Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Some reflections on the turning of the calendar

I hate when the snow melts in the middle of winter. Not only does it remind me of all the yard work we didn't get to last fall (oh, those slimy piles of leaves, the twigs and branches scattered by the winds of November), it's just plain weird. Snow is supposed to pile up from Christmas through January, spend a couple days melting (our classic "January Thaw") but never enough to take it all out. There may be some thin brown spots around some trees, or where the late December blizzards blew the snow cover thin, but mostly enough sticks around so I can pretend the world is still beautiful, still the way I imagine it to be underneath that white blanket. While the neighborhood we live in is nice, there are some areas of Taxville that, well let's just say that a blanket of snow improves their property values. I don't have to see the piles of crap in the Junkman's lawn, I don't have to see the cars up on blocks, the falling-down outbuildings. I can imagine that the barn with the ratty, moss-covered roof and the caved in side is something out of an Impressionist painting. Not that I'm a snob or anything. I could care less what people do or have on their little acres. Much as I don't want them judging mine. I'm sure there are people who shake their heads when they drive by and see that while I know the word "gardening," I'm loathe to practice it. It's just that aesthetically, snow is the rising tide that lifts all boats. A good coating makes us all equal, or as my little Polish grandmother used to say, "covers a multitude of sins."

At least until the rains come.

The world has gotten confused, I fear. In spots I can smell the earth. In spots, the grass is getting too green. No! I want to wave my arms at the earth. We're not ready! You're only going to back into the deep freeze and ice of February and your efforts will be in vain, your tiny shoots will only have just awoken and rubbed their eyes when they will be wiped out by the cold. I'm reminded of ancient Pompeii, where they told us in school that fossils were found showing Etna blew so quickly that dinners were still on the table, families still in their seats.

The squirrels aren't fooled, though. I see them scurrying about, checking their stores of nuts at the bases of the trees, knowing there's still more to come, that the season hasn't given up on us yet, there's still enough room for a little more geographic equality before the final thaw.

At least February, if not the cruelest month, is the shortest. I propose adding the equivalent of April Fool's day to February. By this time of winter, with the gloom and gray and shortened days wearing down our spirits, and even the Groundhog heading back into his den, we could all use a few good jokes.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Brief Football Tutorial for Women; or, how to impress guys during the Superbowl

Ladies, if you are like most American women, you could give a damn about football. You think it’s a pointless, barbaric sport and at game time your significant other is a chip-chomping zombie on the couch and you’d much rather be at the mall. Or, if you agree to go to whatever Superbowl party you’ve been invited to, you shrug, say you don’t understand football, and retreat into the kitchen with the other women to check on the nachos and drink margaritas.

Yes, you could continue like this. Or, if you’re interested in “Opus’s Cliff notes on football and how to look impressive in the eyes of men,” then keep reading. Otherwise, I’ll meet you at the mall later. We’ll get our nails done then try on shoes.

I warn you now, throwing out a few “GO, GO, GO”s when one of the guys has the ball and is running really fast isn’t going to cut it. Men will think you’re cute if you comment on which team has the more attractive uniform, but it’s not going to earn their respect or that prime couch position you’ve had your eye on since the opening kickoff.

First, a quick update on what we’re dealing with:

Usually the Superbowl game itself is duller than listening to Howard Cosell read the Iliad. It tends to be a one-sided yawn-fest because all through the playoffs there is usually one clear outstanding team, just waiting for the final dance. This year, it was the playoffs that were the disappointment. Two of the best teams in the NFL had very, very bad days. And now, because with two more evenly-matched teams going head-to-head, the attention is going to be on the game, and not just the commercials and the food.

Here are some basic facts about the match-up next Sunday:

• The Pittsburgh Steelers (in yellow (they call it gold) and black, from the AFC North Division) will be playing the Seattle Seahawks (in charcoal gray (for some reason they call it Royal Blue) and black, from the NFC West Division)
• Seattle did pretty well this year (13-3) and never lost at home, but Pittsburgh is the lowest-seeded team (rated at #6, and went 11-5 this year) to have ever made it to the Superbowl.
• Both teams have their own “sympathy” factors (eg: reasons to root for one team or another) Jerome Bettis of the Steelers, a potential Hall-of-Famer (Call him “The Bus” and sound really impressive), who is probably retiring this season, has his first and probably last chance for a Superbowl ring in his career. And this is Seattle’s first trip to the big show. Points for being the underdog.
• The “eyeball” factor (how many people the network expects to be watching) is about equal for both teams. In other words, the media doesn’t really care as much about this game as, say, if the teams were from larger cities or had greater followings or were more controversial. So the commercials might not be that great either. (Except for the MasterCard Debit Card commercial: keep a look out for this one) But in general, this is another reason why you should know something about the game.

For those of you who don’t know anything about how football works, here are the basics:

1. The game is played on a 100-yard rectangular field. If you’ve ever jogged on your local high school or college track, then it’s a little less than the distance from end-to-end. Doesn’t seem like a whole lot to run, but try doing it really, really fast wearing cleats and five pounds of helmet and full padding while a pack of ginormous, sweaty guys are trying to catch you and make you eat dirt. Unless you like that sort of thing. But there are other web sites for that.

2. The overall objective of the game is, after four 15-minute quarters and as many quarters of overtime as it takes (or two, in regular season play) to score more points than the other team. Note: overtime requires lots more beer on the part of the spectators. If you are hosting the party, try to anticipate this need.

3. During their turn with the ball, each team gets, at minimum, four tries (called “downs”) to try to reach their opponent’s goal line. They do this by passing or running the ball down the field, gaining as many yards as they can before they are tackled by the other team’s defense (see “eating dirt, point #1), forced to run out of bounds, or have the ball stripped away from them by the other team. If they gain enough yardage during a drive, they are granted “first down” which means that they get a whole new set of downs in order to move the ball and try to score. On TV, they put in a handy electronic orange line to show you how many yards the team needs to move the ball in order to get a first down. It would be very, very cool to have a device like this in real life (think how handy it would be for dating and finding a parking space), but unfortunately, like instant holes, it only exists on TV.

4. To score, the offensive squad of the team with possession of the ball can run the ball into the end zone, catch the ball in the end zone (both of these are called a touchdown), or kicking the ball through the upright posts at the end of the field (this is called a field goal). After a touchdown, the player who made the touchdown often does a little “in your face” dance. While this may be entertaining to watch, there are no extra points awarded for form or creativity, although sometimes if he is too creative, the NFL may decide to fine him. Nudity is especially frowned upon.

5. When the team doesn’t get a touchdown or a field goal after using up their four downs, (If they use them up consecutively without gaining at least 10 yards, it’s called “four and out.” This is where you roll your eyes and ask a guy to get you a beer) then the other team gets possession of the ball.

There are LOTS more rules, but basically this is all you need to get started. If you’re interested in things like quarterback blitzes and what a cornerback does and what’s it mean when the ref circles his hands round each other like he’s playing Jon Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” (it means “false start,” by the way), the full rules are at http://www.football.com/rulesandinfo.shtml and you can study your little heart out. (Yes, this may sound un-feminist, but most men are still awed by women who know football. Extra points for questioning the ref’s calls, high-fiving and drinking beer out of the bottle)

But if after this you still don’t give a damn about the game, but plan to go to a party anyway, there are other things to look forward to. The commercials should be pretty good. And Mick Jagger is performing at the halftime show. Enough said. Maybe there will be another wardrobe malfunction.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Search Engine That Couldn't

Early in my attempts to find work after I was last separated from my paycheck, I posted my resume on a local employment web site and clicked a little box that offered to send me e-mail alerts IMMEDIATELY should any suitable jobs be posted. How nice of them, I thought. How considerate of my time. How special I felt, that they would send me compatible openings AS SOON AS THEY BECAME AVAILABLE! Not only did I click this little box, but to make these searches more tailored to my needs, they wrote, I could enter a number of keywords at the requested places, listing titles of jobs I was interested in, skills I could provide, and keywords I did NOT want to see.

For a little background (for those of you who aren’t familiar with what the books call my “skill set” (sounds like I come equipped with my own selection of power tools)) I was a project manager in marketing communications for the last eight years. I do desktop publishing, web design (front end only) and editing. I know the standard desktop-publishers set of software – Quark, Illustrator, Photoshop, Word, Excel, Dreamweaver and enough Access and HTML to be dangerous. I do graphic design for print; I write and proofread and edit. I put all of these things in the little boxes. I also indicated that I did not want to be considered for an entry-level position.

So, to date, here’s what I’ve been offered (the MINUTE they became available!)

• Truck driver
• Visual Basic Application Programmer
• Entry-Level Java Software Developer
• Insurance Claim Examiner
• Restaurant Manager
• Clinical Research Manager for a pharmaceutical firm

The truck driver one looks kind of interesting. Except all I can think about is that Harry Chapin song, “30,000 pounds of bananas” about a truck driver whose brakes fail and he spills his cargo and slides all the way into Scranton, PA. If I was interested in losing the rest of my eyesight and developing permanent spinal deformities, I could give the programmer positions a try. And wouldn’t I like a crack at insurance claims! MRIs for everyone!!! Everyone would get approved!! I think I might last a few weeks, though, before they’d catch onto me. I’d be pretty bad at restaurants – one sexist comment and some customer might be wearing his dinner. Plus I’d have to be on my feet all night. (I don’t remember “works standing” to be one of the skill sets I checked off) And hey, I could be qualified for the pharmaceutical firm. I’ve certainly tested enough medications over the last year. But maybe they don’t want me at the helm.

Then they sent me another e-mail. The subject line was: “Is your resume being overlooked?”

Yes, I thought. BY YOU!!!! It offered me a chance, for only $9.95, to become a “featured job seeker!” so my resume will be stuck right under the noses of the biggest decision-makers in the area!

I had a feeling that the key to better success was to throw some money at them. Just like the rest of the world. But maybe I’ll just go back to the original keywords. Maybe if I enter the OPPOSITE of what I want, I might actually get something I’m qualified for. It’s worth a shot!

(Note from Opus: Fiction Friday will resume next week...had to get this off my bill first)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meditations For Women Who Think Too Much, part 1

Stuck among the other things in one of the boxes that came back from my office was a tiny, tastefully-designed book, “Meditations For Women Who Do Too Much.” It was never my book; I’m not sure how it made it into my stuff, (a coincidental mistake or something watching over my shoulder?) but as soon as I opened it and read that day’s entry I knew that someone had written it for recovering Wonder Women like me.

But they didn’t go far enough. With my current to-do list consisting of fascinating items like “make appointment with doctor” and “cruise web for jobs that potentially might not suck and don’t require heavy lifting or an hour commute,” the problem is now a matter of thinking too much. Does that pain in my knee mean that I walked too far yesterday? The ache in my back from breaking in my new sneakers or should I call the physical therapist? What is the meaning of life, anyway? If I ate a different ratio of protein to carbohydrates earlier in the evening would I sleep better? What if I can’t fall asleep tonight? What if I never sleep again? Do electric heating pads cause cancer? What if no one will ever hire me? What if they do? What did it mean when my physical therapist asked when my next appointment with the neurosurgeon was? Was this so he’d be sure to have his report done in time or is there something seriously wrong with me that I should have checked out by a specialist?

And it’s only 10:49 in the morning. I could go on like this all day. And have.

So maybe one of those tastefully-designed little books with inspirational quotes and heart-soothing homilies could do the trick. Here’s a sample entry:


January 24, 2006


“I don't really think about anything too much. I live in the present. I move on. I don't think about what happened yesterday. If I think too much, it kind of freaks me out.”

--Pamela Anderson

It has been shown that thinking too much can actually kill brain cells, cause cellulite and Keanu Reeves movies. Therefore thinking lightly, staying in the present so you don’t miss one ounce of life going on around you, is really the most effective and healthful way to pass the time between sit-com offers and bikini fittings, or while the peroxide is marinating into your scalp.

Don’t worry, be Pammy.


I don't know, but for us ladies who are recovering from life, this could just be an idea whose time has come.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fun with magnetic poetry

Many months ago, at the nadir of my recovery when I couldn't do much writing, my friend "Gladys" brought me a gift of a refrigerator magnet of the cartoon character Maxine plus a boatload of magnetized words you could have her "say." At one time I had running up and down the fridge random groups of words that either amused me or I thought would make interesting short story titles. (MEP, I think you helped with some of these). I wrote them all down in my journal so I could mix the words up and play again. Just found the journal entry today. Call it my creative gift to you. Use them to go write something, stuff fortune cookies, amuse your friends, or just go watch football and the hell with it. Your choice.

Lottery Hurry
Touch Maxine
Know Life
Remote Road
Somebody Stop Me
Those Who Annoy
Funny Boobs
Phone Sag
Ask About Our Old Hips
Been There, Do Them
Lost An Age
His Was Tiny
Nice Insult
Throw Behind Us
Are Not
Worst Beach
Best Dream
Dirt Control
Wimp Ahead
Crazy Birthday
Look For Floyd
Slow People
Sore Loser
New Gripe
Small Men
What State Are We In
Jerk Of The Year
Just Smell Here
Someplace Without Man
Drive Like Their Kid
Leave Well
No Lady
Boring Little Hot Flash
Look Under Him
Be Mine Or Else
Lottery Moon
To Hell With Getting Old
Damned Far Away

Saturday, January 21, 2006

If I was that smart I'd be rich

For those of you who don’t live in Eastern New York, Alan Chartock is the President and CEO of WAMC, our local NPR affiliate. I’m a huge fan of WAMC, don’t know what I’d do without Garrison Keillor and All Things Considered, but Chartock is one of the few things I don’t like about the station. He’s most impressed with himself, has an annoying voice, and from the number of programs he either hosts or participates in, loves to hear the sound of it.

Say what you want about him, but he’s either a marketing genius or he’s sold his soul to the devil.

I don’t know how he and his team does it, but for the last few years, every fund drive the station holds just happens to coincide with some event guaranteed to galvanize every liberal with a checkbook 100 miles outside of the sound of that whiny, wheedling voice.

When Mario Cuomo, beloved 4-term democratic governor of New York (beloved toward the end only, I believe, out of nostalgia and for his impassioned oratory for The Way Things Should Be, for at the time the state’s financial system was going down in flames), lost to Republican challenger George Pataki, it just happened to be right before a fund drive. Pledges in Cuomo’s honor rained, no, poured upon the station, coupled with fears Chartock whipped up that now with a Republican at the helm, the enemy would soon be at the gate to cut their funding. Volunteers could barely keep up with the callers, and it was one of the fastest fund drives in the station’s history.

When Paul Wellstone was tragically killed in a plane crash, it just happened to be right before a fund drive. And the pledges cascaded in. “They are surely going to take over now,” Chartock said.

Now he’s got a doozy planned. The next Pledge Week (at the beginning of February) is slated to correspond with the Arlen Spector hearings, which want to investigate whether or not Bush undermined the constitution with his wiretaps. But…to allow the station to air the hearings at all, a certain pledge quota must be made each night. Not enough money pulled in by morning, and the station couldn’t run the hearings. Chartock has been airing service announcements about this for a few days, so that you have an opportunity to get your pledges in early, through the station’s web site.

Brilliant. This is absolutely brilliant. Not only do I NOT have to listen to Chartock talking and pleading his way all the way through yet another fund drive (and threatening to yodel, which he does when the phones get slow), but the station is guaranteed to make a lot of money, which might even keep the Metropolitan Opera on the air.

For the opera fans among us (even though I learned all my arias from Bugs Bunny), for Garrison Keillor and something to balance out the growing weight of conservative radio, in the interest of keeping all opinions in the public ear, keep those pledges coming.

Now if I could only figure out a way to market myself as cleverly. Perhaps I can choose the most dour times of year – income tax deadline looming, the day we set the clocks back, that one week in February when it’s been snowing for ten days in a row and you can’t bear to put on the coat and scarf and boots one more time..and have my own Pledge Drive! Buy my books (when I get them published) and laugh a little!

Hey…it could work. Now if I could only get my hands on a few dozen phones and some volunteers….

Thursday, January 19, 2006

These aren't a few of my favorite things

I was thinking about something I wrote on a post to Highlander (http://miserableannalsoftheearth.blogspot.com) (dammit, I know HTML; I just have to sit down and figure out how to do links on this thing) - and I lost track of what post it was, but just go there anyway when you get a chance; he's funny and articulate) about movie remakes.

I was expressing my disappointment that there have been so many lately. Perfectly perfect, classic movies like King Kong, The Producers, Fun with Dick and Jane, Yours, Mine and Ours and Cheaper by the Dozen being remade ostensibly for “the current generation,” or because a hot new star with lots of power always liked that Doris Day movie or now they can do special effects that were impossible before. Now, I know that there are talented screenwriters out there. I’ve met one or two. Not to drop names, but Ron Nyswander, in particular, who wrote “Philadelphia,” lives nearby and gave a small talk and Q&A to a local publishing network group. And I’m sure there are many, many more writers out there besides him. I’ve heard of them. I know they exist.


Just like in publishing, all these gatekeepers who continually say in interviews that they’re looking for “fresh new voices,” yet they keep putting out the same old tripe because it made money before.


All right, there was Breakneck Mountain. There was the new Woody Allen flick. Several others I’m sure you (and especially Highlander) could list without taking a breath.

And I have to add a disclaimer here, in the interest of full disclosure: I like classics. I hate artificial turf and the designated hitter. I cringe at misplaced apostrophes. It bothers me that “dis” is now in the dictionary.

But if anyone makes an updated “Philadelphia Story” starring Tea Leoni and Matt Damon, or “Pillow Talk” with Uma Thurman and Ben Affleck, I will have to hunt them down and take away their union cards.

And unfortunately this virus has spread. I don’t know who has infected whom, but it’s taken over Broadway. And television. With a few notable exceptions, TV and its creeping amoeba of reality shows is becoming worthless. I watched a few minutes of “American Idol” with my husband last night, just because I’d never seen it before and I was curious at what all the hoopla was about. And it made me sad, that this kind of thing now passes for entertainment. (all right, I admit, I do like “Survivor” and it’s my blog and I don’t have to explain why.)

I know that reality shows are cheaper than sitcoms. They don’t have to pay a team of writers or a gaggle of stars. And it’s damned expensive to produce a show on Broadway. They have to pay all the same union people, so why take a chance on a flop?

But movies? Even a bad remake (except for “The Goodbye Girl,” they could have lip-synced the damned thing, the male lead was even trying for Richard Dreyfus’s delivery, which was abysmal and embarrassing) requires a screenwriter. So why not hire someone good?

I know they exist. My theory is that they are being held hostage.(funny, I haven’t seen Ron around town in a while) Like Collette, they have been locked away in some tower and forced to write things that other people take credit for, and in script meetings these other people read the treatments and frown and say, “I don’t know, it seems like a long shot. So let’s take out the half-blind, homeless lesbian folk singer and replace her with, oh, I don’t know, a young Julie Andrews type, what’s her name, the one that was in that Hugh Grant movie, and let’s make her straight and have her fall in love with her boss, who is in the Army and has all these kids…oh, what the hell. Let’s just remake “The Sound of Music.”

And if anyone does that, there’s going to be serious hell to pay.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Boggle by candlelight

I woke today to a raging windstorm (and no, it wasn’t my husband bloviating). Thankfully I got in a good long shower, some yoga, my daily bowl of oatmeal and a few minutes on the heating pads to further loosen my stiff back before the power blew.

I just shrugged my mental shoulders and continued with my PT exercises.

Outages come more frequently around here and last longer than they used to - our little Mayberry has expanded in the last couple of years but the power company has yet to upgrade the infrastructure. A lot of people in the ‘hood are getting upset about this - but secretly, I like blackouts. (Of course I like them better in the summer, and I definitely like them better when I can call the automated outage line and they tell me when service will resume.)

No, really. Some people tell me the lack of infrastructure – the sighs and moans the house makes when the electrical appliances are humming - makes them nervous. It’s not simply that they miss their electrical conveniences; they just can’t stand all that quiet. Not me. While I like my microwave and computer as much as the next person, I can do with a bit of quiet every so often. And if you listen for a while, especially during summer outages when you can open the windows or sit outside, it’s really not that quiet around here. Even in the winter with the house shut up tight as a drum you can hear the birds tussling around the feeder, the whip of the wind through the bare branches, the whinnying of the horses in the next field. I can identify each neighbor by the sound of their cars, which kids should zip up their coats because their bus is coming up the hill. In summer, it’s the splash of a child cannonballing into a pool, the rustle of the leaves, the rush of the rain, the coyotes in the distance. OK, outages at night are initially inconvenient – all that hunting about for candles and flashlights and batteries, fretting if the basement will flood as we sleep. But reading a favorite book by candlelight? Getting together with neighbors for “blackout parties” where we bring whatever is in the fridge and throw it on the grill, crack open a few beers and tell outrageous stories from our youths? Actually talking to people instead of getting together to watch a game or a DVD? One blackout my husband’s cousin was visiting, and we lit all our candles and set up a Boggle game. (warning: never play Boggle with anyone who has high-functioning autism – they’ll kick your ass) Boggle by candlelight is awesome. And we were playing and talking and I was really enjoying just the sound of our voices and imagining how life would have been in the eighteenth century. Getting water from the pump, lighting the whale-oil lamps when the sun went down.

And then with a blink and a beep, the electricity went on. My husband and his cousin let out a mutual whoop of relief. They left skid marks as they dashed off to reset clocks, restart the video game they’d been playing when the lights blew.

I felt…disappointed. Abandoned. But, I thought, watching them settling back into the sofa with their remote controls and snacks, you can’t put this genie back into the bottle.

Perhaps we should initiate National Blackout Day. One day a year, cut your house off from the grid. Not just as an energy-conservation measure, or a protest against our dependency on foreign oil, but to remember our roots. To bring us back together. Let’s pick a not-too-hot summer day. One with a nice breeze and a awe-inspiring sunset. You bring the beer. I’ll bring the Boggle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Who lives, who dies

I promise, this is one of the few times where I’ll get political. I usually leave that to my husband – he’s the true politico in the family, and when he gets his own blog, you guys can argue with him until you all get carpal tunnel syndrome.

But something’s been bothering me ever since I heard that Clarence Ray Allen was slated to be put to death in California. The death penalty is one of those issues that’s always made me queasy, because I can see both sides of it. The very idea seems so Hammurabian, yet in what circumstances is it to be used, if at all?

For killing all those children, I thought justice was well served when Timothy McVeigh was taken out (although if justice was really well served, I would have strapped a suicide belt around him, rolled him into a field and blew him up). And John Mohammed deserves his fate - he was hunting people, for chrissakes. (Yet prison officials in August were ordered to force feed him following a hunger strike, to keep him alive so they could kill him. Huh?) And Scott Peterson, for killing his wife and the viable fetus of his child, has also earned his fate.

Yet the threat of death does not seem to be a deterrent to crime, and with newer DNA techniques what if we find out we’ve killed a lot of innocent people? But on the flip side, why do these people deserve to live? (if you can call being in prison with no hope of parole a life) Especially if it’s pretty clear that they are sociopaths who, when given the opportunity, probably would kill again? Why are some people’s lives more punishable for the taking than others? How can we justify paying for the upkeep of murderers into perpetuity when so many of our own children go to bed hungry at night? When our army is not adequately paid or armed?

But in the case of Clarence Ray Allen, a Choctaw Indian (for some reason, probably to show another example that it’s mostly minorities who get the death penalty, the press thought it important to report that he was a Choctaw Indian) I think the taking of his life was merciful. Here is a 75-year-old man with a long history of crime, already in prison for the murder of his son’s 17-year-old girlfriend in 1974 (At 40, he and his gang had committed a robbery and was afraid that his son’s girlfriend would tell police), then he compounds his crimes in 1980 by ordering members of his gang to murder three more people. He’s in a wheelchair; he’s blind and diabetic. He had a heart attack in September, was revived and sent back to death row. (again, revived so they could kill him)

Yet his lawyers were arguing up until the last that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to put this frail man to death. I can’t get into the guy’s head, but I’d imagine that under the circumstances of his health, on death row with the sword of Damocles dangling over his head every single day, I’d just as soon take the needle and have it done with.

And with what prison guards described as a “jovial” Allen’s final words, “this is a good day to die,” possibly he agreed with me.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What's Opera, Doc?

I have to apologize to my mother. I know she and my father tried so hard to give us “culture” when my two brothers and I were growing up – taking us to New York to see Broadway shows and go to museums, playing classical music on the piano, rehearsing show tunes from her community theater productions while we cleaned the house or rode in the car (thanks to her I can now sing the entire scores of “Oklahoma,” “Sound of Music” and “Fiorello,” something I don’t think my husband really has the same patience for, especially when we’re out in public).

And I appreciate everything. I really do. You guys were the best. But for some reason – and my younger brother concurs, in fact, he was the first one to bring it up – in my adult-created memory, my entire classical music education has come from Warner Brothers cartoons. I hear “Blue Danube” and I think of the ugly duckling swimming behind all those pretty swans. I hear Wagner and anyone of a certain age knows what I’m thinking: “Kill the WAB-it, kill the WAB-it…” from “What’s Opera, Doc,” the only BB cartoon ever to win an Oscar. “Bully for Bugs” I’m sure contained something from “Carmen,” or at least that’s how I remember it. Who could forget “Rabbit of Seville” as Bugs duked it out with a demented barber. And there’s the pompous basso profundo belting out arias from "Marriage of Figaro" cowing as whispers of “Leopold” go through the crowd and Bugs steps up to the podium in white tie and tail. (For those under 35, I mean Leopold Stokowski, inarguably the most famous director in the world or at least in New York in the late 40s, when the best of the Bugs Bunny cartoons were made)

And even now if I’m flipping around and see Bugs or Daffy or Elmer, I’m glued to the spot for the next 7-8 minutes, admiring the stuff that Tex Avery or Friz Freling or especially Chuck Jones put in there that was never meant for children. During Looney Tunes 40s heyday, the animators and directors were paid so poorly and managed so laughably (the claim is that Porky Pig was modeled after one of the studio heads) that they just wrote whatever the heck they wanted.

And it was brilliant.

So maybe it was a case of adults having fun without supervision (something a well-disciplined child of the 60s rarely got to see), or maybe hearing classical music while Bugs dressed up as Carmen Miranda that made it stick harder to my gray matter than sitting in some stuffy concert hall or listening to the radio on a Sunday afternoon.

Either way, it worked. So well that when several years ago my husband and I got a last-minute call to escort my older nephew to the Met for his tenth birthday to see “Carmen,” I could close my eyes and with only a small stretch of my imagination see Bugs Bunny swinging his tail in a lace mantilla.

And we pass the torch to another generation.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Fiction Friday

I’ve been going through a rough time lately. It’s not easy becoming a butterfly at 44; the chrysalis is damned tight and itches. Part of my “therapy” includes indulging myself with comfort foods from my childhood like grilled cheese sandwiches and cinnamon toast. These foods made me think of the following passage from a novel I wrote last November during National Novel Writing Month, but never edited. Forgive me if this is something I might have given you to read before; but I just thought the universe needed this right now.


Adam had a speech prepared (his wife Liza had coached him through it), for when his mother demanded to be returned to her apartment after the biopsy and not back to Adam and Liza’s, where she’d been staying. For when she told him it wouldn’t be necessary for Adam and Liza to babysit her until the results come in. But after the procedure she’s quiet. Probably from the Valium she’d taken. Or maybe the reality of the claw-like creature on the x-ray and the doctor’s warning that she shouldn’t have waited so long are catching up with her and she’s been cowed into fearful silence. Adam is gentle with her, eases her into the car, offers help with the shoulder harness she’ll ultimately refuse in favor of the lap belt. He comes around the driver’s side, belts himself in and starts the engine.

“There’s that place at the Thruway exchange,” Adam says. “You want to stop for lunch?”

“Don’t spend your money,” she says out the window.

“It’s a diner, Ma. It’s not that expensive.”

“We can make at home. There’s still some of that casserole left. Or I’ll make you grilled cheese. You used to like grilled cheese. Remember, I’d make it for you after school?”

“Yeah. I remember.” He’d been craving grilled cheese lately. The way his mother made it. White bread, smashed flat, fried in Crisco, American cheese oozing over the edges. Liza, a nutritionist, called it artery-clogging nightmare, was surprised he and his brother Charlie had reached adulthood without having a coronary. Liza had tried to healthy it up for him with whole wheat and cheddar, snuck in grilled onions and tomato, brushed the bread with olive oil. It was good, he told her, and he appreciated the effort, but it just wasn’t the same.

Bathed now in the warmth of nostalgia and his mother’s seeming pliability, Adam throws caution to the wind. “Anything you need from the apartment? We’re going right by.”

She thinks a moment. Or maybe is just slow to react. “I wouldn’t mind some different clothes. And my knitting.”

“No problem,” he says.

She doesn’t speak again until after he maneuvers the Toyota out of the hospital parking garage and onto the main road leading to her apartment complex. “If I knew this was going to be such a little nothing thing, such a tiny needle, I could have driven myself.”

He grips the wheel, biting back what he really wants to say. The only little nothing thing about this morning was the needle. When they arrived at the medical center, there was no appointment on the books for Estelle Trager. Adam gave her the evil eye, but she swore she made an appointment. Or thought she had. A few phone calls later, they worked her in.

“It’s OK, Ma.”

“I know I made that the appointment. I spoke to the nurse myself. She must have forgotten to write it down.”

“It’s OK, Ma.”

They pull into her complex and park in front of her building. He hasn’t been here since earlier in the fall, when he and Liza came for Rosh Hashana. Liza had been the one making the runs back and forth for her mail, for cosmetics, to water her plants. The place seems smaller, older, more run down. The leaves have been haphazardly removed. A gutter droops from the north side of Building B. “I don’t know why they’re raising your rent,” he says. “It doesn’t look like they’re doing anything to deserve it.”

“Not like I’m going to be here too much longer.”

“Ma.” He snaps off the engine. “Don’t.”


Estelle wanders her apartment like a real-estate appraiser, touching furniture and frowning into corners. The place stinks of cigarettes. The curtains are yellowed, the paint on the walls has a kind of film over it, sticky to the touch. A layer of dust had formed over the Queen Anne side table and the framed childhood portraits of Adam and Charlie, adding to the fuzzy aura.

“You’ll take the sofa,” she says.

“What. Now?”

“Later. Tell Charlie he can have the armoire. It was your father’s. He’s always liked it, and it will be nice, he doesn’t have any closet space in that apartment.”

“Ma. You’re still here. You can stop with giving your stuff away.”

“I just don’t want any arguments. I’ve seen people. They go without telling anyone what’s what and the family argues.”

“We won’t argue,” he says. He and Charlie got along well. The only serious argument they’d ever had was that Charlie had known Liza first. But they were past that. Mostly.

“It’s human nature,” she says.

For someone who’d come to get clothing she was going nowhere near the bedroom. She was adjusting blinds. Putting away the dishes that had dried on the rack next to the sink. Poking her fingers into the philodendron. “What are you doing?” Adam says. “Liza watered the plants right before we took you out of the hospital.”

“I’m just checking to see if maybe she forgot. When I was in her condition, my brain was like a sieve.”

He rubs the back of his neck. Christ. He couldn’t keep up this charade, keep coming home to Liza’s accusing looks. Oh, well. He’d gotten his mother as far as the biopsy. The rest they’d just have to take one day at a time. “Ma. I gotta tell you something.”

“She’s drinking,” Estelle says.

“Liza. With the baby. I smelled alcohol on her breath last night. After she came home from the neighbor’s. I knew that girl was trouble, with those tight dungarees and the bosom out to here and the husband who’s never home and the kids running wild. I didn’t say anything. I just thought you should know first. As her husband.”

“Ma. There’s no baby.”

“Because she’s been drinking!” Obviously, the Valium is wearing off. “Did I warn you? Jewish girls don’t drink like fish! It’s her father. I told you. Unitarian? What kind of a religion is that? With all that coffee and talk about the origin of the universe and letting people believe in God or not. You know, he was drunk at the wedding.”

“Ma. I was drunk at the wedding.”

“No. There’s drunk and there’s drunk. You were celebrating. He was drunk. It’s in the genes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you come home one day and find your wife passed out on the sofa - on my sofa - and your son sticking his fingers in electrical sockets and eating rat poison.”

“Ma.” He’d almost forgotten his point. “There’s no baby because there’s no baby. It was a false alarm.”

The indignation drains from her face. “False alarm?”

“She got her period yesterday. I didn’t want to tell you before the procedure.”

She digests this a moment, then smacks the side of his head. “Schmuck.”

He blinks at her. “Huh? How is this my fault?”

“It was your fault it was a false alarm. It’s bad luck. To go around tempting fate, talking about things when you don’t know yet.”

“But we’ve been trying! When she was late, I thought—“

“You thought. You thought you’d get a sick woman’s hopes up for nothing? I was gonna knit a blanket!”

“Ma. You can still knit a blanket. It’s gonna happen. One day.”

“Schmuck,” she says. “Just like your father. May he rest in peace.”

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Up next: your five-day forecast

I've been spending (some might say, wasting) a bit of time lately searching the web for some kind of activity where I might actually get paid (coming to the conclusion with a heavy heart that it's doubtful anyone will give me a living wage for writing pitch letters to literary agents, quirky little bits for your (mostly my) entertainment or for staring at the stack of paper that is the (almost) first draft of my next novel and hoping that that magically it will become a publishable manuscript.)

So here's my plan. The perfect job for me,

I'm going to be a Weather Caster.

My whole body is like one giant barometer anyway, so why not take advantage of my natural talent? I get sinus headaches and burning pains in my hips when it's about to rain. I'm agitated before thunderstorms. My knees ache before it snows, the intensity equals the amount. When everything I've ever injured begins to ache, then it's time to get your ass into the SUV and load it up for bear; something big is about to go down. So, to do the "forecast," I pour myself a cup of decaf, go to my Weather Center "office" and plot the coordinates: a full body scan versus temperature, time of year, and an isobar "cheat sheet" so I can extrapolate how much snow or rain you're going to get in your area. If there's a conflict, I call my stepmother, who is equally gifted, and fortunately for her, already employed.

Then I dress up pretty, starch my hair and stand in front of a blue screen on camera for five minutes, making appropriately sympathetic faces and lame jokes with the news readers while I sweep my hands across an invisible map of the tri-state area and babble on about the latest models and cold fronts.

Bet I'm right more often then the "real" meteorologists. But would they hire me? No, you have to have some kind of snooty degree or something, you have to know phrases like "rain event" and "Alberta Clipper." Oh, if someone would just give me a chance...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Drop and give me 20 queries

Despite doing 100 crunches every morning, I’m afraid I’ve gotten soft. It’s been over three months since I’ve had a job. I’m no longer accustomed to people shooting down my ideas, talking over me at meetings, denying my promotions and generally doing things that would make a lesser Superwoman run to the ladies room in tears. It’s been over two years since I pitched a manuscript, so there have been no rejection slips, no “try us again later,” no “perhaps you should have gone to nursing school like your mother wanted.” And cripes, I’ve been with my husband for so long that as far as dating – I have a vague memory that it used to involved chaperones, white gloves and calling cards. And maybe my father was supposed to give the guy a herd of cows or something.

Anyway, I think my hide is no longer tough enough to withstand rejection.

Therefore I consulted my old friend Google for help.

I was searching for some kind of writer’s boot camp. And I found them, by the dozens. But they were all about the writing. Several promised that I would produce a saleable script by the end of their overpriced conferences. One promised to break through my writer’s block once and forever. One promised that I would Learn To Write A Novel From Start To Finish.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending upon your circumstances) I already had the goods. I knew the basics of how to sell the goods. What I wanted was a little extra help, something that would promise Buns of Steel, or at least Teflon, so that any rejection slips I’m bound to get in the next few months will slide right off.

Then magically, this little flyer appeared in my mailbox. Funny how it had no postage and was only addressed to “Opus,” but somehow it found me. The pitch went something like this:

Feeling too good about yourself and your writing?
Want to get published but don’t know if you can take the punishment?
Come to our campus on historical Alcatraz Island and we’ll pound the self-esteem right out of you!
Be completely ignored when you attempt to TALK TO BEST SELLING AUTHORS!
Get disdainful looks by TOP-FLIGHT AGENTS, as they pronounce in a round-table discussion that they’re always looking for “fresh new voices,” but just not yours.
Then the fun really starts. Network with your fellow conference participants while you fight bare-handed for a place on line to sign up for the five or six open slots to actually MEET THE AGENTS (or one of their assistants, a girl named Jennifer who just graduated from NYU) face to face, where, if you’re lucky and either you or your protagonist doesn’t remind him or her of one of their ex-spouses, you might actually get them to tell you what’s wrong with your project, or if you’re very lucky, you.
Space is limited, and so are cells (bring your own mattress) so send in your non-refundable thousand-dollar deposit TODAY!

Boy, does this sound like something for me. Now off to the bank to try to get a loan…

Sunday, January 08, 2006

What makes an animal?

Consider the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Or…maybe not. They are not exactly the Brad Pitt of the insect world. If I lived in Madagascar I’d be laying in a good supply of Raid.

But somehow PETA has overlooked the fact that scores and scores of obviously live and kicking Madagascar hissing cockroaches are allowed to be crunched to their doom by obviously insane “Fear Factor” contestants every year, who seem to be willing to eat or do anything for the prospect of going home with $50,000 (and probably some form of exotic parasitic disease).

Yet PETA nails a Virginia Beach nightclub that allowed contestants participating in the TV show on location at their establishment to swallow live goldfish.

I don’t know. Is it the “cute” factor? Must a creature pass some sort of beauty-pageant litmus test in order to be taken under PETA’s wing? Spotted owl? Cute. Baby harp seal? Awww. Madagascar hissing cockroach? Pass. Get some plastic surgery, dude, then send in that head shot again, OK?

Possibly the omission is because PETA has too much on their plates. What with getting all huffy demanding that a town near me change its name from "Fishkill" to something less violent toward our finny friends (Someone didn’t do their research: "kill" is Old Dutch for "brook," folks. Every other town around here is named Something-kill) to killing dozens of trees with mailings warning me of the evils of animal product testing, they’ve got quite a lot to do.

But hissing cockroaches aside, they've missed something really, really huge.

An estimated 1 billion birds are killed each year by windows.

That's right. Windows. (and that's why I use a Mac)

But seriously, according to ornithologist Daniel Klem, who was interviewed by NPR's John Nielsen on January 3rd's broadcast of Morning Edition, "It's a very common phenomenon. Birds are deceived. They just don't see glass as a barrier and this is a problem for them."

I'd say dying a horrible death by ramming your tiny little body head first into a solid pane of glass could be a bit of a problem.

But just to prove his hypothesis, Klem went into a forest and hung some windows off the branches of trees. Then he watched as an "appalling" number of collisions occurred. From an eight-foot perch, many of the birds smacked splat into the windows and died.

Cripes, he could have saved his research money (and many unnecessary avian deaths) and come over to my house to watch the dingbat birds doing the same thing here.

We've had a feeder up over our front stairs for at least four months now. The same birds keep coming around. They’ve somehow become smart enough to know how to get the seed out of the feeder. They’ve figured out that when the bowl becomes empty, to peck around on the stairs for what they’ve spilled. Then, when it’s obvious we’re not going to refill for a few days (we’re afraid of them getting so fat they won’t be able to get away from the neighborhood kitties) they stop coming, and when we refill the feeder, somehow they figure out that it’s safe to come back. You'd think they'd have a good bead on the lay of the landscape down by now, but no, there’s that THUNK again.

Window, dipstick.

Tiny pinfeathers are sticking to the panes.

And there’s your research.

And still, PETA hasn’t got someone on this. A quick search of their web site revealed that their only beef against birds and windows is the recommendation that when you cage a large bird (and remember, there are no such things as “caged” birds, all birds are wild animals and deserve to be free), don’t use a cage with glass sides or mirrors for the very same reason that birds can’t see it and will fly headfirst into it and knock themselves silly.

However, another site (birdsandbuildings.org) suggests putting a flexible screen outside your window (they claim decals don’t work) or using “fritted or patterned” glass. The problem is that humans have found these alternatives objectionable in their homes, as it interferes with the clarity of their views.

I mean, which would you rather have, a semi-obstructed view or billions of kamikaze birds going splat against your panes?

Frankly if a creature is that stupid, I’d rather spend my resources trying to save the Madagascar hissing cockroach. I could go on Fear Factor, eat a bunch of them, and put the $50,000 toward modifying their DNA to make them look like bunnies.

PS. Opus wants to thank everyone for their heartfelt well-wishes during his recent illness. He wants to assure everyone that he is fine, after eating a bunch of sardines and Pop-Tarts and sitting in the dark listening to his Moody Blues albums.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bird flu?

Op's got a touch of the bird flu and won't be posting for a few days.

(Actually rumor has it that she got swallowed up by a snowbank)

Thanks and best wishes,
Bill the Cat.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I hates meeses to pieces

I learned a couple of things about mice this week.

1. They eat everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Including candle wax. Soap. Rubber spatulas.

2. They are the cause of more household disputes than infidelity, finances and the correct way to fold a fitted sheet COMBINED.

So a few days ago I found evidence of a mouse in the house. This information by itself is no great shakes. Every winter we evict from one to four critters via our humane trap baited with peanut butter (if I were a mouse I'd be sniffing around that, too) but this winter it's been especially annoying. We’re spotty housekeepers on a good day, and lately, we've been a little more, shall we say, casual about cleaning. Things tend to stay where they fall, most of the dishes land in the sink, and I'm not quite sure where we keep the vacuum any more. But even with our usual disarray, a bunch of mouse poop on the kitchen counter is difficult to miss. I cleaned what I could see, alerted my spouse, who set the trap. The next morning, nothing. Then I went into mouse-mania-mode and started cleaning what I couldn't see. Underneath the waffle-maker. The toaster. The Foreman grill. The blender. Then looked behind the "speed rack" we keep next to the fridge, containing Pepsi and seltzer bottles, the three bottles of Martinelli's sparkling cider that we keep forgetting to bring to people's houses for New Year's, and my various vials of medication and vitamins. And there I found a Dr. Roger Murphree Fibromyalgia formula mega-multi-vitamin pill - I did say that things tend to fall where they land - nibbled around the edges. This was bad. Not only did we have a smart mouse, but we had Mighty Mouse (for those of you under thirty-five, he is a cartoon mouse who is the rodential equivalent of Arnold Schwarznegger.)

Another night of peanut butter, another empty trap.

As I was doing more cleaning, I realized it’s been a while since I’ve seen certain credit cards (Oh, no, did the mouse take them out on the town? Was he having a fling on my Target card?) and then I remembered that they were in a small fanny-pack-type pocketbook I keep on the kitchen table. It contains emergency items when I only want to grab something small and go – credit cards, Burt’s Bees lipgloss and snacks. Keep in mind that since I've been liberated from my job I've been using our kitchen table as a kind of headquarters - the computer chair from my office wheeled up to my Levenger slanted editing desk (these are great things, worth the investment.) Scattered all around the pocketbook and in and among my books, unopened mail, New York Times crossword puzzles, candles, and loose paperwork were soy nut crumbs and more mouse poop. The bag of snacks in my pocketbook had been chewed open.

I almost leapt up onto a chair like a 50s housewife and screamed.

“Look at this!!” I said to my husband, as I pointed and shuddered. “My God! It was on the table!!” Then I started getting mad. The little bastard had been in my pocketbook. Now it was personal. Nobody goes into my pocketbook.

What happened next was a mystery. Maybe you guys could help me understand this. Did I use some extraterrestrial language in between my words? Did I push into my tone something accusatory? Did he mistake my anger at the mouse for anger at him? But for a moment he was silent. A horrible silence as his eyes blazed and that vein throbbed in his forehead.

“So it’s MY fault? You want ME to fix it? What, I didn’t catch the mouse fast enough?”

I just blinked at him. “But I didn’t ask…I’m not…”

“You know, I’m tired of this! I can’t do everything around here!”

And that really made me mad. We stomped off in opposite directions. I believe I yelled a few things in an extraterrestrial language over my shoulder.

And after I cooled off for a while, I cleaned the rest of the table. I dumped out the contents of my pocketbook and scrubbed them clean. I wiped up the excrement and soy nut husks. I threw away the scented candles. While I was upstairs fuming, my husband had put a trap at the edge of the table. I set a second one for good measure.

He’s still out there somewhere. But if anything ever comes between a husband and wife, damned sure it shouldn’t be a mouse. Not even Mighty Mouse.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why I don't make resolutions

After a lifetime of refusing to make New Years Resolutions (because I hardly ever kept them and, as a Mets fan, who needs additional disappointment?), I made a few private ones to myself last year. They were:

1. Let my hair grow out (yeah, you say, what effort is involved here, just don’t cut it, for God’s sake, but those of you who’ve tried to go from short hair to long know there’s much more work and discipline required than simply NOT CUTTING IT when every day when you look in the mirror you want to hack off the strays with nail scissors and cover your head with styling products until the ends of your hair could pop balloons)

2. Take some time off from work.

3. Strengthen my core muscles, as my chiropractor had been nagging me to do for months.

Well, I was riding out #1 fairly well, but I blew off #2 and #3. I was working on a major project with a ridiculous deadline at work, so I couldn’t take time off. And even when I had as much as an evening free, who could get into the parking lot at the gym, because everybody else’s New Year’s resolutions involved joining a gym. (Yeah, but did it have to be MY gym? Surely there are several other fine athletic establishments in the area that would have welcomed them with clean towels and bottled water. Except that mine isn’t a clean towel and bottled water sort of establishment, which is why I like it. Half the equipment doesn’t work, the guys don’t wear cologne, women don’t show up in thongs and make me feel bad about myself. It’s fairly inexpensive, which is another reason why I like it (and probably why all those other people seem to like it) except that now all these new people join and demand things like clean floors and hot water and elliptical trainers that work, so they have to raise the membership fees so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to go either. So while I was dragging my butt on #2 and #3, whining about overtime and no parking spaces and membership fees, a higher power intervened. As everyone in the world probably knows by now, that’s when I hurt my back.

1. My hair grew in all by itself because I could give a hang about looking in mirrors. Instead, if leaving the house, I'd pop on a baseball cap. And a baseball cap on a woman walking with a cane has much more panache than the cap alone.
2. I got time off with pay (granted, disability pays enough to basically cover the phone and cable bills, but it’s better than nothing) and then without pay (which basically sucks)
3. Thanks to my physical therapist, you can now bounce quarters off my abdomen.

So this is why no resolutions this year.

Well, maybe one.

Which is to be very careful what I wish for.