Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Royal Wedding: Happy and Sad

It's hard to believe that Diana Spencer and Prince Charles were married 30 years ago when I was (gasp) twenty-five.  Now here we are, with young William marrying Kate Middleton. This wedding is a strange flashback for me, and while I'm not really a royal watcher sometimes I can't help but get caught up in the lives of people I will never know. In the three decades from that wedding to this, so much has happened to those who roam the halls of Buckingham Palace.

I had the strange experience of being in Paris the night Diana was killed. My company was organizing a conference there and I was in my hotel bed, hard asleep, when wailing sirens woke me. The noise was so severe, in fact, that I turned on the television to see what was happening and learned that Diana had been in a car accident. I watched for a short while and then shut the set off, assuming she would recover. When I got up the next morning I was stunned to learn she was dead. Breakfast downstairs was surreal. Like September 11, all of us were of one mind, rubbing our foreheads at the incomprehensible. Could it be? 

Not only was I in the same city at the time of Diana's death, but I was in the hotel where she and Dodi were scheduled to attend the wedding of a mideast princess. The hotel staff had been prepping for the wedding all week and was buzzing with gossip after the accident, with wedding-goers insisting Diana and Dodi were planning to announce their engagement and her pregnancy at the event. Like everybody else in the Princess Diana media swirl, I never knew the truth about the rumors, and never will. But whatever the situation, I thought of her with an aching heart, and without envy of her fame. How awful, to be pursued by photographers to your death, and how weird that I was only blocks away when it happened. That morning, August 31, 1997, I bought a Paris newspaper and tucked it in my suitcase, a macabre memento I suppose, and proof that I was there, within earshot when poor Diana left us. Her wild ride began with a magnificent dress, walking down the aisle in front of 750 million television viewers. It ended in a Paris tunnel. With sirens. 

I extend best wishes to Kate, who I hope knows what she's in for; and to William, who is almost painful to look at, so much does he resemble his mother. May they fare better in both their public and private lives than those who came before.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Housewives of New York City...Pull Out Your Checkbooks!

My nephew, while in his twenties, lived with me for awhile. One day I walked into the living room and saw he was watching the show "Jackass." Sheepish, he said "It's my guilty pleasure."

I understand. I too, have guilty pleasures when it comes to television. In fact, I have three: The Real Housewives of New York City, The Real Housewives of Orange County, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey. My odd addiction to these ridiculous programs started with Orange County, during which I watched with fascination impossibly thin, blonde women with artificial chests talk about rich husbands and plastic surgery. Next thing you know, I'm watching the ladies from New Jersey. This is a lively one, with wealthy Italian girls yelling at each other, tipping over tables, and making vague references to mob friends. Once on the slippery slope, I got hooked on the ladies of New York City. It's the latter show I'd like to discuss here. Two of the housewives in particular: Alex McCord and Jill Zarin.

Alex McCord and her husband, Simon, are famous for their shopping sprees. In one episode, Alex twirled around in outfit after outfit, her husband commenting in the background how lucky he is to have a wife with a model's figure and announcing to the salesgirl, "We'll take that one! And that one!" Simon remarked after the trip that they spent "five figures, but not six figures." I guess that means between $10,000-$99,999? Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they aren't completely stupid. For the sake of argument here, let's say they spent twenty.

I can't tell you what season this happened, but at one point Ms. Zarin went shopping for a birthday present promised to her by her husband, Bobby. "We're cutting back this year," she said primly, no doubt wanting to reach out to all of us who are feeling the pinch. Their version of cutting back...a pocketbook that cost $16,000 (well...it was leather). When asked about this expense seeming a bit out of line, she said people shouldn't criticize her for spending money because she's helping to keep the economy going. I suspect Alex and her social-climbing husband probably feel the same way about their spending on shoes and dresses what many people in this country make as an annual salary.

A good friend of mine once advised that I shouldn't count other people's money: meaning, keep your big beak out of the financial business of others. When it comes to the New York City housewives, however, I must take issue with his advice.

If Jill Zarin and Alex McCord have enough money to spend $36,000 on silk and leather, then maybe they really want to have a positive effect on the economic woes of our country. Ladies, why don't you cut me a check for say fifty grand? I have a carriage house that needs remodeling and with your kind influx of cash I could make quite a dent in my town's economy. A new foundation would put some masons and carpenters to work around here, as would sheetrock, paint, and new windows. I'm thinking of adding an apartment upstairs in the building, so I'll need rugs (the carpet folks down the road will be happy to oblige), furniture (I'm sure the local sofa store could use my business), and appliances (look out Sears, here I come!). While I'm at it I might as well put up that fence I've been planning, which I know will be welcome income for some young guys in town who haven't been able to find work, guys whose upstate wives are probably wearing jeans and carrying a purse they bought at WalMart for $9.99. Just think, Alex and Jill. Instead of the hot air you're blowing around about "contributing to the economy" when what you're actually doing is flaunting your weath to millions of out-of-work Americans, you actually could contribute. Feel free to contact me and I'll get busy putting your money to good use! (And please, don't talk about your charity work: wearing a $10,000 dress to a benefit to feed the homeless is unseemly at best; the word flickering through my mind is obscene.)

There's an old joke about a dumb guy hitting himself in the head with a hammer. When somebody asks why he does it, he says because it feels so good when he stops. I'm starting to feel that way about my guilty pleasures. Turning the housewives off is starting to feel really good.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stuff

I am not a hoarder. I am not a hoarder. I am not a hoarder.

Your Honor, I am not a hoarder.

Am I?

For some years now my family and friends have been implying I might be a hoarder. Well okay, a few have come right out and said so. My position has been that I'm a collector. I collect lots of things. Books. Depression glass. Crystal candlesticks. Lamps. Picture frames. Antiques. Glass perfume bottles. Shoes. Christmas ornaments. China. Salt and pepper shakers. Rugs. Photos. Mexican artwork. Masks. Vases. I like stuff, I would tell frowning faces. Stuff makes me happy!

Hmm.

When I lived on Long Island, garbage day was the best day, not because I could get rid of my things, but because my neighbors usually got rid of great things. I have found remarkable items on the curb. In fact, many of these items now reside in my home: a reproduction Victorian sofa and matching chair,  bookshelves, tables, fireplace screens, dozens (no kidding) of straight-backed wooden chairs, porch furniture, chests, bed frames, and one of the best finds, a large wooden curio with 30 drawers. There is not a room in my house that doesn't have at least one piece that came from the street. My finds have been a proud accomplishment, primarily because I was lucky enough to have two houses...and two garages...to cram it all into.

I think the first glimmer of worry surfaced one day when I found myself stuffing a curbside bureau into my SUV. I recall wondering if there might be a problem here. Somehow, though, I always managed to fit it all in. If I can fit all my stuff in the house and not have to walk through aisles of falling collectibles then I'm okay! (said my little mind).

Then came October, 2010. Moving day. Two friends came to help me pack and were...I believe the only appropriate word to describe their reaction to how much stuff I had is...aghast. I assigned Jackie the tasks of books and closets. A polite soul, she managed to say nothing after packing 35 boxes of books. More silence during the first two closets, and low grumbling at the third. When she came to the fifth closet, which contained clothing that wouldn't fit me again short of my becoming a year-long contestant on The Biggest Loser, she cracked. "Kathy!" she screamed. "You ARE a hoarder!!" Meanwhile, Mark was outside sweating, tossing 12 years worth of my belongings into a 4-ton dumpster. He filled it to heaping and lost six pounds.

This, you might suspect, got me to thinking. Thoughts like, why do I keep so many cardboard boxes? (because I might need them someday). Why do I keep every single scrap of used wrapping paper? (because I might need it someday). And why do I have 200 pairs of curtains, 50 sheet sets, a beach towel from high school, and 18 remotes to televisions I don't even own anymore? (because...well you get the idea).

They say that true realization comes at unexpected times. One night I was watching the show, Hoarders: Buried Alive. Of course my house(s) never looked like the houses on that program, but as I sipped my wine I listened with dawning horror to the hoarders talking about their problem. "I'm a collector. I love garbage day. Stuff makes me happy. I keep it because I might need it someday." My eyes grew to the size of tin can bottoms. Most of these people (other than those who couldn't throw out real garbage or had sixty cats) weren't creepy or nuts. They were thrifty, not liking the idea of perfectly good merchandise going to waste. They appreciated the concept of one man's trash is another man's treasure. They were...oh dear god...like me.

My conclusion, your Honor, is this: I was not, and am not, a hoarder. But I'll tell you what: I was on the brink.

This discovery has been quite freeing. I now fling stuff into the garbage with great abandon. Cardboard boxes...OUT. Wrapping paper...OUT. Old broken furniture that I planned to fix and never did...OUT. It's been fabulous! While I still have far to go, which anyone who has ventured into my basement or carriage house would tell you, I'm making great progress. I'm going Zen. I shall no longer be a slave to meaningless crappie. Let somebody else come along and pick up the fine though useless items I have collected in my life's journey.

A final note: there is an object on my desk that's hard to describe. A little...thing. Six inches tall, a Lucite bottom, a chrome stick with a curly swirl on top that's supposed to hold notes. I've had it for maybe 20 years. It's been on every desk I've ever had in every office I've ever been in. Never, not once, have I put a note in it because when you do, it tips over. In my new free state, I picked it up today and chucked it into the trash bin. Bliss! Then I noticed a roll of stamps unfurling nearby and realized that if I slid the roll over the top of that thing it wouldn't tip over and I'd have a great stamp holder! So I pulled it out of the garbage, put the stamps on it, and admired my work. The minute I reached for the phone I knocked it over. But...I...can't...throw...it...out.

Your Honor, I swear I am not a hoarder.

Am I?

It's possible the jury is still out on this topic.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Picasso You Ain't

I was going to write about being a hoarder tonight. But I changed my mind. Maybe next time. Tonight, I'm writing about taking a walk in my town.

My back has been out for the past week and consequently I haven't been walking. Harry (the dog you've heard about several times) has been hot to get on the road, though patient. Interestingly, just as I nurtured him a few weeks ago when he was sick, he's been sticking close, concerned. Lots of gazing, peering into my face with stern expressions. There's more to these animals than we think, I'm thinking.

Anyway, tonight I felt up to it so we set off, Harry in his harness and leash, I in my sneakers and sweatshirt. We struck out for the park, a lovely place with a gazebo and bandstand. A few things have changed in the short time since I've been over there. Graffiti has appeared on the brick wall at the west end. White nonsensical scribbling by (you idiots will excuse me) some idiot. What, I wonder, is the joy of spray painting claptrap in a public place? I lived in New York City a long time and saw such twaddle everywhere. I don't expect to see it in my own hometown. I'm thinking tomorrow I'll call the mayor and complain, or maybe, when my back is healed, go over there and scrub it off. Then I'll station myself in the gazebo some dark night and when I see the artist return, let go with a blast from an air horn. Or better yet, a BB gun. Local folks...do you know where your teenagers are? Because if you don't they might be returning home with some buckshot in their backsides. You wanna scribble? Do it on a piece of canvas and leave the park's brick alone.

We ventured on. Spring is almost here though the temps remain chilly. I see tulips and iris popping up, and nearby crocus in symphony across a neighbor's lawn. In one lovely home lives a cartoonist, a well-known fellow. As I pass and admire his house I notice a small, third-floor window is lit. He's up there, I whisper to Harry, spinning funnies. I love that I know that. The familiar joy of small town life.

As we round the bend the corner church clock chimes nine. Harry pulls me along, eager to get home to a full water bowl and warm bed. My back is singing but I'm not so quick to cross the threshold. Trees are emerging from this dread winter; in daylight you can see the first lime green buds. There is a lovely scent in the village, promises of summer and golf and bull thistles. I stop at the Chinese place and pick up some dumplings for a late dinner, knowing that when I attach Harry's leash to a water pipe he'll be safe while I'm inside. Then, dumplings and Harry in hand, I cut across my sister's yard for home.

There is nothing like a city, with its theater and its restaurants and its never sleep disposition. I am familiar with that dazzling life. I can't help but wonder, though, if city folk know what it's like to be here: in a quiet place where you pay attention to fog dropping over the streetlights, where puddles have a personality. In a small town where church bells chime and dogs are safe alone on a main street there is no place (in my humble opinion) for graffiti. Maybe the spray painters should move away to Manhattan, because I don't think they know I can  and am willing to  fill a bucket and scrub off their ugly art. Do they understand the malice of their remarks, some so vile I will not repeat them here? I will indeed take my bucket and scour away their transgressions once, maybe twice. Then I will find some buckshot and hunker down in the gazebo.

Are you listening, you with the spray paint? Don't mess with a village boys and girls: unlike a city, a village has eyes wide open. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hope Gets A Shot In The Arm

On Monday I was taking a break from a long day of working at the computer. I moseyed outside and sat down on the porch to enjoy a few minutes of nice weather that finally (finally!) arrived. I suspect my going to the porch, where I haven’t spent more than 15 seconds since November other than to dash to and from a snow-covered car, was divine intervention. I needed a spring mood lift, and I sure got one.

Not five minutes after sitting down, something to the right caught my eye. It was like slow motion, turning my head to see. My mouth dropped open into a little circle of surprise…a bald eagle, fully-grown and in full flight, was drifting by. Two crows were tailing him, and in comparison they looked like inconsequential sparrows. The eagle was, quite simply, spectacular.

While I’ve seen bald eagles before, once many years ago in Idaho, and, interestingly, just recently on a trip to Florida, I have never seen one in my own hometown, and most certainly not 40 yards away in the middle of the village. I don’t think I could have been more surprised if a UFO had landed in the yard. To see this magnificent creature glide by my porch as though it was the most common thing in the world was stunning and fantastic. I’m still spinning.

Naturally, I dashed straight to Google. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Bald eagles are not actually bald. The name derives from an older meaning of the word bald, which is “white-headed.”

  • Sexually mature birds – 4 to 5 years old – build nests at the top of sturdy trees, and usually within 100 miles of where they themselves hatched. Nests are generally two feet deep and five feet wide. During mating season the female lays 1 to 3 eggs, which are cared for by both the male and the female. Bald eagles need privacy and quiet to breed, and they mate for life, until one of the pair dies. The average lifespan of bald eagles in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest living to around 30.

  • John Adams, along with others on a congressional committee that included Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, chose the bald eagle as the National Emblem of the United States, so designated on June 20, 1782. Ben Franklin, incidentally, wanted the National Emblem to be the wild turkey, but he was outvoted.

  • Before Europeans crossed the pond, the bald eagle population was estimated to be between 300,000-500,000 in the continental United States. Those numbers began to decline with the influx of settlers. The eagle population saw a sharp reduction in the 1800s because they were either hunted for sport or because they were perceived as potential livestock and fishing ground predators.

  • In 1918, the bald eagle received protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The birds began to replenish until after WWII, when the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides caused another drop in numbers. Eagles would eat DDT-poisoned prey, either making the birds sterile or leading to the laying of eggs with shells too thin to last through the incubation period. Other factors contributing to bald eagle population reductions in the 20th century were loss of suitable habitat due to human and predator intrusion, hunting and illegal shootings, power-line electrocution, and the negative effects of oil, lead, and mercury pollution. Our National Emblem, in large part thanks to us, was in trouble.

  • In the 1970s, the bald eagle was placed on the endangered species list, and DDT was outlawed in the U.S. in 1972. Thanks to reintroduction efforts and successful reproduction in the wild, eagles started making a comeback. In 1999 there was a proposal to remove the bald eagle from the endangered list, and in 2007 the eagle was in fact removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States.

  • When Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were deliberating between the turkey and the eagle as our national symbol, it is believed there were as many as 100,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in America (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). By the 1960s, that number dropped to fewer than 500 pairs. Today, eagle-nesting pairs are believed to number about 10,000.

This is a story of victory, which some believe is the product of environmental reform and proactive wildlife management. At this moment in time, no one more than I believes in this triumph, and in the idea that we can accomplish great things when smart people come together and commit to what others may deem impossible.

Our country – and our world – are in such turmoil these days that I find myself squinting every time I turn on the TV, bracing for more bad news. But not this day. This day I'm thinking about sitting on a sunny porch in April and how my spirits soared when I saw that glorious bird rising over the trees, healthy and beautiful when not so long ago he and his kind were nearly gone from the planet. We humans did that, came close to obliterating a species because of stupidity and carelessness. Then we humans got together and made a change. We saw the error of our ways and altered course. It gives you hope, doesn't it? If the bald eagle can make a comeback, so can we. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Eye of the Tiger

While others in my neighborhood were outside fiddling around in the yard over the weekend, I was glued to the television. The Masters Tournament was on.

As most golfers who like to watch professional golf, I have my favorites. At the top of that list, for me, is Tiger Woods who, as everybody knows with the possible exception of an undiscovered culture on an island somewhere, has had his personal and professional trials lately. Lots of folks I know grumble about Tiger, his media coverage, his personal life. The way I look at it, if somebody has a problem with Tiger’s media coverage, they should blame the media, not Tiger. As for his personal life, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t care less about mine, so I’ll return the favor. The man is mad talented, and one of the best players the game has seen.

What was fascinating to me about the Masters this year was all the talk about the next generation of golfers moving in to knock out the old guard. “The old guard,” in case you don’t know, includes Tiger Woods at age 35. The young guns to which the commentators referred are in their twenties. In fact, the fellow in the lead coming into Sunday was a 21-year-old Irishman named Rory McIllroy. The kid is amazing, though sadly collapsed under final-day pressure. Another young golfer, Australian Jason Day, tied for second, and a 26-year-old from South Africa won. Without question, the new generation is making a move. Tiger shot 10 under, three strokes off the lead. Not too shabby for “an old guy.”

None of this, however, held my thoughts on Sunday. I kept thinking about two other golfers, the men who put such personal stamps on the game: The King, Arnold Palmer; and The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus. Arnie and Jack are 81 and 71 respectively. On Thursday, the tournament’s opening day, each hit a drive to kick off the Masters. I had to wonder what these two were thinking when they heard the sportscasters talking about Tiger being part of an old guard in golf.

I watched a special about Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus over the weekend, and was reminded what spectacular golfers they really were. Palmer was shown in old black and white newsreels, lithe and lean, cigarette sticking out of his mouth, schmoozing with fans and playing the game with heart-stopping abandon. Someone mentioned a comment Arnie made once (paraphrased here) that golf is about getting the ball in the hole as fast as possible. And that’s what he did. If the ball was in a treetop, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Palmer climb up there and knock it out. Nicklaus was rugged and focused and a fierce competitor, and when he beat Palmer for the first time at the 1962 U.S. Open, Arnie’s Army went wild. How dare this upstart, this…young gun…swoop in here and take down The King!

It’s inevitable in every sport, and for that matter at every level of life, that someone younger and better emerges and knocks out those who came before. Doing so is the way it should be because the young must replace the old in order to keep civilization cranking along. Still, it’s distressing to watch, to see champions no longer able to compete. Jumping from film of Arnold Palmer in his dashing prime to a lovely though elderly gentleman swinging at the ball at the Thursday opener tugged at my heartstrings. Nicklaus, for me, was worse, because I watched him contend in the 1990s, and recall with leaking eyes his final round, at the 2005 British Open, when the last golf ball of his professional career curled in for birdie.

There's a great line from the movie On Golden Pond, when Katharine Hepburn explains to a 14-year-old boy the reason her husband, played by Henry Fonda, has shouted at him. "It means he's like an old lion. He has to remind himself that he can still roar." I wish I could see Jack and Arnie roar again. They aren't exactly teetering old men tossing birdseed around in the park, but their roaring days are over. Younger men with better clubs and stronger arms have replaced them. The way it should be, I guess. Still...  

There was a moment on Sunday when I thought Tiger was going to show the new generation what being a champion is all about. He charged on the back nine and made some remarkable shots, one of which curved around a copse of trees to land on the green for an eagle opportunity. A friend dropped by just then, watched Tiger sink that putt, and remarked, “I guess he isn’t washed up yet.” Boy, I hope not. I’m not quite ready for the new guard to sweep the field clean because there’s more to winning than youth and technical skill. Winning is about drive and focus and raw determination. As Jack Nicklaus once said, “Resolve never to quit, never to give up, no matter what the situation.” I’m thinking – and hoping – that a certain Tiger still has a few roars left. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Local Question

If you live in Sherburne and saw the huge bald eagle swoop through town by the Catholic Church today, comment below! He flew right through my front yard and headed south, with crows on his tail.

Friday, April 8, 2011

When Grinding Should Refer To Peppercorns

Spring is here. What that means to many kids and parents is it’s prom time.

My nephew warned me the other day that I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney…To wit: “Back in my day…yada yada yada.” However I can’t help myself on this topic. I have to talk about The Prom in 1973 vs. Prom in 2011.

Thirty-eight years ago I went to my junior prom (we referred to it as THE Prom back then, not simply Prom). I honestly don’t know how the boys felt about this event, but for girls pre-Prom was a highly stressful time. Not getting asked was a big deal, especially if all your friends had already gotten a date. In my case, one of my best friends, Jackie, was all set with her current boyfriend. Another friend, Ann Kathryn, like myself, had not been asked. May 26 was creeping closer. AK and I started to joke around: if we don’t get asked, we’ll go together, ha ha. This was not a real option. This was conversation of the sincerely desperate. While I can’t speak for Ann Kathryn now, I suspect if neither of us had been asked we would have spent the evening draped over the furniture somewhere, drowning our sorrows with diet soda, gasping in sorrow that a hundred teenagers were twirling in long gowns and suits over at the gym while we couldn’t cough up a single boy who wanted to spend ten bucks on a corsage and a few hours in our company.

As it turned out, I was asked first. I heard through the grapevine that a guy named Jim, a senior, was thinking about asking me. For a week I skulked through the halls at school with the dual hope of seeing him and avoiding him. I wanted to go, and I wanted to go with him. But I was terrified. This meant I had to buy a dress and worry about first-date conversation over dinner. Worst of all, I didn’t know how to slow dance. I pondered this dilemma: would I prefer to be grief-stricken about not going, or would I rather go and make a fool of myself? In the end it didn’t matter. On Friday a week before The Prom, Jim caught me after school and asked. Of course I said yes and then dashed off to the ice cream parlor (truly) and shared the exciting news with Jackie. Ann Kathryn’s face went ashen when I told her, but then to all of our great relief (and humor) she was asked not by one, not by two, but by three guys before The Prom arrived. Another close friend, Amy, was also asked. My crowd was complete: we were…worthy.

The weeks before The Prom in 1973 were terrifying and nerve-wracking and wonderful. The Prom itself was great fun. I spent $18 on a floor-length dress, Jim bought me a lovely wrist corsage, and I did not in fact make a fool of myself at dinner or on the dance floor. Our theme, there in the gym, was Dancing in the Moonlight. There was a shiny disco ball hanging from the ceiling and a few teacher chaperones milling around watching. I fussed with my hair ahead of time, donned my under-20-dollar outfit, and we all danced slow, drank punch, and went to a tame after-party. It was a special time, a memory I cherish.

Fast forward to 2011.

A friend told me last week that her daughter, 17, just got her date for Prom. While she hadn’t yet been asked, she bought a dress anyway and told her mom that if she didn’t have a date she’d still attend and hang out with friends. Then a bulb appeared over her head: she texted a boy she knew and asked if he’d like to go. He texted back and said yes. This all happened in about ten minutes over dinner with her mother, the get-together being secured without my friend’s daughter actually seeing her future date face to face. And it got better. The girl’s classmates were then called in to watch a video on Prom. What this video discussed was proper behavior. You will not get drunk. You will not wear a dress with a hem too short. You will not grind.

My eyes, gentle reader, bugged out of my head. You will not grind??  

I am tempted to take to my bed over this. My little mind drifts back to an ice cream parlor in a small town where I slid into a booth and told my best friend I’d been asked to The Prom. I remember our delighted faces. I remember dress shopping and hand-wringing.  I remember Jim’s anxiety about asking. I remember my own angst about being invited. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have attended The Prom without a date, it never even occurred that I should do the asking, and I most certainly did not need a video reminding me “not to grind.”

I don't mean to suggest that “back in my day” things were better, but clearly I’m suggesting they were different. There was an element of delightful anticipation and…okay, I’ll go out there on a limb and say it…wholesomeness that somehow has been lost. I know I sound like my mother, and I’m sure she sounded like her mother, and for some reason that’s now perceived as being a negative thing. I don’t think it is. Old fashioned, maybe, but not negative. Besides, I’m something of a feminist. I expect equal pay for equal work. I want my voice to be heard. I want to be a CEO if my abilities can take me there. But at the same time I want a guy to open a door, because it’s the polite thing to do. I want a guy to chop wood because physically I can’t. I want a guy to lock and load when the lunatic arrives on the front porch. I want a guy to ask me to The Prom, buy me a corsage, and slow dance without the worry of grinding. And I wonder about The Prom, or Prom, or whatever it’ll be called in 40 years. Will there be a video four decades from now telling kids there’s no orgy allowed? Will the video say, in 2051, sorry guys, you can’t come buck-naked to Prom. We have rules!

Am I crazy or are we going down a weird and slippery slope here?
  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Night Owls Unite!

There’s a quiet little war going on out there. It’s between early birds and night owls. For a long time, I think, the early birds have been winning.

For example, if you’re a night owl – and therefore most likely a person who sleeps in (“in” being any time later in the morning than those who rise at the crack of dawn) – has an early bird ever called you and, upon hearing your heavy-eyed voice, said with disbelief, “Are you still asleep?” Right away, the night owl is on the defensive. “Um, yes… I mean no! I’m up! Been up for hours! I just have a, you know, frog in my throat!”

Why, all you night owls out there, are we made to feel guilty by early birds about being asleep at 9 o’clock in the morning?

I, being a night owl, have gotten the “are you still asleep?” phone call more times than I can count, and for years have answered in defense of my perceived slug-a-bed behavior. The fact is that my particular biological clock requires that I sleep nine hours, which means if I get into bed on my usual timetable…twelve or one a.m....I won’t wake up naturally (that is, without an alarm clock) until nine or ten a.m. I find nothing wrong with this schedule because I work from a home office and because…hello!…we have this new-fangled invention called electricity. We humans don’t have to worry about fitting our work into daylight hours anymore, nor do we need to tuck our heads under a wing like chickens and go to bed at sunset. There’s no reason I can see to spring from bed in the year 2011 unless A) getting up at first light matches your biological rhythms; B) there’s a child or job that requires being conscious at sunrise; or C) you have a bellowing herd of cows in need of daybreak milking. If you’re getting up early because doing so makes you feel somehow superior to people who don’t, it may be time to rethink your motives, not to mention your phone etiquette.

Amazingly enough here in the new millennium, in spite of the fact that there’s no earthly reason to wake up at dawn unless you absolutely have to or want to, I’ve been on the receiving end of astoundingly rude remarks when I stumble to the telephone at 9 a.m., such as:

“It’s a good thing you don’t have kids!”
and
Some people have to get up in the morning.”
and
“You’re not out of bed yet!?”
and
“Did I wake you up?”

And, in my opinion, the most ill-mannered of all: “It must be nice!” 

So on behalf of all night owls, I’ve decided to go to ground in this early bird/night owl battle. No longer will I tolerate the nosy and astonished voice at the other end of the phone. I will no longer defend nor lie about the fact that I’m “still” asleep, nor will I be particularly pleasant about a ringing telephone when repeat early bird callers persist. Instead, when Mr. or Ms. Snarky chirps, “It must be nice!” my response will be: “It is. As a matter of fact, it’s very nice. Too bad you haven’t organized your life in such a way that you can sleep in, too.” I might also start making some phone calls of my own, say around midnight. When I hear the groggy voice at the other end of the line, I’ll yelp: “You’re not already asleep are you?”

Join me night owls! Let's shout out that we're mad as hell and won't take this condescending early bird abuse anymore!

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Baby Has Four Legs

Harry is sick. The vet reports it’s kennel cough, essentially a canine cold. My wee dog has been sneezing and snorting since the weekend, and as of Monday was diagnosed with fever. Listless doesn’t seem close to describing his condition. This is a dog who under normal circumstances makes Red Bull tired, springing from room to room, running up and down stairs, terrorizing yard squirrels, barking at passersby, and generally causing a ruckus. For the past six days, when not whining or sleeping, he’s hovered close to me, tail down, glassy-eyed, a look of such pleading on his face to break the heart.

Kids, at least, can tell you what hurts. In spite of the vet’s assurance that my dog is basically healthy but for a touch of fever, I’ve worried myself into distraction. Like Shirley Maclaine in the first scene of Terms of Endearment, I check Harry every few minutes, shaking him awake to be sure he’s breathing. I hand-feed him and encourage water, which he laps without interest, appeasing me. Even the felines, who generally regard this relatively new addition to the household with peevish tail flicks, seem worried. They sniff him and frown at me, glaring accusations. He’s sick. Do something. I bundle him in blankets when he starts to shiver and slip antibiotics down his throat, then google kennel cough and wring my hands when I see words like pneumonia and even, if too serious, death.

When I got sick as a kid, my mother would tuck me into bed and bring me comfort food: ham on buttered toast and hot sweet tea. I can’t do that for Harry, but found myself last night under a blanket on the sofa with Mom’s remedy. I nibbled at my ham on toast and studied him. I sipped tea as he whimpered on my lap. Cats are different somehow. When they get sick they disappear, hiding under beds until they feel better. Harry, my first dog in 30-plus years, sticks close and looks into my eyes. Help me, he seems to say. 

A few weeks ago I had out-of-town company, and every time I sat down a then healthy Harry pestered me at twelve-minute intervals, wanting me to throw his favorite toy, or let him out, or let him in, or begging for a bone. I carped about it, stop bothering me dog! I’m entertaining! This week he lay curled on my lap, and no matter how many times I squeaked Rocky or Squirrelly or Mr. Pig there was no interest. I waved a bone in front of his face and he turned away. Not much of a praying woman, I spoke to “the above” last night. I’ll never complain again, I whispered. Let him be okay.

This morning, I woke up with Harry on a pillow nearby, fully expecting him to be dead. He was not. In fact, a little while ago he bounded down the stairs and barked to go out, in spite of the fact that it’s cold with a threat of snow. And once, while I was in the kitchen, I heard a squeak from another room. Harry appeared seconds later, tail wagging, with Mr. Pig in his mouth. I felt his nose, which for a week has been warm. Cool and moist. Eyes not so glassy, though still imperfect. But getting there.

Now he is feet away, snoozing in his purple sweater. The cats have vanished, going about their business. They sense, like I do, that Harry is in recovery. My hand-wringing has stopped and life is returning to normal. Maybe my little man and I will take a walk later, snow be damned. Of course, he’ll be wearing his winter jacket in spite of the calendar.

As I write this I am patting his head, his breathing even and safe. He is deep asleep, no longer looking at me with desperate brown eyes. Good grief, I wonder. How to people have children?


           

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum