Friday, November 30, 2012
Cookbooks ought to be counted among the world’s most lofty fiction. Many things are more trustworthy: a slushy pond in April to safely support twelve toddlers; a bottle of cold capsules with a broken safety seal. I trust piranha more. Cookbooks can be trusted as far as they can be thrown, which, from my back porch, with wind and adrenaline, is nearly 400 yards.
Some of my acquaintances (two accountants and a friend in law enforcement) have great success with cookbooks. They cannot fathom that I remain unscathed each time I cook without one. (My friends are soothed by things like margin lines and tax codes. And trillion-piece puzzles of grass.)
“Your problem with cookbooks,” says my mother (a bookkeeper) “is that you don’t know how to follow directions.”
She shared this insight while watching me force dry, clotted dough through a cookie press until the cylinder burst.
“What do you mean, ‘follow’ directions, Mother? I didn’t realize you wanted me to be a ‘follower’. Perhaps you should have named me ‘Trailer’, or ‘Snail-Slime’ … or—“
“Why don’t you toss that dough out back and help me separate the fescue from the crab. This puzzle is very relaxing.”
I’m sure I was adopted.
It isn’t that I don’t know how to follow directions. I choose to cook without them. Reading about cooking seems so abstract. I prefer just to cook … breathlessly, sloppily, dangerously. And when I am finished, the food is succulent and my family cleans up the mess.
Occasionally, I resort to reading recipes. But only in emergencies like a sudden religious holiday. Holidays require cookbook food, because that is what “guests” come to eat. Guests are, technically, metamorphs, like chameleons and mosquito larvae. They lie dormant during most of the year, excited by Campbell’s soup and Milk Duds. They think popcorn is a vegetable.
But on holidays they mature into professional food critics who expect their meal to be prepared under laboratory conditions using scientific method, and beakers. Guests are gratified by cooks who emerge from their kitchens exhausted and disoriented. “Where am I? What was I doing in there?” then serve Crème de Bif Gras Noir.
Even if we are invited out for a holiday, I will still need a cookbook because I have asked a terrible question: “What can I bring?” I am always surprised that no one asks for dangerous, breathless food.
I have learned to stop asking, “What can I bring?” The truth is that I want to bring nothing. I want to drive to a house that smells like Pledge to eat dangerously and drink breathlessly and watch my hostess suffer.
Last Christmas, for our family’s annual Yankee Swap, I asked my sister-in-law what I could bring, and she emailed me a recipe for “Slipped Custard Pie.”
The name alone dripped with portend of doom.
At first, the directions seemed innocuous enough. I found no violent cooking-verbs like whip, beat, dice, scrape, spank, flatten or scorch. No dramatic foreshadowing such as “early in the day, pre-heat pressure cooker.”
In fact, when I turned to the last page to see how the recipe ended, I discovered a soft caramel glaze ensconced in a run-on sentence: ‘Heat sugar to soft ball stage until strands twirl in water but do not lose their shape unless removed with wooden spoon to which it clings but won’t stick.’
I am a licensed English teacher. So I edited the ending. “Sprinkle with cinnamon,” I wrote in red ink, then returned to the beginning.
An unexpected conflict was introduced early on: ‘Stir custard constantly over very low heat for 600 strokes until arm drops into filling.’ Who was the author? Josef Mengele?
But it wasn’t until I got to the ‘mystery twist’ that I became suspicious.
It said simply, ‘Butter a second 9-inch pie plate.’
I wondered about the first pie plate only after the recipe told me to pour custard into one of them.
Before I could settle the issue of which plate the filling went in, the recipe sprinted ahead, ‘Sprinke filling with nutmeg,’ so I shook the recipe violently, “WAIT What about the PIE plate!?”
But the recipe only snickered.
‘Bake 35 minutes,’ it grinned, ‘until knife inserted one inch from edge comes out clean.’
“Why ONE inch? Which goddamn plate? AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY NUTMEG?”
‘When custard is cool—‘
“When IS that?! Five minutes? NINE DAYS!?”
‘loosen from pie plate with spatula.’
That’s when my spatula joined the fun. ‘Loosen!?’ it said, really amused, then it just gored and slashed.
Finally, the recipe drew itself up to its full 15 inches and delivered the Big Finish:
‘After shaking to dislodge custard from Plate Number Two, hold far edge of pan over far edge of crust and tilt custard gently toward Plate Number One.’
I threw myself on the floor while the recipe spun on the countertop, fanning its pages and speaking in tongues.
‘As custard slips toward second crust,’ the recipe giggled, drooling, ‘pull plate back quickly--‘
“NO!!” I screamed.
‘—until custard rests in crust!’
“My custard’s resting on my shoe--”
‘Let filling settle,’
“On my SHOE?”
‘then garnish with whipping cream.’
Whipped cream is the only thing that saves a Slipped Custard Pie. But it does not save one’s sanity. The only thing that does that is a chewable vitamin necklace tied to loved ones’ throats to sustain throughout the remainder of the religious holiday.
Actually, trillion piece puzzles of grass can help. I find them relaxing – quite delicious – especially served on tax codes. Oops – could you hold on while I get the phone?
My margin line is ringing.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
When my oldest son finished his junior year in high school, he’d already fallen victim to high-pressure marketing campaigns perpetrated by American universities – plus one from Sydney, Australia.
The more considerate institutions of higher tuition even enclosed applications for student loan sharks for his convenience.
Meanwhile, my son was so pacific, he had no clue what he wanted to study. (His own mother, after all, had felt no pressure to make a hasty career choice. After four decades.)
But when 8X10 glossies started to arrive featuring bikini-intensive women sprawled across ocean-front campuses, the kid got restless to pick an ocean.
One afternoon, as he sifted through the latest barrage of mailbox propaganda, he asked me soulfully to share with him – as his professional mother – my opinion of his talents. I was touched. So before I rendered an opinion, I consulted my recipe files.
Now, I’m not being flippant about my ‘professional mother status.’ I don’t even read recipes or cook in any traditionally–accepted way. So long ago, I converted this vacant file box to a Quote Holder: a repository in which to store memorable utterances my kids spouted while growing up. Things like, “Mom, what’s a ‘kosh’?”
“A ‘kosh’!? I don’t know. Spell it.”
“You know, like when you throw ‘kosh’ into the wind.” Like that.
I figured a glimpse at this son’s extra-lengthy section might lend insight into his aptitude and interests, from which a handful of college majors might spring.
Together, we reviewed years of his razor-sharp whimsy, then brainstormed for careers in the following manner: “Mom, take a look at this one: In first grade I said, ‘Me and my Dad are like Father and Son.’ So whadya think? Family Therapy? Social Worker?”
“I don’t know. Grammarian?”
“Okay, honey, what about … ‘Geneticist’?”
“Cool,” he said and wrote this down.
So it went, until we had sufficient careers to put his troubled mind to rest, or we ran out of cards.
The following is the result of our work starting with quotes uttered at various developmental stages, followed by appropriate career paths.
Grade 2: “Are alligators and crocodiles enough alike to mate?”
Career Options: Biotechnology / Human Sexuality Double Major
Grade 3: “How do you pronounce our religion?”
“You mean, ‘Protestant'?"
“THAT’S it. I always get that confused with ‘prostitute.’”
Career Options: Comparative Religions, Speech Therapy
Grade 4: “Why can’t tree bark be called Tree Crust?"
Botanical Linguistics Upstart
Grade 5: “If blood is really blue then turns red when it hits the air, why is it red
when a nurse draws it through a needle from the vacuum created by an
Grade 6: “Statistically, is it possible for everyone to win the lottery if they play each day and live forever?”
Statistics / Immortality Double Major
Grade 7: “Look! I can palm my own head!”
Grade 8: Anonymous Poetry
My best friend’s not reel TALL.
I shoved his face in a WALL.
He called me DOPE
I said NOPE
Then I made him FALL.
Correctional Facility Maintenance Staff
Grade 9: “Why are there so many lawyers? My best friend wanted to be one
‘til he found out there were so many. Now he wants to be an assassin.”
Reality TV Talent Scout
Grade 10: After falling off skateboard. “Man, my lower back KILLS!”
Follow-up, same incident: Mom: “Gosh, do you want to see a chiropractor or
Son: “No, but I might want to see Terminator 2.”
Film Critic/Law, Double Major
Grade 11, Real Time: Son to brother who mistakenly sweeps Quotes off table walking by:
“Nice move, RE-boy.”
Mom: “ExCUSE me. Why is what you said wrong?”
Son: (sighs) “’ Because. . .’using a sub-group as a swear insults members of that group.’”
Mom: “Yes. And what do we say about insults?”
Son: “They’re okay as long as you use them correctly.”
Public Relations or Presidential Election-Campaign Manager
*BONUS CAREER: Son ‘noogies’ mother as she jots down a career. Mother accidentally ‘inks out’ a line.
Mom: “Watch out or I’ll write on YOU.”
His brother. “Or write more ABOUT you.”
Son: “Yeah, and get rejected.”
Entire Staff of The Atlantic
Not only were we able to come up with absolutely nothing viable, my son became so frightened by his own American childhood, he decided to apply to the Indian Ocean in Australia to major in general electives.
And so, it is clear that with a little parental understanding and teamwork, this very troubling life decision can be successfully compounded by confusion, panic, and the need to acquire a passport.
Therefore, I recommend that parents everywhere begin to cook recklessly and fill their recipe boxes with embarrassing childhood memories that eventually can be read by strangers – that your children, too, may abscond to a different country upon their high school graduation.
If there is anything else I can do for you and yours, don’t hesitate to write it down -- then burn it.
Back in the day, most people preferred to NOT wear their glasses. The only reason I ever wear mine is that I can’t see when I take them off.
Frankly I’m considering Lasik surgery, since recent improvements make the procedure more effective and last much longer, like George Foreman grills and Ferbies.
Cuz I’ll tell you, those of us who wear glasses wish we did not need them.
There are tons of reasons for this: if our glasses break, life as we know it ends. We cannot drive, we can’t walk around, we can’t feed ourselves or think or even breathe because we are unable to locate the really good air as we cannot see it without our glasses.
We also can’t hear without glasses.
This is a common phenomenon Optometrists giggle about at Optometric Conventions. “Yeah, I had Mrs. Wacknagel in the hydraulic chair and I aimed her eyes at the eye chart and said, ‘Read the first line,’ and SHE says, get this, ‘I can’t HEAR you. Speak into my EYES so I can see what you’re saying.’”
Optometrists also giggle about how sign language was invented by nearsighted people trying to read an eye chart.
This is not true. Everyone knows it was invented by the pretty, smiling brunette lady who worked on Sesame Street.
People hate being so depending on their eyewear. That’s why the Declaration of Independence includes a clause called ‘Freedom To Wear Contacts’. Unfortunately, contact-wearers began losing this eyewear at Optometric Expos. Which led to the invention of the Disposable Contact Lens. That way, people could drop contacts onto carpeting and leave them there to melt, then pop a fresh lens into their eye.
Unfortunately, disposable lenses also melted in peoples’ eyes, which caused corneal ulcerations and lawsuits. Which meant that most of us were stuck wearing glasses until our species evolved better eyes or bigger lawyers.
Glasses wouldn’t be half as bad if we didn’t have to endure the Ritual Eye Exam.
“Hello, I am Carolyn. I am here for my 5:30 eye exam.”
“We’ll be taking your glasses now.”
“What? Shouldn’t I fill out some forms first? I’ll NEED my glasses to fill out the fo—“
“We won’t be using any forms, Carolyn. Doctor will ask you all the questions he needs, so if you’ll just give me your gl—“
“Let me try and find my credit card first. I want to PAY you for this exam and—“
“Doctor utilizes third party billing through your insurance company. Now hand over the glasses.”
“Oh, LOOK! It’s Lady Gaga!”
Receptionist whisks glasses off and spirits them to a small room where muffled giggles are heard.
Next, a deer with blonde hair sidles up.
“Hello, my name is Bambi and I’m going to be your guide. I realize everything is a weensy bit fuzzy right now. But your exam will begin soon. Can I get you some coffee?”
“What? I can’t hear a word you’re saying. Hey. What is that THING coming out of your head?”
“What thing? You mean my EAR?”
“I already SAID I can’t hear, but what is that thing com—“
“Here, Carolyn, let’s you and I cross the Eyeland Bridge over to Frame World where you can feel around to select some new frames. Meanwhile, several technicians will observe you from a two-way mirror to see how much you fall without your glasses. This helps Doctor determine how much to change your prescription.
“Over here we carry our designer frames, and some stunning frameless lenses held up with just a nose clip. OOOPS, that is a philodendron. Let me get that off your face.”
The exams were worse.
An optometrists sits you in a dentist’s chair and puts big machines over your eyes that you look through to read the alphabet, which is in random order, but you won’t know this because the optometrist is busy making the machine cause double vision and hallucinations. He says things like, “Is it better now… or NOW?” “Is this better… or how about…THIS?”
After you tell him you can’t see anything until he takes the machine off your face, the optometrist puts drops into your eyes that make you go blind.
“Excuse me. What did you just put in my eyes?”
“Nothing. Now if you’ll just—“
“Nothing. Now if you’ll just—“
“What do you mean nothing? My eyes are numb and you look orange.”
“It’s just some eye medicine, Carolyn, with an anesthetic in it and some dye. Now just LEAN—“
“Why do my eyes need anesthesia? What are you going to do to them?”
“Nothing, Carolyn, NOTHING. If you’ll just take some deeeep breaths. Okay, good. Now, lean forward so I can put this pointed instrument directly onto your eyeball to look inside your brain and read your mind. Ha ha ha. Just a little optometrist humor!
“Well, now. Mmm hmm. OK! All done. Hello, Carolyn, are you alright?”
Once Bambi returns you to consciousness with several slaps to your cheek, she gives you your old glasses back and says your new lenses will be ready in about an hour.
An hour in Optometric Time is between five and twelve business days, and you should arrive for your fitting ceremony drunk.
That is so the frames you selected by means of Braille will appear to look nice.
By the time you sober up at home and realize the new glasses make you look like a very large insect, the optometric mall franchise will be subsumed by Burger King.
And so, it was the Archaic Ritual Eye Exam and Fly-Disguise Frames that gave way to industrialist-style Lasik Surgery and I for one want to be the first in line … for the 6th Gen Procedure … due out in 2015, when Halo 12 is released.
See you there in either line.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
When I taught English the last two years in Worcester, Massachusetts at the start-up charter school, The Spirit of Knowledge, it was the first time in more than a decade I’d worked in an urban setting. I instantly remembered how at-home the city felt.
It’s some combination of the flurry of activity, the abundance of cultures, religions, foods. But moreover? It was the refreshing “core” and power of my students.
It persists in being a curiosity to me, just how comfortable I am. I’ve lived for a quarter century in a rural hiccup of a town, and as far as my own race/ethnicity go, I am a vanilla puddle. Yet, my father’s second wife (my mother was his third) was of African heritage, so when I grew up, my two older half-siblings seemed woven of a richer fabric than I.
Meanwhile, before I’d reconciled this sensation, I had developed a racism-phobia. By that I mean, throughout my teens and into my early parenting years, I feared I myself might accidentally be racist. At any moment. In any situation.
Why not? I had learned to walk during the Civil Rights Movement, and grew breasts at the precise historical moment we all learned to burn our bras.
As a child of the Feminist-Hippie Era, being in any way chauvinistic or racist defied “my roots.”
Then came The Bowling Alley Incident of 1989.
What a rude awakening.
First of all, I was not a racist at the same time I was a chauvinist. There were two separate incidents.
I was a racist at a bowling alley where my kids and I were waiting for a lane. There was a group of three ahead of us: a white girl, a black guy, and a Republican named Todd. When they were finishing up, I happened to watch them tally their scores on the projector overhead:
Terry: 240 Lamar: 165 Todd: 190
As they brushed past, I smiled at Terry and said to her, “Boy, you really cleaned their clocks!” She stared at me vacantly.
That’s when Todd stepped up to inform me, “Lamar usually does much better. She just wasn’t getting any action off the pins.”
Okay, so I had confused their names. Hmmm.
The second incident happened at a formal function my husband’s research team held to celebrate the end of a project. Everyone’s spouses were invited and I was excited to meet them all. In my cultural acuity I assumed all the women were the spouses and the men were the researchers. I won’t go into details, but I was wrong.
Why did I make these kinds of assumptions?
I considered that people most prone to this are suffering from poor cultural identity. Perhaps if I were a member of some specific ethnic group, one with a sense of heritage, I would be more astute.
I am a member of no ethnicity except the mythical suburban mommy group. My maiden name was Smith, I married a Given, and both of our family tree branches hang with names like Berry, Remick, Marston and Merrill. I bet we’re all related.
I’m sure we would be proud of these names if we just knew what they were.
There’s always a fight about this at family gatherings. “We are Scottish!” “No, we’re Irish.” “We are English.” “No, we’re Welsh.”
Once everyone realizes we are nothing more than WASPs, someone invariably brings up the Indian Princess Story. This is a sure sign of cultural poverty, when Anglo Saxons reflect with pride on the family’s sole Indian Princess. She always marries the burly coal miner and is responsible for the family’s extraordinary longevity and ruddy complexion.
It never occurs to anyone that we are a family of alcoholics, ruddy from exploded blood vessels and too drunk to actually die.
And we don’t have any religious ties. I was raised in a Congregationalist Protestant Church. It doesn’t get any more vague than that.
When I was little, I wanted to convert to Catholicism. Other kids on their birthdays would ask for Barbie or GI Joe. I asked for rosary beads and a stack of communion wafers.
To me, Congregationalists never seemed ‘sure enough’ of anything. We doubted the Bible was literal. We delved into technicalities of how the Virgin Mother conceived. We wanted forensic evidence that Jesus and God were related.
And we’re never certain when we’ve committed felonious sin or some minor misdemeanor.
My Catholic schoolmates had it made. There was no doubt that they would sin, each week; then they’d get to carry rosary beads to the confessional and eat communion wafers.
And they got all the Holy Days off.
Protestants go to school unless there’s a snow day, or the government changes some national leader’s birthday to cause a three-day-weekend.
Ash Wednesdays had me writhing with jealousy. My Catholic friends would get dismissed, then return to school looking holier than ever with a priest’s ashen thumbprint on their foreheads.
I didn’t even know what Ash Wednesday was. I was a lousy Sunday School student. I always thought Thanksgiving was the day Moses led the Pilgrims to the Promised Land.
And forget about my husband’s religious upbringing. His mother dabbled in Christian Science, he and his sisters attended Methodist Bible School, their father was an electrician.
At our third son’s 8th birthday party, he asked me if we were Jewish.
“Why do you think we’re Jewish?” I asked, schlepping cake to all his friends.
“Well, Pierre Boucher is French, Anthony Carboni is Italian, and I told them we weren’t anything. So they told me I was Jewish because my name is Zachary.”
Perhaps people do not have to suffer from poor cultural identity to makes these kinds of assumptions.
This may mean I am not a chauvinist bigot after all.
Oy! Such a weight from me has been lifted.
Yes, it's the birthday of theater critic Brooks Atkinson, born in Melrose, Massachusetts (1894).
He said, "The humorous man recognizes that absolute purity, absolute justice, absolute logic and perfection are beyond human achievement and . . . men have been able to live happily for thousands of years in a state of genial frailty."
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Erma Bombeck was the nation’s most beloved suburban humorist when I was growing up. Today I still love her work, and channel Erma in the same way that author Julie Powell channeled Julia Child, (just without the Ephron screenplay).
One of my favorite Erma-isms comes up frequently at our house: someone scavenges the fridge for a snack and comes across a leftover that seems to be going bad. JUST as they try to toss it in the garbage, I throw my body between the trash and the leftover shouting, “It’s not READY to be thrown away!” Erma and I are all about the leftover... with hope.
My actual life is full of not-ready-to-be-thrown-aways. And, yes, I do aspire to become a feature on an episode of Hoarders, but that’s not what I mean.
I am talking about my brain.
It seems to be going bad, but it’s not ready to be thrown away.
Fortunately, I’ve reached the age where I can blame estrogen loss for losing track of keys, names, entire days, my train-of-thought, an actual train-ticket. Because back in the day, when my word-retrieval issues first started, people suspected crack-abuse.
In winter of ’94, I was enrolled in several secondary ed courses at a nearby college. One early morning, I drew upon my novice skills as a future English teacher, and impressed my son and his friends with my linguistic prowess.
“Nick,” I said cleverly, as that is his name. “Aren’t you guys cold at the bus stop without one of those … um--”
“What, Mom? We gotta go.”
“You know. The warm wraps that--”
“You know. The warm wraps that--”
“You mean a scarf?”
“Not that. One of those … you know!”
“No. Those…coats for your head.”
“No. Those…coats for your head.”
“You mean, a ‘hat’?”
“YES! That’s it! A HAT!”
As their little naked heads bobbed toward the bus, one of the tots doused his cigarette sniffing, “How come we never hear about the parties your Mom goes to?”
I couldn’t understand it. English was not my second language. It was something for which I’d acquire a license to teach in another year. Yet language at the most crucial times escaped me. Never anything tricky like anthropomorphic. Or cellulite. I forgot words like plow.
“Look out for that – wide thing – pushes…white, cold … stuff.”
“Are you referring to the plow we passed a mile ago with a football field between us?” queried the Master’s Degree-d Science Wiz actually driving the car.
“Oh. Plow. Missed it. Good.”
It’s fortunate I was training to be an English teacher and not a transplant specialist:
“. . . with seconds to go before shutting down the respirator, the fate of vital organs hanging in the balance, Dr. Given is passed the Tolstoy Articulating Retractor with which she … retracts articles. She tracts. She retracts, until the respirator sputters to a halt. The only audible sound is that of… retracted things: a viscous surgical symphony playing to the petulant tick of time.
“Okay, we’re ready,” says. Dr. Given. “Hand me that … oh you know, that breathing thing. No, fool! Not beating. That thing only pumps. What?? Ah yes, the LUNG, thank you, nurse. Now did everybody get that? Alrighty, then, let’s –oops!
“Well, I hope you’re all happy. Now the patient is …like, uh -- he’s—“
And it’s a darned good thing my husband and I pored, for months, during each of four pregnancies, over Baby Name Encyclopedias so I could knowledgeably call each offspring ‘Yo’ at dinnertime.
“Yo! Dudes. Come eat. You, there, with the faux-hawk – grab your brother.”
“Six-one, dark hair.”
“That’s him. And call Zach.”
“That’s him. And call Zach.”
“I’m Zach. You want Jake.”
“Should I get Abigail?”
“You gave birth to her in 1990.”
“I was there so don’t be fresh. And feed Frank.”
“Mom, you had her put to sleep. The NEW cat answers to ‘Selina’.”
“And YOU can answer to Wise Guy so just march to your room --young man.”
“Forgot my name, huh?”
“It’s Zach, but I’ll go anyway. Can I have pizza in my room?”
“Round cheesy food that your kids – and I’m one – eat for dinner.”
“Dinner? Right. Hey, call the rest of the kids, would you? It’s time to eat.”
While they ate, the kids (Nicholas, Jacob, Zachary and Abigail) voted to forbid me to seek further advanced degrees. They said any new knowledge would “p-l-o-w” away even more reference data about them, and I’d be reduced to calling their names in simple code by tapping a rubber spoon against a drool-cup.
“You know, Mom,” the one with the braces pouted. “We never forget your name.”
“Duh!” I said. “You all call me, ‘Mom’. And I’ve seen your Emergency Contact cards at school. You list my first name as ‘Mrs.’, my middle as ‘J’ – and, sweetie, I haven’t been 27 since the year you were born, but thanks --
“Okay, listen up! ‘Mom’ is not my given name, although Given is my surname, not my maiden, which was Smith.”
I didn’t graduate summa cum brilliant from my English Teacher program for nothing! I graduated for – umm …gads. Let’s see … Perhaps the income for a copy of Luminosity and some Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Or simply the right to have finally ‘caught up’ to my “early neural maturity.” Ol' what's-her-name Bombeck would have totally agreed.
For my niece A.P.S. who is Smoke-Free for one week today, which through NO coincidence is as long as this blog existed -- such is the Power Of The Blog . . .
Long ago, I decided to give up smoking. Oh, sure, it was a glamorous habit, bringing me endless hours of joy through social ostracism and fear of death. But the one health risk I could no longer ignore – one afflicting millions across the nation – was damaged texting-calluses from operating childproof lighters.
Did you notice that texting came into fashion around the same time restaurants, federal buildings, and the Actual Outdoors banned public smoking?
I feel CERTAIN these events are linked: If smokers fruitlessly flicked away at flame-free lighters, the damage to texting-thumbs would collapse the cell phone industry. (I’m no conspiracy theorist: but does the cell phone industry NOT thrive today??)
Meanwhile, thousands of ex-smokers’ homes now boast Nostalgia Bowls brimming with childproof lighters… just itching to be awarded as door prizes at the next religious holiday-gathering or children’s birthday party.
Do you recall how this all began? It was the year that clerks at convenience stores stopped handing out free matches with cigarette purchases. The public was told this was done as a safety precaution, under the guise that convenience stores sell gasoline, and that matches and gasoline combust.
Actually, it was a campaign to raise state revenue by making people PAY for matches, which people started DOING.
That’s when they took away the matches and made people pay for lighters.
So successful was this effort, they took away the flammable kind that folks paid money for, and came up with a lighter that could not produce flame. (The original non-flaming lighter was marketed as a novelty item at Newbury Comics, next to candles that don’t blow out.)
Pharmacies soon got hold of them and sold them to parents as a means to encourage their teenagers to quit smoking. HMOs gave them away at smoking cessation clinics.
Before we knew it, they appeared in toy stores so parents could give them to their three-year-olds (who are born knowing how to ignite them) to bolster their self -esteem. (Back then self-esteem was a federally-funded project Democrats worked on feverishly until they proved it should be included in public education. Soon, federal educational grants included a year’s supply of childproof lighters.)
But still, the purchase of childproof versus lighters small children weren’t interested in was left to the consumer.
That’s when the Republican Congress, bored with cutting federal funding to the arts, decided to ban ignitable lighters.
Today Americans have no choice. Our country’s fourteen remaining smokers are being forced to bolster children’s self-esteems whether they want to or not.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll find self-esteems being bolstered left and right, mostly right, and it’s producing a future generation of smarmy, self-righteous Republicans.
This raises an important question for 2016. Without two different parties, won’t elections suck?
I say, if this great nation is going to endure, by GOD we’ve got to start selling tiny ice picks to disarm that safety switch.
And GET those childproof lighters -- AND those children -- out of public schools. If adults wanted to be made to look stupid by chubby, overachieving school children, we wouldn’t stop smoking in the first place.
After my spousal unit’s diagnosis with myeloma, it was data that kept our family sane. I addicted myself to the Myeloma Beacon website and their daily, newsy updates about breakthroughs and clinical trials. It was the right thing to do: myeloma is one of only a few diseases where successful trials lead rapidly to change in treatment protocols. I actually said to my spouse the other day, “If only you were diagnosed YESTERDAY instead of WAY BACK IN AUGUST.”
The first time I realized how important information is to one’s mental health… was when I hypochondriacally diagnosed myself as clinically depressed. Turns out I was having a series of bad days: my four kids ranged in ages from ten to eight months at the time, and most of them were contagiously vomiting on each other. I was simply experiencing a stretch of bad days. WHAT A RELIEF!
I love the theory about ‘good versus bad days.’ On ‘good days’ your very own angel makes the sun shine relentlessly just to catch your blonde highlights. Your bank teller remembers to wear her patch making her SO excited to see you, she notices your highlights and gives you a lollipop the color of the happily shining sun. You believe that life is good.
Then there’s the super-ball rubber-check day, the “return of your favorite cold sore” day, a Jehovah’s Witness FINDS you day.
On Bad Days, even Burger King is out to get you.
“Sorry. We’re out of beef.”
But Stephen Hawking would tell you that good and bad days are scientifically impossible. His computer would say, “From the perspective of dimension-splicing and protonic time-reversal, ‘days’ as we know them do not exist. They are mythical units of measurement created by man to explain why we wake up one day looking old. ‘Ahh,’ we say. ‘The Earth-Sun Thing has happened many times. Enough to expose my face to radiation so I am wrinkled enough to die.’”
But Stephen KING would tell you Good and Bad Days are no myth. They are made of bad spirits that led to reality TV. You can actually see them at work in older movies like Carrie or Backdraft. (In these films, Kurt Russell and Sissy Spacek are ostracized by spouses or cheerleaders, Kurt’s budget is cut, Sissy’s Mom won’t buy tampons, then they both die, finally, blazingly, of thrilling special effects.)
Some people believe that Good and Bad Days exist for a purpose: that they are karma’s way of making humans experience polarization. Like a polar windstorm juxtaposed by a tropical drought -- to prove that misery would get even more boring than the curse of perpetual bliss. So karma alternates them. That we may enjoy each to the fullest.
Sometimes people try to enjoy Good and Bad Days at the same time. Karma intends this to entertain psychologists, so they get to use the term “rationalization.”
“It is GOOD I am working 85 hours per week. Now I earn enough money to pay a therapist so I can learn to balance my time.”
Occasionally, Good and Bad Days marry to create such balance, we can’t tell the difference. Like when our dog is struck dead by lightning, but we win $3,000 on a scratch ticket. Really. What do we feel then?
And when a string of ‘bad days’ cluster up on you insidiously, you, too, might diagnose yourself as “depressed.” But the only way to know the difference … is information:
See if you can tell in the following scenarios whether Julia is having a Bad Day, or is simply “Depressed.”
Julia’s very last “retro” glass bottle of Pepsi has a cap that refuses to twist off. Her church key is broken, her corkscrew is lost, so Julia uses the edge of a mahogany table to lift the cap, but instead lifts off the bottle neck causing a volcanic spray of glass and soda to erupt on a carpet she just had cleaned. Julia says, “Oh shit.”
Depression? Or just a Bad Day?
Julia goes to the refrigerator for a Pepsi only to discover there is just one left. Julia screams, “Why ME?” then impales the Retro bottleneck into her chest and falls into the refrigerator to bleed until EMTs arrive.
A Bad Day? Or Depression?
If both situations overwhelm you to the point where you have to lie down, you are depressed. If Scenario Two depresses you, you are having a Bad Day. If Scenario One makes you giggle with self-recognition, you need to put your corkscrews back where they belong. And anyone having a Good Day is having too much fun to read this so I hope my point is clear.
There are good days, there are bad days, depression is a mythical unit of measurement created by Stephen King, and all of us should only do banking with tellers who wear Xanax patches.
Truly, life is good.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
I’ve been WAITING for the right opportunity to empower this blog to cure cancer – and here it is, straight from David Freudberg’s public radio show, Humankind: "I think [laughter] is a tool, like swimming or meditating, that helps you live, that keeps you buoyant, that keeps you afloat, that gives you mirth, that's like a life preserver in a sea of difficulty. But it can't be instead of. I mean, I've cried so much in the last couple of years and that's been so necessary."
-- Marion Grodin, comedian and cancer survivor
Indeed. By Thanksgiving week, I had become so obsessed researching clinical trials for multiple myeloma – a blood plasma cancer my spouse was diagnosed with August, 2012 - that one of my best friends suggested I revisit humor-writing, to re-orient myself (so I’d remember to buy a turkey and cook it Thursday).
This strategy worked. (I even remembered our kids were coming in from various parts of the world, so I washed sheets and comforters.)
This is my second opportunity to become a researcher and caregiver for an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer: my mother survived a rare but treatable form of acute leukemia, only to contract end-stage ovarian cancer and succumb a couple years later. I guess this is my third rodeo. But each has been very unique, very special.
There are myriad blogs today for cancer survivors of all diagnoses: for the newly diagnosed, for their families, for veteran survivors and clinical trials.
The only reason I would add mine to the global array is that it uniquely does not focus on, say, cancer-markers plummeting after the third of eight cycles of novel drug therapy. It COULD. But it is not a myeloma blog – or any of the sort that so elegantly share journeys with and triumphs over malignant disorders. There are beautiful ones out there: the Myeloma Beacon is a wonderful website; there are hundreds of blogs: I follow Pat Killingsworth and Nick van Dyke.
But THIS? It started as a place for me to re-balance and re-ground. Sure, to remember Thanksgiving, but also to re-charge sufficiently to return to the work of getting this family hitchhiker under my spell. I’m a Myeloma Wrangler.
That said, though, if David Fruedberg’s public radio show Humankind devoted part of its series to treating cancer in large part with humor!? Then this blog IS a part of that purpose. To that end, I now offer today’s gut-splitting laugh-fest, “Juliet The Cat Died Tragically Yesterday Morning” … OR …“JTCDTYM”
When my spouse discovered Juliet Saturday, we were reminded of something my Mom used to say to me all the time: “You can’t have anything nice.”
Our cat Juliet was nice.
She was the black-and-white replacement for Katie-Ophelia, who’d died in the same tragic manner. (We also had cats in living color, but they were named things like Morris and Tiger, so they died of natural causes.) It’s true: for Juliet and Katie-Ophelia, they died of Shakespearean names.
Also, the street we live on.
It’s deceptively rural.
Our house is located RIGHT at the spot where the road begins to ascend a bit upward -- at Summit-Ski-Style Grades -- maybe 75% … toward a gorgeous lake. It is precisely at our house that folks go from 20 MPH to 45 in nanoseconds.
We’ve lost … oh, as of Juliet... four cats this way over a quarter century. And although my spouse would disagree, I say the treatment for Death-By- Shakespeare-and-Cars is a brand new kitten.
. . . and the only way to get one of these is the Miracle Of Birth, like the one I experienced many Junes ago, during the zenith of the full moon: the perfect time for public schools to release my four kids for summer . . .
I was on the sofa half-dreaming, half-listening to the morning news, when vague kid-conversation jostled me from sleep.
“It looks like she’s smiling.”
“She WAS out for four nights.”
“She’s gotta be pregnant.”
“Her mammals are huge!”
“They’re not mammals, you moron.”
“Whatever. They’re huge.”
“Let’s tell Mom.”
“Dude. No way. It’s summer vacation. We wanna LIVE.”
I considered this exchange for five seconds before rolling over, vowing to never again partake of Stephen King AND clam dip before bed.
Meanwhile, Precious The Cat, within seconds of her diagnosis, began to inflate until she resembled a pelted mylar balloon held down by four clawed stump-ettes.
The children danced gaily around Precious during her confinement, cooing the words Big Mama, patting her great belly, pouring her great saucers of milk, and fanning her greatness during heat waves.
“Trollop!” I said to her each day, which made her purr and grow still greater.
Bitterly, I phoned the friend who gave us an originally un-pregnant Precious The Kitten to ask, “How much greater can a pregnant thing GET?”
“She’ll have them when it looks like she’s going to explode.”
This news entertained the children.
“Better stand back, Mom. Looks like she’s gonna blow.”
“Three seconds to critical mass!”
“Quick! To the shelter!”
On a doleful July evening at the start of another full moon, a small voice cried out, “Mom, her water broke!”
I didn’t know cats had water.
Drawing on my skills as a trained English teacher, I did what any rational person would do in a birthing crisis. I called three girlfriends and went out for hot fudge sundaes (At Roland’s Pink Cone on Route 16!)
On my way out the door, I shouted, “Stick Precious inside Daddy’s suitcase!” and fled.
Having done exhaustive research on feline obstetrics, I knew Precious’ first litter would be small and she wouldn’t deliver for at least three hours. But I called home anyway when I got to Roland’s Cone.
My 16 year old answered the phone.
“Yo, you’ve reached Hell House.”
“Nick? It’s Mom. Any sign of—“
“Seven. We have seven wet, black kittens and there are more where they came from.”
“That’s impossible, I’ve hardly been gone seven minutes.”
“She’s feeding them all now.”
“Cut it out, Nick, or put your brother on the phone.”
“It’s true! They’re deaf, they’re blind, they look like rats, they—“
“It’s true! They’re deaf, they’re blind, they look like rats, they—“
“Mom? Hi! Did you know that kittens are born with their amniotic sacs intact? The mother chews off their umbilical cords and then—“
“I have to go, Jacob. I have a business meeting.”
“Wanna hear em ‘mew’ cuz I can stretch the phone cord and—“
One girlfriend fairly dropped her mocha nut when she learned I’d just had kittens. “Get me the biggest male you have. I need a Killer Guard Cat.”
In fact, that night at the Great Cone, I unloaded two more kittens on other dairy-addicts. Fortunately, Precious stopped at seven kittens, as I had run out of co-dependents.
I soon learned that our quiet town is the quintessence of “community.” Before the paint dried on a FREE KITTENS sign the kids duct-taped to a tire swing, two would-be pet owners perused the four kittens still unclaimed.
But Nature giveth … and She taketh away. Two of the original seven, sadly, did not survive. (Precious The Mutant only came with five 'mammals.')
By the time all five healthy, remaining kittens were weaned, each was spoken for and would be adopted into loving homes.
The more I think about THIS blessed event, the more I must revisit the concept of “miracle.”
And even “replacement kittens.”
I’m thinkin' … dog.