Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Thanksgiving Feast

A lot of people used to knock themselves out trying to have the big Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner. Did you ever think about inviting ALL of your ancestors to dinner? I mean all of them--well, for argument's sake, the ones directly behind you.
First of all, you'd need a lot of chairs. Let's see, two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grands...hmm, geometric progression is a grand thing. I don't think the fire department, funeral parlor and bingo hall all put together have that many folding chairs. If you look it up, by the time you're back to the Middle Ages you've got over a billion people invited.
Uh, wait a minute...there weren't a billion people alive during the Middle Ages. Some of the names on your family tree have to repeat. Does that mean you're...?
Yes. So are all of us. Next time you start to make a joke about somebody's family tree being a pole, remember all of ours are not so awful far back.
Now, as your guests arrive--even if there aren't quite as many as you expected--you have to handle introductions, since some of them are really surprised to see one another. Good thing you put that "no politics" note on your invitation. The things we used to fight about might seem as remote now as...well, as what we're fighting about now may someday if we're lucky. At one time, some of these people were bitter enemies. You, personally, are a living breathing peace treaty.
How DID some of these people meet, anyhow? Let them explain, and realize that some of the stories verge on the ridiculous. They grew up five miles apart, but never met until they both moved to America? She stowed away on his ship? Does that really happen? Any editor worth his salt would be telling you to tone down the wild stories, but there they are, true. You are an improbability.
Look at the others, those who came along even though, in the strictest terms, they weren't invited. They are the brothers and sisters of your grands, great-grands and all the way back, and there are so very many more of them. Why aren't they at someone else's imaginary Thanksgiving dinner? They died without descendants, as infants or children. Yes, there are far more of them than there are of your ancestors. These people who made you are survivors of every kind of accident and disease known to man, not to mention war and forced relocation. They have lived through starvation and plague, shelling and hard winters. They are survivors. You have their strength in your genes.
Now look at the furthest back of those you asked. They are much shall we put this...beige. Everyone is more or less the same shade all that way back. When you boast of being one race or another, remember how recent that development is. Whatever our genes have been reconfigured to do or look like, we all can claim a race: human.
Whether or not you suggest saying grace, some of them will. There might have been some discussion of that, since some of them have ideas about religion that don't match others'. To keep the peace at the table, I can suggest this:
For being who we are, and not who we wish we were, we thank You.
For having what we need, and not always what we want, we thank You.
For giving thanks out loud, without having to hide, we thank You.
For our being unlikely, imperfect, a little strange and a lot entertaining, we thank You, and please have patience with us because we really haven't got it all figured out even after this long. Oh, and the turkey thing? That was a really nice good idea. So were raspberries, autumn leaves changing colors, pumpkins and, most of all, chocolate. Thank You. Is it time to eat yet?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ridiculously easy knitted Christmas ornament pattern

Okay, so I haven't got around to making a separate knitting and crochet blog yet. If you don't do either, pretend you didn't see this.

Ridiculously Easy Ornaments
Copyright 2009 BEcky Morgan. Use as you like, give the ornaments away, sell them or hang them from your earlobes, but don't try to sell the pattern or claim it's yours. Otherwise, we're good.

These are more jackets to go around beat-up ornaments than ornaments themselves, but they're "watching paint dry" easy.
You need:
an old, beat-up round ornament, glass, plastic or Styrofoam; this is a great way to save those satin balls that fell off the tree and were cat toys for a while, or the glass ones that shed most of their lining
a wad of sport or baby yarn a little bigger than a golf ball; sparkly, fuzzy, gold-threaded or otherwise blingy is good
a couple of knitting needles; I started out with size 4
a yarn needle or something else that will work to sew the whole thing around the old ornament

I can't post a picture tonight. What you are knitting is a small piece of what will look like strips of garter stitch with a big row of loose lacy stuff between. It will wrap around the ornament and you'll stitch it shut when you're finished.

Row 1: Cast on 15 stitches. Knit across.
Rows 2 and 3: Slip the first stitch (i.e., don't knit it, just slide it to the unfilled needle) and knit the rest of the stitches. Slipping the first stitch makes the finished piece curve a little better.
Row 4: Slip the first stitch. Knit the next two. On the next two stitches, when you are about to knit them, wrap the yarn around the needle twice. (This is called a double yarn over.) On the next five stitches, wrap the yarn THREE times. On the next two, wrap twice. Knit the last three.
Row 5: Knit the first three stitches. When you come to that double wrap on the fourth stitch, just knit through one wrap and let the other one fall off. That's going to make a big, loose stitch. Do the same thing all the way across, and just knit the last three. I haven't lost my mind, promise.
Rows 6 and 7: Slip the first stitch and knit the rest.
Row 8: Repeat Row 4.
Repeat Rows 5-8 until you have six or eight "lace" panels, depending on the roundness of your ornament. Try stretching it around to see if it fits. The "stripes" will run vertically.
When you have enough panels, knit across twice more, bind off and sew the bind-off row to the cast-on, leaving a tail. Streeeeetch the whole thing over your ornament, use the tail to sew the bottom closed, and either sew the top around the neck of the ornament or stuff a piece of ribbon through the row ends and tie a bow. Repeat until you run out of yarn or crummy-looking ornaments.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hurry Up And Have Fun, #$%^&it!

We finally, FINALLY got up to Altoona and over to East Broad Top for Fall Spectacular, and that wasn't false advertising. Blue skies, crisp but not freezing temperatures, brilliant fall color...
and a busload of jerks. Well, not just the busload; they had about a dozen cars tagging along, too. Mind, these were not elderly people who might have had Alzheimer's or a related dementia that could have explained their behavior. They were just...mean. Middle-aged, most of them women, faces set in permanent pout and glower mode, they seemed to suspect that we were having a good time, and that made them angry. Fortunately, they didn't ruin everything, but they did leave a couple of deep bruises on my shins at the museum.
You think I'm kidding? We stepped up to the L-shaped counter to show our life memberships half a second before the whole tour slammed into the doors. Husband and son shuffled sideways around the corner into the gift shop proper, but I can't move that fast. Before I could react, I was smashed against the counter with a woman my own age kicking me in the shins. "Move. MOVE!@ GET OUT OF THE WAY! Make her move. She's in my way." Someone grabbed my arms and shoved me to the other side of the aisle. Unfortunately, that put me in the way of another plump angry woman. "Get out of the way! Why do they let them in here? Move! Move!" She shoved me into the magazine rack, where an elderly man cracked me across the shins with his cane. I bolted for the door and let the whole rampage storm off, yelling at one another, complaining about the gift shop and screaming that the bus driver was going to leave and Lori was going to have to ride with Sandy but she wasn't putting up with Sandy smoking and...
They had the attention span of fleas, so they were gone in a few minutes and we were able to spend a nice afternoon on the mountain. Finding a hotel wasn't easy, but we got a room, and...oh, garbage, there was the bus and the mob of cars.
I don't know whether there really were fifty of them, or it only seemed that way; there were a couple of husbands, an elderly couple who seemed a little lost in the mass, and a pair of kids who seemed to be taking care of the numerous small dogs the crew had brought along. All of them were going up and down the stairs, apparently full-time, all night, and I was always IN THEIR WAY. They had a lot of fun to have in a hurry, blankety-blank it.
Getting smacked into walls by the human bulldozers wouldn't have been so bad, but we wanted to get an early start in the morning. There aren't a lot of breakfast opportunities between the hotel and Orbisonia. It shouldn't have been a problem, because the cheap chain hotel has coffee, toast and cereal in the lobby. Er, they would have had, but the bus tour got there first. If they were aggressive about the gift shop and the stairwell, you can only imagine what happened when they were hungry and hadn't had any caffeine yet. We escaped with our lives, even if we did have to run across the parking lot with our stuff because they were charging out with theirs and those driving cars were peeling out as soon as they had their own stuff in their rides, not always counting their co-riders and pets. I don't know where they went. I'm just glad it wasn't where we were headed.

After we got home, the hotel's automated survey wanted a million questions answered, most of which amounted to endless rephrasing of "Was the guy at the front desk nice to you?" Yeah, he was, but a lot of the other hotel guests were...okay, here's what they really should have asked:
1. Was there anything we could have done to control the busload of fall foliage tour people?
A. Yes, but it probably wasn't legal.
B. Yes, but the cops can't haul that many angry 50-somethings off at once.
C. No, but being allowed to clobber them with a chair would have been nice.
D. No, and it's a good thing the night clerk had that counter in front of him or they might have eaten him.
2. Look, on a good day our free continental breakfast is two loaves of bread, some Cheerios and a couple of bagels. It's a cheap chain motel. We even sprang for coffee in your room. Did you get anything to eat?
A. Yes, I managed to stick an arm between the two squabbling siblings and grabbed a packet of dry oatmeal.
B. Yes, one of them finally let me have a packet of peanut butter and we had bread in the car.
C. No, when I wandered into the lobby I got knocked into a wall and don't remember anything after that.
D. Have you seen my left arm? I'm afraid it may have been bitten off.
3. Was the noise level bothersome?
A. Only if you don't like living under the center ring at a circus.
B. No, I think people are entitled to have fun on trampolines.
C. My ears are still ringing from the combination of screaming, barking dogs and some movie of the week turned up to Blow Out The TV Speakers.
4. Did you have any problem with the mob of yappy little dogs?
A. Yes, but they were better behaved than their owners.
B. Yes, but I couldn't hear them very much over the other racket.
C. No, the dogs didn't run up the stairs and bowl me over, then complain that I was "on the wrong side".
D. No, and a couple of the dogs tried to come home with us to avoid having to clean up after their owners.
5. How could we make your stay more pleasant in the future?
A. The heck with making them pay extra for the dogs. Let the dogs sleep in the room and send the people out in the parking lot.
B. Make a breakfast announcement at 6:30 AM. Allow the whole mob to stampede downstairs, knock one another around and scour the place for the last Cheerio. As soon as they leave, set out breakfast for the rest of us. Don't worry about the seventeen pots of coffee they drained. I drink decaf. They should.
C. Arm the rest of us with bullhorns and whips.
D. Complimentary tasers and pepper spray.

Should we get to go up that way again, I think I'll ask if we can stay at the museum. It's supposed to be haunted, but the non-physical folks I've run into don't even mind if you use the vending machines.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Baw Haw Haw, how stoopid...uh, how do you do that?

The fruit fly attention span these days is really getting to me. Five years after Hurricane Ivan blew up the Valley, I just lived through another haw-haw-ain't-that-stoopid discussion about hurricane preparedness, delivered by a city guy who figures he'll pull a MacGyver and make everything he needs out of what's handy. We will be tactful and not remind him that he gets hysterics when the copier is out of ink or, worse yet, there are no Fritos in the snack machine. Since this guy won't pay attention to the real lists of emergency supplies, do you think I should give him this one written just for him?

Dear Not So Bright Office Chum,

Fortunately, you are not in charge of emergency preparedness for the company, so the rest of us will more likely than not have what you need should you find yourself stranded at the office. You should, however, take care of your own car safety kit. I would suggest you buy a pre-packaged one, but it's likely to have a lot of stuff in it that you will never in this world figure out how to use. Here's what you may need:

Sharpies: If something big happens and you aren't going to pay attention to public warnings, keep a Sharpie handy to write your name on an arm or leg. Ummmm, maybe both. It makes things easier for rescuers. Hmm. Just in case, keep a large lawn and leaf bag around and crawl into it at least up to your neck.

Peanut butter and crackers and Fresca: If you're going to make fun of the real advice to keep food and water handy, next time you're in an old-school gas station or garage buy a package of peanut butter and crackers from the countertop display. If they haven't spoiled since they were put there in 1952, they're not going to, and unlike a jar of peanut butter, loaf of bread, etc. there's very little chance you'll be tempted to eat them unless you're starving. No offense to those who actually LIKE Fresca, but it would work for your fluid stash for the same reason. You might also like to think about gummi candy shaped like TV characters whose shows were canceled a couple of years ago, cashew packets so old they've sprouted and begun to bear new nuts, the brands of beer no one even bothers to refrigerate, bargain brand plastic snack cakes, or those fake snuff containers full of shredded beef jerky.

Crank or solar flashlights: You're not going to buy batteries, and even if you did, you'd use them for something else beside the flashlight. You probably won't pay attention to where you put the flashlight, either, but hey, I tried.

Midol, Pamprin or some other women's pain reliever: You're never going to leave aspirin, Advil or Tylenol in your first-aid kit, but it's going to take a flaming emergency to get you desperate enough to take any pain reliever in a pink bottle. I also recommend a box of Fluffy Rainbow Pony adhesive bandages because you'll never use those to plaster over where you ran that staple through your finger.

That T-shirt with the embarrassing logo or saying on it: If you carry a regular shirt in your car safety kit, you'll change into it when you have to change a tire. In case of real need, you'll still have the one declaring your loyalty to that politician who went to jail back when, or maybe your support of a sports team that sneaked out of town in the middle of the night. One of those Tyvek painters' coveralls works well, too, because you're not going to grab that when you forgot to do laundry unless you're running to the hardware store to actually buy paint.

One of those cheap multi-tools: You'd probably be afraid to get a fancy one dirty, and odds are you're going to mess it up anyhow, so go for the dollar-store model. Somebody can show you how to use it once you're not laughing at the idea.

Battery-powered tea light: Yeah, the regular kit always says to carry candles, but after seeing you try to stuff 400 pages into a one-inch binder, I don't think you should be handling fire. The tea light won't keep you warm. Neither will that killer fireplace app for your cell phone. No, you cannot download a virtual blanket. Staying warm if it gets cold or you get wet requires an actual blanket or dry piece of clothing. A real candle would be handy for staying warm, but you're apt to get really, REALLY warm. On the other hand, the smoke would attract the rescuers you forgot to call because you were too busy trying to Twitter about the snowstorm you drove into.

Cell phone car charger: I don't know how long your iBerryPod will hold out if you use the whole supply in the car battery, but it ought to be long enough for you to annoy people into coming to get you, provided you don't use most of it to download porn instead.


But seriously, folks, this is a good time of year to look over anything you really do carry in case of emergencies. You never know when you'll get stuck somewhere or get cruddy working on the car. If you do, do you REALLY want to trust to your co-worker trying to make a raft out of copy paper boxes, shipping tape and his shoestrings?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've been digging through the pattern magazines lately, and with half a dozen laid out from six decades, a whole lot of history is splashed across the pages; the 1950 ones are laden with baby stuff, the 1960s are full of space-themed everything, the Seventies are all earth-toned, What's more fun than the patterns or the colors (if an avocado is that sickly shade of green, you shouldn't eat it, and I don't think you should put it on your head, either) are the models' poses.

Never mind the hair and makeup. We can make fun of all of that some other time. I'm talking about the actual poses, since they repeat so much. Pick up any mass-market magazine right now and look at the women: everybody has skinny eyebrows tweezed into a sharp half-circle, and they're all smiling so hard their bleached-bright teeth show all the way to the jawbones. If it's a food ad we're looking at, the models are holding spoons in the vicinity of their mouths, but they're too busy smiling in a sort of rigid, clown-face way to take a bite. That's going to be the face of this decade, like it or not...and when we look back at photos from these years, we won't like it any better than we do some of the other regrettable fashion phases.
I'm not talking about pictures of people being real; I mean exaggerated movie-star glares or profound gazes, usually with a tipped-down chin. There's a shawl I want to make, but the pattern was written about 1952 and the page features a woman snatching the shawl up around her, glowering at the camera in a half-frightened, half-enraged way. I can't help it; it'll forever be the Scared Angry Lady Shawl. She looks as if the photographer has made a grab for her wrap and she's about to shriek "No! It's MINE! I'm telling!"
And how about this collection from the Eighties? All of the guys are vaguely outdoorsy and staring into space, and all of the women are either clutching books to their chests while peeking shyly out from behind big hair, or standing, hands on hips, displaying their "important bow blouses". Blouses are important. They keep you warm in cold offices and keep you from getting arrested in case you're not wearing a bra. However, the bow at the neck didn't make them or their wearers all-powerful. There's another thing: why, through the Eighties and Nineties, did so many models hold one hand up, wrist kinked back, hand bent to a finger-snapping motion? It looked as if they'd been holding up a card and hadn't noticed they'd dropped it.
Maybe that one came back from a brief appearance in the early Sixties, when it seemed to go with the "I'm ever so sophisticated" pose--nose in the air, fingers snapping on one or both hands. Most magazines seemed to favor that one with First Lady white gloves and pillbox hat, but I can't picture Jackie Kennedy being caught dead twisting herself around like that.
Speaking of politicians, my all-time favorite ridiculous pose came in a rash of political ads during the 1990s. For four or five years, every politician had to be pictured striding out of the office, slinging a suit jacket over a shoulder, and pausing for a moment on the steps of the Capitol--or, if need be, some state office building--to squint into the setting sun. It was supposed to convey a long work day, a job well done, and an eye to some distant future. What it looked like was "Oh crud, it's late, I forgot to call home, and now I can't remember where I parked."
Oh, dear, what are we going to do with the late Sixties and early Seventies? A lot of us who were alive then would really, seriously like to Photoshop our high school yearbooks, because the clothes were...that is, the hairstyles were...and the poses...oh, never mind. At least people in magazines were getting paid to look like that. You cannot tell me anyone is really fond of the picture of a girl smiling vaguely at the camera, or more like the general direction where she and the photographer both think the camera might be. She's wearing a hot pink minidress and white fur boots. This makes sense to her. So does the fact that she and the draperies are having a polite conversation.
In a couple of years, the magazines change from neon green and hot pink to brown and beige, harvest wheat and wilted lettuce. The girls have quit bleaching their hair because it isn't natural and the guys have quit shaving. They're leaning on wagon wheels or holding farm tools, the idea being that they've gone back to the land, the problem being that they look as if they have no idea what to do with anything they found there. Apparently, they were planting the seeds for the Eighties bow blouse harvest.
There was a brief burst of really bad modeling copied from porn ads, in which all the women are pouting about everything from undergarments to floor wax. Some actress must have made that look sultry and tempting, but by the time it ran through a few layers it just looked as if the photographer had threatened to slug the model and she was caught in the middle of saying "Oh, yeah, bub? How'd you like a swift kick?" Speaking of the adult entertainment trade, there was a billboard around here for a gentlemen's club (I doubt most of the customers were gentlemanly.) The picture was one of the dancers lying on her side on the floor, one knee drawn up, hand clapped to her forehead. It was supposed to look like the throes of negotiable passion. What it looked like to nearly everybody was "OW! I went down that whole flight of stairs on these blankety-blank six-inch heels and I got such a splittin' headache!"
Ah, yes, back to this year's magazines. Sooner or later, somebody will figure that the giant super-white teeth in the smile that never reaches the eyes are not quite natural, and some photographer will get so daring that he encourages a model to take an actual bite of the strawberry she's been holding at arm's length for an hour. (That'll be her entire calorie allowance for the day, but that's modeling for you.) Pretty soon, thanks to the unimaginative nature of Madison Avenue, all of the models will be eating in pictures, so the next photographer will have to think of another idea everyone will copy. Maybe he'll pick an ordinary person and take a picture of them doing what they really do every day...
Nah, never happen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Apocalypse, Like, Whenever

The other night, commercials for post-disaster movies were interrupting our golf watching, and we realized we weren't sure which movie to be mad at. When we thought about it, there were at least two,maybe three, or was it four? They all looked alike. Stuff was blowing up at random, a sweaty-faced scowling hero was barking at a bad guy, and people were getting shot and flying around from the aforementioned explosions. Wouldn't it be cheaper to re-cook the old disaster movies instead of...oh, wait, they're already doing that.
Maybe it's a testosterone thing, but I don't get a lot of the movies. Think back to the last one you came across. Let's go with the standard assumption that 99.9% of the earth's people are dead/have disappeared/are some kind of weird mutant thingie, but all their stuff has been left, if not intact, lying around:
1. Our hero is always a male, indeterminate young-adult age, brilliant at improvising. However...all the Stuff is still lying around. Why does he have to make his own gun and shells? You'd think he could take his pick of whatever's left.
2. This brings me to his clothing. Guy Hero could five-finger discount any wardrobe he wanted, but he's always staggering around in a dirty, usually torn, shirt or a leather vest that never gets damaged even if the shirt under it disintegrates. Here's another thing: bust a belt loop on a real guy's jeans, and they start falling down. When our jeans rip, the seat comes out. Guy Hero's skin-tight jeans never come off, no matter how badly they tear, and the only rips are on the thighs, not on the hiney or anywhere else embarrassing.
Meanwhile, Love Interest always manages to stumble all around Apocalypse World in a short, skin-tight, badly torn dress and heels. Are you telling me common sense never gets her to walk into the busted-up mall and pick up some jeans and a pair of hiking boots for climbing over the piles of metal debris?
3. How about Love Interest, anyhow? Her job is to stand around, scream in the right places, and look impressed by Guy Hero's inventions and combat skills. How come she never DOES anything? A few movies have Love Interest be a brainiac of some kind, but always in some scientific field rendered all but useless in Apocalypse, Like, Whenever, so the brainy blonde with the huge gazongas gets to stand around and...(Oh, wait a minute, it's a guy movie. Never mind.)
4. This is a family column, so we'll leave out the obvious, but how come NO ONE EVER TAKES A BATH? I don't care if he's the last man on earth. Sooner or later, Guy Hero is going to stink and even Love Interest will start gagging. Guy can build a nuclear reactor out of tweezers, a Band-Aid and his own chest hair. Are you telling me he can't figure out how to pick up some soap and climb in the river?
5. It can be gruesomely hot and dry, or gruesomely hot and pouring rain, but it can't be cold or snowy after the earthquake/asteroid/virus/volcano/nuclear war. Apparently, the entire world is, and has always been, a desert. I guess the torn jeans and leather vest over bare chest are too important for cold weather. Anyway, Guy Hero is too busy trying to rig a computer out of the wiring from an Edsel to walk into the ruins of an outdoor store to pick up a parka. (Or, for that matter, to walk over to the computer store and pick up a laptop, then salvage a few dozen car batteries from the parking lot by way of power.)
6. Oh, come he can never find a windmill generator, hydro plant or solar rack to power his gizmos? They wouldn't stop just because people did. Shoot, if he could find an abandoned off-grid house he'd be in great shape. Nah, it's more fun to sleep out in the open beside a deserted highway within sight of eight bazillion hotels with actual beds.
7. Eating rattlesnakes makes a guy look really tough. It would also be (a) boring if you did that very often and (b) hard on the rattlesnake population. The canned stuff in supermarkets would hold out for a long time, even if I might start eating rattlesnakes after a week or so were the alternative endless cans of Spaghetti-Twirlies.
8. The bad guys are supposed to be geniuses, but they never think of clothing, showers or housing, either. They're too busy cruising around in their Mega-Giant Machine O' Death, which never runs out of fuel.
9. Oh, yeah, the motorcycle. Guy Hero HAS to have a really great bike. After a couple of cross-country runs, wouldn't you be tempted to drive a car? I mean, Harleys are great, but not so much in pouring rain or for those thousand-mile runs across the inevitable desert. Come on, the parking lots would be full of sweet Mustangs and '57 Chevies. Air conditioning, cruise control, a stereo...Guy Hero could always rig a gas pump to work somehow. For that matter, why doesn't he use a Hummer? Or, when the bad guys show up in their techno-truck, a tank? It would save a lot of those tedious conversations:
"You see, Guy, we have a giant laser, with which we propose to--"
10. After the bad guys have been conquered and the desert is safe for what's left of humanity, Guy Hero and Love Interest always look off into the distance vaguely and ride off together toward, umm, more desert somewhere else. At no point do they find a nice abandoned mansion, rig the power and water, haul out the stock of sports videos and lie around in the den vegging out. How, in all his brilliance, can Guy Hero not figure out how to make beer?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Old Gray Hair, She Ain't What She Used To Be

The gray started when I was fourteen, with a pale skunk stripe along the part at the top. From there it wandered down the sides, sucking the color out of my temples before I was twenty and all of it before I was thirty. At first, it wasn't too annoying to dye out the evidence, but as life got busier it became a hassle. When we had our son, I wasn't allowed to dye it because exposure to hair dye (and a million other commonplace items) caused my doctor to go into hysterics. Thus began my real education.
First of all, no one believed I was pregnant, including one labor and delivery nurse who came in, looked at me, went back out in the hall and announced--very loudly, on the assumption that I was deaf--"She says she's having a baby, but she's, like, too old to be pregnant and stuff!" She was really surprised to find a baby and stuff in the room later.
Over the next twenty years, as my face started catching up to the hair, I found out that gray hair means getting shouted at a lot. I SAID, HAVING GRAY HAIR GETS YOU SHOUTED AT. It also makes...people...speak...very...slowly...and...use...little...words, as if your brain bleached with your hair.
If you know you'll need to go to the hospital, for goodness' sake dye your hair beforehand. It shouldn't make a difference in the care you get, but it does. The same thing goes for car repair places. For that matter, most businesses have the same problem: if you're gray, the staff will discuss you in the third person when they're standing three feet away, and when they do address you it will be loud and vague: "Don't worry about that, honey.--I don't know what they did with her car, and she's been here for hours. Shouldn't somebody come in and get her?"
It's not just me. Dale Jarrett, who had a long and successful NASCAR career as a sort-of redhead, went gray back in 2001. He was shocked at how fast people started asking him when he was going to retire and offering him the senior discount on everything--and he was in his early forties. Men in suit-wearing cubicle jobs have, if anything, a worse time than women because they need some gray for credibility but not too much or they'll get axed in favor of somebody younger. ESPN sometimes seems like one long commercial for stuff that will freeze a man's hair age at 35. (Okay, that and the stuff that is supposed to prevent guys from running to the john every five minutes. That's nature's revenge for when the guys were in their twenties, their wives were pregnant, and the guys made fun of them for having to go all the time.)
If you're gray and fiftyish, and you've been meaning to tint yourself but haven't gotten around to it, want some real fun? Go into a business before you dye and look at something you're thinking about buying eventually. For maximum entertainment value, make it a high-tech gadget. Once you're back to whatever color you have now declared natural, go back to the same place, dressed about the same way, and look at the same merchandise. On my first visit, I had a cell phone salesman shout at me about how simple the phone was to use. On my second, he pointed out all the fancy features, then looked at me oddly and said "Wasn't your mom in here the other day?" No, but if she was you'd have heard about your attitude.
Picking out the dye is always another problem. I bought some root touch-up last month that was supposed to match any medium brown. It looked pretty good to start with, but when I went out in the rain, all the dark brown washed out right away, leaving the whole top of my head fire-engine red. The company wasn't sure why that had happened, but cautioned me not to dye over it in case something even weirder happened, so it's been an, er, interesting month. As if interesting results weren't enough, you have to sort through color names that sound more like a coffeehouse menu: Espresso; Cappucino; Hazelnut; Cinnamon Cream. Guys' hair dyes come in Blonde, Light Brown, Medium Brown, Dark Brown, Red and Black. Ours apparently come in regular, decaf, and latte.
Well, sitting here writing isn't getting the chore done. It's time to curl up and dye. Mind, I like the way Hazelnut looks. It actually makes me feel younger. It won't take more than half an hour or so to get the job done. But is it fair that what I'm looking forward to most is NOT GETTING SHOUTED AT?
(sigh) Till next week...

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Art of the Baseball Fight

The current international situation makes me think, for the umpteenth time, that what the country and the entire world needs is a much larger dose of baseball. Specifically, we all need to learn, or relearn, the Art of the Baseball Fight.
No, seriously. Watch a hockey game, and if a fight doesn't break out, everybody is vaguely disappointed. Watch a football game, and the whole point of playing is hitting each other, and a lot of the sponsors are bandage companies, painkillers and hospitals. Baseball...when somebody gets hurt in a baseball fight, it's News.
The proper baseball fight begins when somebody gets hit by a pitch. This may or may not be accidental, but the offended party will always assume the worst. While this seems contradictory to the idea of world peace, it establishes precedent: "Hey, we ain't taking none of that!" (Adjectives and spare nouns are optional here, of course.) However, the perceived victim has a very important duty: he puts down the bat he is holding. He does not whack the pitcher with it, chuck it at his head, or turn around and belt the umpire. He does not run toward the mound if he knows what's good for him, either; that's called charging the mound, and you can get unscheduled vacation days for that. No, the technique is to wander in the direction of first base, shouting comments all the way, until the pitcher comes down to discuss the matter.
Now, this is the point where hockey or the United Nations allow punches to start flying, but baseball is another matter. There is an art, as if both sides were about to be awarded style points. It's perfectly acceptable for the warring parties to grab each other by the shirt and shout. Flailing, and often deliberately ineffectual, punches are okay, since at this point both are going to get thrown out of the game anyway; only actually hitting the other guy will get a suspension or a huge fine. Next, the catcher must rush up and attempt to pry the pitcher away from the batter, and somebody has to come out and grab the batter, too--it really should be someone from his own team, preferably one of the coaches, and there needs to be an enormous show of dragging the combatants apart as if they both had the strength of bull elephants. Grabbing the guy from the other team--well, it happens, but there go the style points. If honor has not yet been satisfied, it's time for the mother of all You Tube-able baseball tantrums: the Bench-Clearing Brawl.
If you are a fan of another sport and see a baseball "brawl", you may be confused. Yes, everyone does run out of the dugouts, screaming bloody murder. However, no one actually punches anyone else. There is a great flurry of shirt-grabbing and yelling. There is a great deal of pointing, even if no one is sure what he is pointing at. There's a lot of genealogy involved; at least, there's a lot of speculation about everyone else's ancestors, personal habits and eternal destination. For some reason, and not even those of us who have been *in* the brawls can explain, it is necessary to throw down hats and, if the opportunity arises, stomp on the other guy's. (On one occasion several decades ago, a Cincinnati Red took a large bite out of someone else's hat, then a bite out of someone else's armpit. That would seem to be a little over the line.) You will also see some of the players, generally either the cooler heads or those who can't afford to get thrown out, standing off to the side in pairs, one from each team, arms folded, solemnly discussing the matter at hand and nodding in agreement. Sometimes they're talking about what started the fight, sometimes they're discussing the umpires, and most often they're doing play by play on the action: "Huh. He calls that an insult? Do you remember when we got in a fight and you called me a..."
Meanwhile, the umpires will descend on the pack, roaring orders to knock it off, and the fight will dissolve as fast as it formed. The guys who started the fight will get thrown out of the game, and they'll toss a few insults at each other as they leave. Their replacements will take the field, and the game will go on, just like that. No, really: everybody was mad, everyone got to yell and cuss, the whole world knows A WOULD have punched out B if it wasn't for the umpire and all, and B WASN'T afraid of A and would have slugged him back, yeah, twice as hard, and so they don't need to. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, what you won't see is anybody needing so much as a Band-Aid.
Think about it: the very point of baseball is that a guy chucks something hard as a rock and eminently throwable in the direction of a guy holding a big stick, or a big hunk of aluminum. The materials for real mayhem are always close at hand--are always, for that matter, IN someone's hands, and there are plenty more in the dugouts. An armed society is, in this instance, a very polite society, even if the language isn't. Most of the injuries in baseball fights are accidental: somebody gets poked in the eye while someone else is pointing and yelling in another direction, someone trips and falls, or someone who falls down gets stepped on. Postgame celebration pileups probably cause more injuries than the fights do. By common and unspoken agreement, a baseball fight always looks as if there should be body parts strewn around, but no one loses so much as an eyelash.
I remember getting in trouble as a little kid because I copied Nikita Khruschev, the Russian prime minister who took his shoe off at a state dinner and banged it on the table while he was yelling at our side. He didn't actually hit anyone with the shoe, and neither of us fired any nukes at the other. Yelling, I gathered even at that age, is almost as satisfying as hitting and way less painful. We're now having problems with countries who think they should fire their nukes without thinking about the consequences. There's no line to them, no notion of what will happen tomorrow if they do that today; they just want to grab a bat as they leave the dugout, and they haven't thought through the idea that the other side is equally armed and may start bashing back.
Maybe what the world needs now isn't love, sweet needs more baseball fights.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Free Rocks

All right, we've all had it. An inch and three-quarters of rain should not flood the road, or our gardens, or make off with my impatiens we had just planted, and it certainly shouldn't make off with Linda's footbridge. (It could have made off with Linda, too, but she's OK.)

The problem is that back after Hurricane Ivan, some out of town, and mostly out of state, People Who Claimed To Know Better had a whole bunch of loose rock and dirt dumped along the edges of three or four local creeks. Now, I don't argue that the rock is pretty, white limestone (except for the shale that LOOKED like limestone, most of which has already fallen apart into mud.) The problem is that the engineers who decided how big their riprap should be had no idea of what water can throw around.

Our local creek had a bunch of water to get rid of in January 2005 when an unnamed late-season tropical storm paid a visit. In the process, it picked up the loose small rocks and piled them in the first available low spot...which made a dam across the creek. Now, whenever it rains a fairly normal amount, we get water in places it should never go, and that's aggravating, to put it mildly. I don't blame the rain. It's just trying to get through the hydrologic cycle and all that, and it needs to get to the river from the hilltop. Since it doesn't have a creek bed to use any more, it uses our yards and the middle of the road. That's bad for our nerves, the lawns, the landscaping and my neighbor's swimming pools.

People along the other creeks are every bit as unnerved, annoyed, aggravated and a bunch of other less pleasant words. Over the past four years and change, we've all been trying to get the powers that be to come back and get all their pretty white rocks that are in the wrong place. They've had every excuse you can imagine, ranging from "Those aren't our rocks" to "You don't know where the creek is supposed to be" to "That would be dredging, and dredging is a bad word." First of all, those WERE their rocks. Second, most of us have been here for fifty years and more, and we DO know where the creek is supposed to be, and we have the pictures to prove it. Third, it isn't dredging if you pick up what you dropped, any more than you're scraping up the highway when you pick up litter. The arguments start to sound like the stuff we did when we were little kids: "I don't know whose shoes those are that look exactly like mine, or how they got up on the roof, but somebody else is going to have to take them blame for them falling off and hitting Dad on the head."

The only leeway we have, since we can't use machinery to put back the creek bed, is that we, or anyone else who cares to, are allowed to pick up rocks from the stream by hand and do whatever we, or anyone else, want with them as long as we don't leave them in the flood plain.
They might make interesting novelty items to sell if it weren't for the postage, but using them for pet rocks is about like growing giant sequoias in planters on your patio. There's also the matter of postal employees with hernias from trying to deliver them, so that's probably out. It looks like there are enough of them for, oh, maybe a small castle, if any of us had the right piece of land for it and were expecting a Saxon invasion. We could build flower beds, but we'd have to have room for maybe 27, 841 of them.

We wouldn't want to encourage anyone to pick up heavy objects and hurt themselves, mind you. Rocks can be slippery, even when the water is low, and some vehicles aren't made to haul a lot of extra weight or whatever, so gee whiz, don't do anything that might get you hurt. However, if we come out some morning and find that person or persons unknown have made off with several semi trailer loads of limestone, I doubt any of us would call the authorities, especially the authorities that dumped all that stuff here. The sudden appearance of multiple porchposts, flowerbeds, patios, rock gardens, building foundations, stone houses, freshly ballasted railroad lines or full-scale replicas of the Great Wall of China will be taken as nothing more than strange coincidences. Just don't let us hear any heavy equipment running, and don't claim we told you to do anything dangerous.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sorry, I'm Not Dead Yet

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"--Mark Twain

A couple of years ago, one of my retired coal miner friends was in a restaurant upriver and chanced to mention that he needed to get hold of me and get another copy of my book. The grouchy older man in the next booth turned around. "You can't," he said. "She got divorced and moved away a long time ago."

My friend was a little startled by that, but not nearly as much as he was when he was in the same restaurant the next day and the same guy (who hung out there almost 24/7) yelled "You can't! She's DEAD!"Fortunately, Dan decided to call and see who answered the phone, so he
figured out that Mr. Hangout was telling whoppers, but it hadn't stopped there. Over the next few months, an old friend didn't send a Christmas card, and when I ran into her, seemed really startled. Someone had sent her an obituary with my name on it. My editor thought I was dead, but couldn't remember who had told her so. The best one was a woman who mistook me for my cousin and asked how my husband was doing since he was a widower...and whether he was dating yet. I had to go around all that spring scaring people out of nine years' growth because Mr. Hangout was so busy with his wishful thinking.

After the initial surprise, I took to asking people what they'd heard happened to me. You know, you kind of expect to hear you shuffled off your mortal coil from some regular middle-aged disease or a run of the mill accident. Hoo boy, if I had the kind of life in the stories Mr.
Hangout told, I'd never run out of short story material! The first part of it never varied: I had dumped my husband and kid and run away first it was a little town near here, then it was
Chicago, and eventually it was New Orleans. I got into all kinds of wild adventures, then got killed driving drunk in Hurricane....errrr...Ivan, or maybe it was Katrina, yeah, Katrina, and it happened because I was not only drunk but trying to rescue the contents of my business, which
was...uh, this is a family-type column, and we won't go into that (and I most likely wouldn't have gone into a business like that.)

The details varied, but all of the stories were a heck of a lot more interesting than the truth. Now and then, some of those stories sound like brief and wicked fun. Just think about barreling around the midnight city in a muscle car, wearing one of those outfits Elvira, Mistress of the Dark looks so good in. The rest of the stories always sounded cribbed from a soap opera, the kind where people get married every five minutes, run off to Europe with no apparent qualms about who is feeding their cats, and never have to stand in line at the airport arguing about whether a crochet hook is a deadly weapon. It was even a little flattering to think I could have made
money...errr...doing what he claimed I'd been doing.

But you know what? I'll take real life for as long as I get it. For those who haven't checked in on his column since we used to print the dead tree edition every Tuesday, I still live in the same place with most of the same neighbors, still have the same husband (the only one, 26 years and counting), still have the same offspring, even if he is a teenager now, and still definitely do NOT have the body for those Elvira dresses.

Good Lord willing and the creek doesn't rise (and if you know where we live, you know why we take that literally) I'll check in here every week with my usual train of thought, way off the rails, and I promise not to run off to Chicago with a traveling salesman.