still correcting my incorrect right turn and couldn’t remember which side was “gauche.”  Cooper got confused and wound himself and his leash around my legs.

            “Marchez tout droit”– Walk Straight!  Somehow, I regained my balance and held on to the leash, and then promptly walked into a man whose dog started humping mine.

            “Repetez!”  I didn’t want to.  Cooper sat down and refused to move.

            I could not keep up, and all I could think was “What idiot developed a language where “right” and “straight” are the same goddamn word?”

            The situation did not improve when John and Jacob arrived to cheer me on.  Merde!  I wanted the earth to swallow them both and regurgitate them — safe and unharmed — at a later date and preferably in a place where English was widely spoken.  Just about then I was told in rapid-fire French to:

            “Tenez la laisse à votre tour de taille!”– Hold the leash at your waist.  Hold the leash with my tail?

            “Tirez sur la laisse à l’oreille”– Pull the leash to your ear. Why?  Did I lose an earring?

            “Grattez le chien est de retour.”– Scratch the dog’s back.  Will he scratch mine? 

            “Prenez votre chien bout à bout et pousser vers le bas.” — Grab your dog’s butt and push it down.  Huh?

            “Donner au chiot un régal”– Give the puppy a treat.  I deserve one, too!

            “Ne pas le laisser manger la merde de vache qui est partout sur le terrain” — Do not let him eat the cow poop that is all over the field.   So very glad I signed up for this class.

            And the teacher started again!  It was up, down, left, right, turn, heel, spin around, start again — “Repetez!” until Cooper and I were hopelessly confused about what we were supposed to be doing and why.  I couldn’t remember if “gauche” meant “right” or “left” or what either had to do with its English definition of “tacky.”  I no longer even liked dogs.

            But my husband and son were sitting on the grass, watching.

            Merde.  I cannot let my seven-year-old see me looking like a clown.   Suddenly, I knew exactly what I had to do.

            “Tournez a gauche,” the teacher commanded.  I bowed to Cooper, and then copied what my classmates had done, purposely two beats behind.  Jacob looked confused, so I took it up a notch.  I exaggerated our wrong turns.  I checked my shoe for poop, grimaced, and wiped the pretend poop on a clump of grass.  Jacob giggled.  My classmates moved out of my way.  I wobbled on an imaginary tightrope and tapped Cooper gently on the butt trying to make him wobble, too.  Jacob and John laughed.  I marched with military precision while Cooper did just as he pleased, and I faked shock and dismay.  My guys were laughing with me.  Cooper joined in the ruse by slipping out of his collar, running and jumping onto Jacob, depositing muddy paws and kisses all over him.  Jacob was delighted.  We happily returned home across la route de Ste. Cergue, my secret failure safe.

            And then a miracle happened in the week between the second class and the final class.  A French-speaking electrician found his way to my house using my directions.  Directions I had told him en français.  Better still, he solved the riddle, ‘where do repairmen go when I give them directions?’

            “Cette route est appelée ‘la route Blanche,’” he told me.  “Il n’est pas appelée ‘la Route de Ste. Cergue.’”  This road is called ‘The White Road,’ he said.  It is not called ‘the Road to Ste. Cergue.’”  Even though it damn well is the road to Ste. Cergue and everybody takes it to get there.

            There were no street signs of any kind, no name on the map.  Nothing identified it as la Route Blanche.  It seemed that this was a very new road by Swiss standards, only about 75 years old.  The “old” route, which meandered around quite a bit and started twelve miles away and at a completely different exit, is still called la Route de Ste. Cergue, even though no one has used it to get there since 1927.

            It is not my fault that French-speakers cannot follow my directions,  I realized ecstatically.  I can tell people how to get to my house!  I can do it in French!  They didn’t change the road name when they built the damn road.  They didn’t change the map or put up street signs.  There was no way for me to know!  I am not an idiot!

            Cooper and I went to the third and final class with renewed confidence. We invited John and Jacob to come.  Cooper and I actually did better with the commands thrown at us in rapid-fire French.  Some commands we understood, some we faked, some we hammed up as an encore.

            Cooper earned a diploma in his class.  He got to see a whole lot of Europe.

            I continued with the grocery store French class, sometimes understanding and sometimes faking it.  Within a few months, I passed the course.  I took home a certificate and proudly showed it to John and Jacob.

            “What does it say?” my son asked.

            “It says “Jacob’s mommy is fluent in French!” I told him proudly.  He gave me a kiss and happily headed out the door to play with Cooper.

            John smiled.  “What does it actually say?”

            “I’m not really sure,” I said, smiling.  “It’s in French.”

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Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is Mom’s birthday.  Her 92nd.

I called to get her some flowers – yellow roses, of course.  Her favorite.  But when I nearly became homicidal trying to get some, well, I decided she’d understand it if she didn’t get any.  I knew she wouldn’t complain, though.

You see, Mom passed away 14 years ago.  So her birthday is always a bittersweet day for me.  On this day, I want to celebrate her life and I want to let her know that I’m thinking about her.  It’s always a day that finds me with a bit of a sad smile on my face.

Not this year.

This year I called to get some flowers put onto her grave and ended up wanting to kill.  Kill and not bury.

I’m sure you’re wondering by now what the hell I am talking about.  Patience is a virtue, you know.  I don’t have it, so you need to.

I know I am not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but well, I’m gonna.  My parents had terrible taste.  Tacky taste.  And the cemetery they chose to, umm, inhabit, well, please don’t think that I picked the god-awful place.

Now, you ask, what could possibly be so terrible about a cemetery?  Aren’t they all alike?  I used to think so.  And maybe they are.  But this one is in Florida.  So maybe this one is special.

They don’t allow fresh flowers on the grave sites.  They don’t allow live plants at the grave sites. They don’t allow silk flowers at the grave sites.  And I think that folks are buried under Astroturf.

They only allow plastic flowers.  Plastic flowers that they alone sell.  So while I want to put flowers on my parents far away graves, well, I’m kind of limited.

But it’s Mom’s birthday, I thought.  I have to call them.  I have to get her some tacky flowers.  Mom, after all, had a bowl of plastic/wax fruit on the kitchen table for 25 years.  She lived for this sort of stuff.  Ooh, sorry.  Bad word choice.

Ok, so I called up the Cemetery folks to ask what choices I had in tacky plastic flowers.  The surprisingly perky young woman on the other end had to ask someone else, so she put me on hold.  And that’s when my blood began to boil.

There was no sound track of classical music playing on the line.  There was no gospel music.  There were no Big Band Era swing tunes playing.  Most of the cemetery’s residents would have preferred any of those.  Nope, while I was on hold there was no Frank, no Bing, no Nat.

There was an advertisement for the cemetery’s crematorium.

Needless to say, I did not want to put an urn on my mother’s grave for her birthday.  That would be too tacky even for Mom.  I let the perky young woman know, as politely as I could through my teeth, that their recording was insensitive and vile.

“Oh?” she said.  “I’ve never heard it.”  She then informed me that I had a choice between plastic roses and plastic peonies and plastic poinsettias.  Lovely.  Actually, Mom would have been happy.

“In what colors?” I stupidly asked.

“Let me put you on hold, while I find out,” she said.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I screamed.   But too late.  I screamed it to the voice that told me the different types of wood caskets available.  The voice that told me that I could have brass, silver or pewter handles.  The voice that told me the colors of satin liners available.  You could spend an eternity choosing.  Oh, sorry.  My bad.

Perky came back on the line to tell me that I could have red or pink roses, but she had forgotten the colors of the other flowers.  She wanted to put me on hold again.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I said, far more quickly.

“Do the folks who run this place think,” I said in as polite a manner as I could muster, “that caskets and cremation services are impulse purchases?  That by putting that recording on while I am on hold I will suddenly get inspired to buy a walnut casket with pink satin lining and brass handles?”

Now, I realized that it is not Perky’s fault that ghouls own Memorial Funeral Park.  Maybe she was just a temp.  But I was not yet ready to give up trying to educate her on just how inappropriate the recording was.

“You know,” I continued, “my Mom and Dad have been gone for a while now, so the pain is not fresh.  But if I had just lost either of them, I’m pretty sure a robo-sales talk would not make me choose your facility.”

“I think you need to take that up with the manager,” she said putting me on hold again.  I learned about the different size and location of burial plots.

I was going to wait for the manager, but he took so long in coming to the phone that the recording came around to the crematorium and urns again.  I had to hang up.

So this year Mom is going to get a visit from me in person.  And I’m bringing a shovel .

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Life stinks

Here it is, fall.  The beautiful changing colors, the graceful tease of the orange and yellow leaves as they flutter down to the ground.  The cool, comfortable temperatures.  The stink bugs.

Yup, they’re here.  Stink bugs.  Got them?

Two years ago, when my friend Judy and I were having lunch, riding up in an elevator, she first mentioned them to me.  I had never heard of them.  In fact, I thought she was using code to refer to the woman standing in front of us –because the woman reeked of cigarettes to the point where I feared we would be asphyxiated then and there.

But no!  She was referring to real live, invasive species-type insects!  Whodda thunk it.  They are annoying beetles that get into your house and can become quite an expensive pest.

I am actually quite confused about stink bugs.

My husband, John, who knows everything and who more annoyingly is never wrong, insists that they do not stink when you smush them.  John claims that the ones WE get are a special invasive species from Asia that do not stink.

“Why do they call them ‘stink bugs’ then?”  I keep asking.  He never answers.  And he never produces genetic evidence that they are, in fact, Asian.  Disillusion is starting to penetrate my marriage.

My friend Judy is also one of the smartest people I know.  She is far less annoying about it, though.  Besides, she is a much more practical sort of smart.  She assured me that when smushed, stink bugs smell like stinky socks.  She assured me that her son is far away and that her husband, Steve, has delightful feet.  Therefore, to Judy, there is only one place the stinky sock smell can come from.  Smushed bugs.

So I just don’t know who to believe.

Me, I am a very careful person.  As a rule, I am a bit of a life-lover.  I have never actually smushed a stink bug.  Why tempt it?  Actually, though, I try not to smush stuff intentionally.  There is always something else, some other way, something natural you can use to rid the house of pests.

For example, when we lived in France about 10 years ago, we were informed by the animal control squad that the best way to keep certain rodents at bay was for a man to pee in the area where they had taken up residence.

Huh?

Yup.  That’s what French Animal Control told us.  You may not know this, but the French don’t always like Americans.  Sometimes there are clues.

So when my husband was told by guys in uniforms to go up in to our attic and pee into the dark corners, well, we thought twice about it.  John more so than me, I’ll admit.  One of those thoughts, naturally was that the critters we were trying to evict had long, sharp teeth, and were known to be rather aggressive.  They were “fweens,” a type of weasel.  A type of weasel that is not afraid of humans, of the peeing or non-peeing variety.  A type of weasel that is too ferocious to be made into a coat.

So back to the stink bugs.  I think I’ve figured out a compromise.  We catch the stink bugs in toilet paper, throw them into the toilet, John pees on them.   We flush.  Everyone is happy.

And we make the French proud.

Asian Stink Bug -- Courtesy of Google

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You can bank on it

I’m ready to go along with the folks occupying Wall Street.  Because I too am getting rather peeved with the whole banking industry.  It’s gotten so irritating, I just don’t know what to do.

My husband, John, got annoyed as anything last month when he looked at his bank statement and realized that every time he goes to the ATM and wants his balance, or wants one of those little statements, they charge him a buck.

I would have been annoyed had I seen that charge, too; then again, I would have had to open up my statement.  And since I can proudly say that I have not, in fact, actually opened a bank statement since 1973 when my father carefully taught me how to reconcile one, well, I didn’t notice the fee.

But there are more and more of these annoying surcharges, and they are sooner or later going to affect how I spend my time.  And if I have to start actually paying attention to my money instead of simply letting it run through my fingers on luxury items like bread and water, well, there will be hell to pay.

And another thing:  What is with all these bank mergers?  I have been banking at the same place for about 25 years.  Well, the same building, anyway.  The bank’s name changes more often than the tide.

In fact, it is this last name change of my bank that has me ready to join up with the Occupy Wall Street gang.  Because the bank’s name went from the throat-clearing-aid name “Wachovia” to “Wells Fargo.”

Now every time I got to the ATM I get stuck with two things:  those damn fees, AND the tune and lyrics of the most annoying song ever.  The Wells Fargo Wagon tune from Music Man:

 Oho, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street

Oh please let it be for me

Oho, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street

I wish, I wish I knew what it could be!

It sticks in my head each and every time I go to the ATM.  I’m not happy about this, nor is my husband.  John thought it was bad when I kept singing the same verse of “Desperado” over and over again.  For some reason, it annoyed him no end, even though I explained to him that it was the best verse of the song.

But with the bank’s new name, I end up singing that stupid song all the time.  I’m going to start standing outside my office building with a cup and a sign to get some cash, just to avoid the ATM and spare my husband.  Yes, I do try to be a good wife.

But you know, I’d be happy to have them double the fees if they would just change the name again.  Here’s my suggestion:

“The Impossible Dream” Bank.

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Sign of the times

It is election season here in Virginia.  In fact, it always seems to be election season in Virginia.  We have elections just to show off Virginia’s historical connection with the U.S. Constitution – Madison, for example, was a Virginian, and he wrote most of it.  Jefferson, another Virginian, wrote him letters from Paris with helpful hints on how to write something that would one day be put into a really cool frame.  George Mason was in on it too, so were a whole bunch of other Virginians we all learned about in grade school.  Folks from other states had their fingers in the pot too, Virginians admit, but only when pressed.

But Virginia still takes its voting rights very seriously.  So we have elections frequently just because we can.  It is now mid-October and I’ve already voted twice this year. We will, of course vote again on the 1st Tuesday in November.   Yay.

Actually, I don’t really mind.  I vote in every damn one of them.  I value my right to vote.  Even more so since 2000 when I was living in Europe and my absentee ballot didn’t show up.  You know what happened – George W. Bush became President.  The world went to hell in a handbasket.  If only my ballot had shown up, things might have been different.

For a while, I blamed myself – until, of course, I realized that my absentee ballot would not have been for a vote in the Supreme Court.  Damn!  I want to get one of those, but I’m not quite sure where to apply for it.  In fact, the longer John Roberts remains Chief Justice, the harder I’m going to try to find a way to get a vote there on the Supreme Court.  One of those awesome black robes would be pretty cool, too.

So now that it is just a few weeks away from the next election, the political signs are out all over the place.  Big clumps of them at every corner.  A big mish mash of signs advertising people I’ve heard of and people I haven’t, for positions I have never heard of either.  What does a delegate do?  Or a county supervisor.  Who does he/she supervise?  And if they need to be supervised, shouldn’t we just get rid of them?

This time around, there are also candidates running for School Board, and one candidate made me nearly get out of my car and knock over each and every one of his signs on principle.  Or maybe on principal.

Why?  Because the guy is not running

FOR School Board

Nope.  He’s running

4

School Board

Is it just me, or should folks on the school board know how to spell those sound-alike words?

The sign made me realize that, yes,  it IS bad when the Supreme Court overrules the popular vote of the country.  But when you start out with a school board full of cretins who cannot distinguish between “for” and “four” (and probably “there, their, and they’re”), well, that’s when you can pretty much be sure the next generation is going to be dumber than we are.

You can vote on it.

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