Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lost in Translation

I am a year older than I was a couple of days ago, and to celebrate the start of another orbit around the sun, my father and stepmother took Husband and me out for dinner at a local Indian restaurant. We arrived to find the two of them already seated, the table sprinkled with glitter and little tiny "happy birthdays" cut out of blue and red foil, and against one wall, a bouquet of Gerbera daisies (my favorite flower -- take note, for future occasions). My stepmother said that they'd gotten there a little early so they could "set all these things up," but I didn't think much about that because we were all hugging and saying hello and getting settled at our table.

Dinner was excellent, and as we chatted, we passed different dishes around, each with varying degrees of hotness, quenching the fire with white rice and water (Husband commenting that beer would've been better, but the place didn't have a liquor license). At the end, my stepmother inquired of the young waiter our selections for dessert. He said, "We have rice pudding, mango ice cream, and honeyed cantaloupe." The mango ice cream sounded like the perfect follow-up for a spicy meal, and we ordered two dishes to be shared among the four of us.

When we told the waiter, he said, "Okay, but you won't be able to put the candles in the ice cream." And then he left.

Silence. Then my stepmother started chuckling to herself. "Well," she said, "I guess some things get lost in the translation."

Meaning, I guess they don't have too many surprise birthday parties at Indian restaurants, or at least at that one.

And when the waiter came with our ice cream, he handed the package of candles back to my stepmother, and she gave them to me. He was right, they wouldn't really have worked with the ice cream, because the candles were thin and squiggly and then probably would not have not stayed up very well.

They probably would've worked better with one of our appetizers, mashed potatoes and spices coated with chick pea flour and fried, but I guess there probably aren't too many birthday chapatis.

Still, we had fun, and now have a new story to add to the family almanac, which is already bursting at the seams. and so am I, after that meal.

But that's a good thing, because I'm finding that each new orbit has been requiring greater and greater amounts of energy, and as I push toward 50, I'm going to need all the strength I can get.

So pass the chicken vindaloo and get out of my way.

Friday, August 29, 2008

This Presidential Election Brought to You by the Acme Corporation

I'm sure that most of you are old enough to remember Warner Bros. "Road Runner" cartoons. You know, the coyote does everything in his power to catch the Road Runner, but always fails, usually because he had ordered some defective product from the Acme Corporation. And sticking out his little tongue, the Road Runner zooms away, leaving the coyote a quivering pile of ash because something had exploded in his face.

The last few weeks of this presidential election have felt like one of those cartoons. With Obama as the coyote and McCain as the Road Runner. Every time Obama tries to get some headlines, there's that road runner McCain again, sticking out his tongue and running away. During the Democratic convention, McCain ran a series of attack ads, sticking his finger in Obama's over and over and over. He used Hillary's words against her, he used Obama's words against his, and the one time where he tried to look like a nice guy (on the eve of Obama's acceptance speech), running a spot where he claimed that it was Obama's night and congratulations on making history (and by the way, I'm still here) he still had away of sucking the oxygen out of the room.

And when the Democratic ticket was "supposed" to be enjoying a healthy post-convention bounce in the polls, McCain drops the bomb (after playing "Where's Waldo" with the press for most of the morning) with his selection of a running mate.

I couldn't immediately articulate how that made me feel, but NPR's Cokie Roberts summed it up best: "What an... odd choice."

One of the first things I thought was, "there goes McCain's entire argument that Senator Obama does not have enough experience." Even though McCain is in excellent health, and 72 is still considered young (or fairly young), nature does have a way of telling you when your time is up, and should the occasion arise where McCain can no longer execute his duties, does anybody in this universe believe that a 44-year-old first-term governor from Alaska has what it takes to assume the powers of the presidency? I am all for breaking that glass ceiling, and although I'm not one of Hillary's greatest fans, should the situation have arisen where she landed in the Oval Office, she probably would have done a good job.

With this one, on not so sure. Yes, she's a maverick, and yes, she can probably take down a grizzly bear or three, but I have my doubts if she's the right person for the job. Granted, vice presidents really don't have a lot to do. As one news commentator said this morning, the vice presidential pick is important on two days: the day they are selected, and the day of the debate.

I want to I say that Joe Biden is going to tear the governor of Alaska to shreds, but then I remember two words: Rick Lazio. In case you don't remember, this poor schmuck ran against Hillary in her first term as senator. During one of their debates, he stood a little bit too close to her, and was accused of "invading her space," and it apparently egregious violation that equates itself with sexism, paternalism, and all forms of subjugation of women going back to when Eve was tossed out of paradise. I am hoping that Biden debates her just like he would any other candidate and does not fall victim to this fear of looking like the big bad guy even though it was clear that Hillary could've taken down Lazio with one good hard stare.

Yes, people accuse McCain of being a little ossified in his thinking, but this pick of running mate may be a smarter choice than most people think. And there goes that Road Runner again.

We need to change this cartoon and we need to change it now.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Strangely Compelling Sports

Okay, I promise that this is going to be the last Olympics post (unless something odd happens, like I'm hit by a lightning bolt or the entire Chinese gymnastics team is thrown out for being underage -- not that that would ever happen).

But I just wanted to share this one incident with you.

Husband was out doing yard work, and I was surfing about seeing if I could find any events that had slipped through the cracks. And I landed on Rhythmic Gymnastics, which has got to be one of the more bizarre sports in Olympic history, except for maybe back when they used to shoot pigeons and style poodles (seriously, they really did this), compete in the tug-of-war or shoot at clothed mannequins with dueling pistols (this practice was shut down in 1906).

In the particular event that I was watching, a team of five young ladies, dressed up like tasteful Las Vegas showgirls, leapt around an exercise floor, some tossing hoops in the air, some tossing what looked like heavily padded drumsticks, all the while flipping and leaping and spinning about and somehow (I have no idea how) catching these items either with their hands, behind their necks, or between their toes, all while performing the synchronized dance event and performing it for very high scores.

I was transfixed.

And at this particular moment, Husband comes inside, sees me watching this, and shakes his head.

"No," he says. "No, no, no. That is not a sport."

"Of course it is," I say. "Can you imagine the training that goes into that?"

"I don't care," he says. "It's ridiculous."

"But don't you find it strangely compelling?"

"No," he says. "Curling was strangely compelling. With this, they've just gone too far. There's just too many sports in this thing, that's why can't get into it this year. I think I like winter sports better."

To each his own, I thought, as he trudged upstairs to shower. So what if it's out of the mainstream. I can appreciate the hard work it must've taken to learn the routines, to have your body in such great shape that you can be that flexible and have such great reflexes. He comes back downstairs, maybe he forgot something.

I can't resist. "But think about this," I tell him. "Not only do they have to learn those routines, but a bunch of other countries are also doing it at the same time."

"I don't care," he reiterates. "It doesn't make it any less ridiculous. And I don't want to talk about it anymore."

Oh, but for some reason I still do. Probably just to rub it in a little bit -- it's fun sometimes when he gets irritated. "But not only do a bunch of other countries do it too, but somebody got together and established criteria for what makes a good routine or not."

He disappears upstairs and I don't see him again for a long time. Meanwhile, I'm strangely compelled to watch the rest of the rhythmic gymnastics, marveling at how gorgeous the Russian team is, and how beautifully they execute their routine.

And later in the day (I have been recording each days, evenings, nights events so I can watch them at my leisure -- God bless DVRs), I found myself watching the individual rhythmic gymnastics events. But somehow, they were not as interesting -- not nearly as strangely compelling as a group of five women all trained to toss about the same piece of equipment and roll around on the floor. I mean, your average cheerleader can do any of those individual routines -- it takes a lot more, I imagine, to put five women together and have it come out looking good. So I found myself fast forwarding through most of the routines, like I've done for many of the recordings, until I find an event that's more interesting (I'm really not caring much for indoor volleyball) and then deleting it when it's done.

Oh, the fickleness of the average TV viewer. It makes me wonder what other sports could eventually wind up on the Olympic stage. If they can give out gold medals for BMX and for mountain biking, why not dog racing or cage fighting or, hey, why not just bring back dueling. Just have it between countries who are at war, and kill two birds with one stone.

Now there's some political action.

So Much for That...

Earlier this summer, I was bitten by the Obama bug. I actually thought that this would be the first election in a very long string of elections in my lifetime where I would feel stirred enough not to merely slap a bumper sticker on my car and maybe write a letter to the editor, but to take the plunge and get involved.

I mean the Involved kind of involved -- volunteering to man the "get out the vote" booths, seeing the press releases not only get written but get sent to the proper media in time to promote the proper event, and all that other stuff that people with lots of energy and lots of free time and lots of conviction do. I actually went to meetings. Signed up for mailing lists. Signed a list where I indicated my interests and which I would be able to donate to the cause.

Then something happened along the way.

Maybe I was sidetracked by everything I needed to do to prepare for my mother-in-law's memorial service, maybe I just plum got tired, or maybe after watching the news for long enough and hearing him speak for long enough, the stars fell out of my eyes, and I saw just another politician standing there with his shirt sleeves rolled up in the middle of an auditorium trying to get elected.

And then, it seemed that all the hard work and dedication and time that I had with great conviction wanted to donate no longer mattered. There would always be somebody else -- some college student, some old hippie -- there to pick up the baton and make sure the work got done and make sure that petitions got signed and make sure that everybody who didn't have a car would get a ride to their polling place on election day.

It didn't even matter if I voted or not, and this bluest of all blue states.

And that discouraged me most of all. Then why would I be willing to give up 5-6 hours of my week for something that didn't even matter? Yes, if I've lived in one of those swing states, perhaps it might make make a difference, perhaps getting a few more people registered to vote might tip the balance one way or the other, but here? In New York State?

Might as well stay home and watch the Olympics. Now there's some real politics. I don't know how many of you noticed the scores during the gymnastics and the diving, but the judges seemed very generous to the Chinese athletes. Okay, this often happens to the host country, they're known for getting a little boost now and again, but this just started to seem plain ridiculous. Now, I'm no expert on either of these events, but I can tell just from watching them when someone has made an egregious mistake in their routine. Like, falling on your ass, for one. Or displacing half the water in the pool when you dive. These seem like things that should be marked down a little bit. Or maybe I just don't understand the judging process. Maybe that gymnast meant to fall on her ass -- maybe that was really part of the routine.

You can handle things like that when you're 14 or so -- kids are like rubber at that age.

What really bugged me were not just the politics of the games but the politics surrounding the games -- notably the ones that were notably absent. You can't go telling me that there weren't any protesters surrounding the lovely Water Cube and the stunning Birds Nest and in pristine Tienamen Square while events were going on? Maybe something to do with human rights? Or Tibet?

Yet I didn't see or hear word one of any kind of protest -- not since winter athlete Joey Cheek had his visa revoked before the games started -- until today, Sunday, the last day of the games. I turn on my TV -- to the Olympic channel of course -- and during the Sunday morning news shows there it is -- the crawl running underneath the picture. Something that mentioned how many protesters were "detained" during the games. Well. Good thing NBC didn't run anything like that during the games, and possibly get Bob Costas's visa revoked. Now how would that look to the world? How would that look to the chances of NBC ever getting to broadcast the games again?

Just something to think about if you're planning on going to London in 2012 to protest the high price of petrol. or, you know, anything bad that England might be doing by then.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Enough Already!

I hope you’re sitting down, because I’m about to do that human thing where I act all idiosyncratic and change my opinion about politicians and their public peccadilloes.

Not all politicians, mind you. Some still need to have their feet held to the fire when they misbehave, especially those like Eliot Spitzer who act all high and mighty, and those like Bill Clinton, who violate the public’s trust and lie under oath and cost us all way too much time and money.

I’m talking about John Edwards. And I think the media should just pack up their trucks and leave him the hell alone. One, he already had the smell of sleaze about him (for those of us with sensitive sniffers) so something like this was bound to happen sometime. Two, he is no longer a political factor. I’m sure if Obama had him on the short list for Veep, he’s been scratched, and I’ve written before that Edwards’ campaign was screwed from the start and he might as well just go back to North Carolina and take care of his family.

Which brings me to three. Yes, he had an affair. There may or may not be a baby involved and there may or may not be political funds involved. But he also has a wife with recurrent breast cancer involved, and Elizabeth deserves some peace. Edwards has to answer to his own karma and to his own spouse, but to parade this thing around in public is not exactly the best recipe for her recovery.

Jim McGreevy’s wife seems like a pretty tough cookie. Eliot Spitzer’s wife can probably melt butter just by staring at it. But they can take care of themselves. Having breast cancer is bad enough without having it reoccur, without having her husband – who claimed that he would be by her side – cavorting around with another woman and getting caught (and lying about it) by the National Enquirer, of all things.

Yes, if it bleeds, it leads, and if it’s sleaze, it leads first, but if I had anything to say about it, I wouldn’t say anything. Especially quotes from the alleged “other woman,” who said that her hope was that the two of them would be together “someday,” (a not-so-vague and definitely not-so-nice euphemism for when Elizabeth dies) and please, please no more high profile TV talk show interviews where Edwards does the contrite Clinton dance, admitting to his misgivings and holding hands with his forgiving and ever-patient spouse, who, like Hillary, probably wants to brain him with one of her high heeled shoes.

Come to think of it, maybe Elizabeth ought to do that to a few of the reporters until they get the hint.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympic Dreams

So I'm corny, so I'm a sucker for the hype, but I'm really getting into the Olympics this year.

At first I started watching just the events that I normally home in on -- gymnastics and diving, some of the swimming (and not just because of the guys in their skintight suits).

But then I started drifting.

It was an innocent channel surf, at first. The "girls" were playing beach volleyball. Previously I thought that was a little weird, to have an event like that at the Olympics, a couple of girls in bikinis bouncing around in the sand. With cheerleaders and a rock 'n roll soundtrack, yet. I started to write it off as some kind of eye candy to get the male viewers, but then I started really watching them play.

And this ain't some casual Annette-and-Frankie-beachside romp. These women work their asses off. They are every much the athlete that, say, Venus Williams is. Not only are the two of them running all over that court to smash that ball around, but they are doing it in sand. And anyone who has tried to run around in the sand knows that it ain't easy.

And try doing it in a bikini. I always thought that part was a little unfair. The men get to look comfortable in a pair of jams and a polo shirt. The swimmers get a sleek unitard that stays put no matter what. Even the divers -- except for an unfortunate few who flash some butt crack as they're crawling out of the pool -- don't spend too much time worrying about losing their uniforms. And these women are leaping about, flopping headfirst into the sand, taking their bodies through their entire range of motion, wearing little more fabric that would take to make a neck tie.

Now that's an athlete.

Then I started noticing some of the other events. Some of them didn't get my interest at all -- indoor volleyball struck me as one of those sports that's more fun to play than it is to watch. Soccer doesn't do too much for me, I'm not much of a basketball fan, I can never seem to find when the baseball games are on, and weightlifting? It's not really something that I want to have memories off in my head -- some grunting guy five times my size shoving a giant weight in the air.

But what I do like is when I stumble upon something that I never thought I would like, such as water polo (okay, the guys wear a little less for this one and none of them wax their chests), bicycling, and canoeing. It's good for you to try something a little different now and again -- it kind of cracks your head open, so to speak, takes you outside of your "usualness" and that's always good for the soul.

But I think that I'm getting a little out of hand. I'm scanning the website for the schedule of events, I've signed on for e-mail alerts as to when those events will be occurring, I've become a major Phelps Phan, and I'm recording each night's events on my DVR so I can fast-forward through them in the morning. Which has led to trying not to watch the news in the morning so I don't inadvertently find out who got the gold.

I'm wondering, is there a 12 step program for this? Olympiads Anonymous? Olympanonymous? Do I have to train for it?

God I hope not. I don't run anymore, my legs were always too short for hurdles, forget the high jump, the shot put, and the long jump. It's much too late to be a child prodigy at gymnastics, and I never quite got the hang of diving.

But finally, I can get my head in the water. And one day, when I'm a big girl, I'll be able to swim without my floaties.

If Dara Torres can do it, so can I do. Watch out London -- I'm coming for you in 2012.

Friday, August 01, 2008

RFG on LOA, not DOA

Hello all,

No, I have not jumped off the bridge from the stress of planning an event for 70 in my backyard, nor have I skipped town with the spare change from RFG's slush fund.

So I don't have to keep hearing from certain people about having to stare at that "damned refrigerator," any longer, ( ;) ) this is just to report that I'm taking some time off to work on a deadline (and, start planning an event for 70 in my backyard).

I hope to be back here soon. Please don't go away!

-The editors of our RFG