Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The power of the force

I grew up in the 1970s surrounded by a bunch of boys who never ceased to remind me what they could do better. And, in my case, it was most everything. I didn't measure up to the girls either, for that matter. You see, I couldn’t run fast and do backhand springs and pull ups like my little sister. I didn't know karate like the little girl across the street. I wasn't drop-dead gorgeous like my best friend who lived five house down.

Nope, I was awkward, and I liked to read. I really liked to read. It made me different. It set me apart, and in the 70s, as a child growing up on a country road, that wasn't a good thing.
Thank God, I had Princess Leia. When the boys started saying how much girls sucked, I had Princess Leia. I could be her, and I could win whatever contest, whatever challenge, whatever game we were playing.
I saw Star Wars for the first time with my dad. We got into his air-conditioned blue Ford sedan that his office bought at auction from the local sheriff's office and rode the five minutes into town to the Alamo, a movie theater that's now converted into a bar and, mercifully, spared its demise.
Dad and I settled into seats on the right hand side toward the back, feet sticking to the floor from the years of spilled Cokes. I can only recall seeing one other movie prior to that, and it was The Aristocrats. I'll have to check the dates to see if my memory serves correctly in that regard, but I vividly recall what happened that night as the camera rolled, and the film flickered, and the magic that was, and is, Star Wars, began. I was mesmerized from the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," opening crawl, to the trash compactor scene, to music that accompanied the final credits.
In a world where "You throw like a girl!" was hurled at me daily, I was suddenly empowered. I could be Princess Leia and not just the braids. Princess Leia was a tough smart ass. No one told her to be quiet or watch her mouth, and if they did, she'd respond in a way that I'd always wanted to. The neighbor boys were both in love and afraid of her, a combination I secretly longed for - and had - when I pretended to be her. That went a long way for a girl with a strong imagination who was teased unmercifully for being who she was.
As an adult, I read Carrie Fisher's book Wishful Drinking and learned my early idol was different. She had a drinking problem and a history of mental illness. The queen of all princesses went through electroshock therapy multiple times and lived to write about it, humorously. Beyond that even, she was the person scriptwriters called in the middle of the night to fix the mess they had written. She was smart. Brilliant, maybe. Who knows what she could have accomplished without those albatrosses hanging from her neck? Perhaps it’s because of, or in spite of, them that she did the things she did. I don't know. I just know that I'll miss my heroine, and I'm glad my children got to know her through Friday family nights spent watching the epic space saga.
May the force forever be with her and those who are a little bit different.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Erma, we need you (still)!

I read an article about the timelessness of Erma Bombeck’s books and columns in which Bombeck, in case you aren’t familiar, humorously describes what her wikipedia entry refers to as “a period of intense homemaking” in the suburbs. It was as if she submitted the entry herself.

 And, therein lies the everlasting appeal of this Ohio “housewife,” who would go on to pen 15 books, most of which became bestsellers, 4,000 newspaper columns picked up by almost a thousand newspapers in addition to major magazines. Bombeck went from earning $3 a piece for her columns to $500,000 to $1 million a year in the mid-80s, all by sharing the frustrations and joys of daily life – in a funny way.

What made her so popular? I say it’s because she reminds you to laugh, not just with her, but at yourself - no matter how tired you are or how messy your house is or how much laundry you need to fold. No matter if the local wholesale food store calls and leaves a message that the frozen veggies you recently purchased (and are cooking for dinner) MAY be contaminated with listeria, and you should bring the receipt – not the vegetables – back to the store. No matter if the part of the listeria-filled vegetable message that bothers you most is the fact that the store has a list of who buys them. No matter what kind of mother or father you think you are – good, bad, somewhere in between – you have to laugh.

Speaking of mothers, I was first introduced to Bombeck at age 8 when my mom asked for a copy of her books. Now this caught my attention for two reasons. One, my mother, for all of her many talents, was not a voracious reader. Perhaps it was because her child, who was one beginning at a very early age, burned her out on it. I can recall sitting next to my mom and having her read me an Archie comic book over and over again, and her saying, in a fit of exasperation at the chronicles of Jughead, Betty and Veronica (BTW, wasn’t I too young for that?), “I’ll be so glad when you learn to read!”

Needless to say, I was delighted to look for and buy my mom these books, especially due to the second reason, their titles, for example, "The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank" and "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?"

I can recall knowing they were funny but not exactly certain why. I remember asking questions like, “What is a septic tank? And why is it greener?” and “What does the pits mean?” If my mom had an exasperated reply then, I don’t remember it. Perhaps it was because she had Erma to share it with.

By the way, Erma had kidney disease since she was in her 20s. She was told she couldn’t have children before having two of her own (having already adopted one). She worked two jobs to pay for her college but then failed her literary classes at Ohio University and was rejected by its newspaper before running out of funds. She later enrolled at the University of Dayton, where she worked 2-3 jobs, including one at a department store where she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter before graduating with an English degree and later becoming a lifetime trustee of the institution.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not. I’m telling myself. Today, I had a hard day. One friend described it as a post-Mother’s Day hangover where you realize that you didn’t pick up any clothes because it
was your day off, yet they are still on the floor, and although it had only been one day, you’d already gotten spoiled having the kids get along so well and willingly making you dinner.

I had come home after a very long work day that included a 30-minute commute to the interstate which is ACROSS THE STREET (Sorry, no road rage here …) to tired kids and no dinner. Worst of all, we had no tuna, a fact that drove my son to his brink and me to mine. Somewhere around that time, came the listeria call.

It was then that I remembered what I had read about Erma Bombeck. Sometimes you just gotta laugh. Or write about it and let others do so – either way, the result is the same. Both of us feel better. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bon voyage!

As I sit here and read about one of the world’s largest cruise ships heading back to port after a massive storm that injured passengers and left thousands of others confined to their (very small) rooms, I am reminded once again why cruises remain – and forever shall remain – on what I’m calling my “Hole in the bucket” list. 

These are things, simply put, that I never want to do.

Cruises top the list. I once had a good friend and avid cruise goer spend her entire New Year’s Eve trying to convince me that I should give it a try. Finally, I broke down and – no, not agreed – told her that even if she talked for the rest of the following year, I was never going to go on a cruise. 

I have a number of reasons for feeling this way, though I feel as if any one of them could stand alone. 

Let me count the ways:

One, I get motion sickness. Please do not tell me you get used to it! I had another friend who days after her return said she still felt the ground moving. This is not for me. I spent the majority of my childhood vacations asking mom and dad to pull over after riding in the backseat of our Chevy, and, sadly, I didn’t grow out of it. 

In fact, when I met my very first editor, whom I thought was the coolest person on earth, I got miserably car sick from riding 45 minutes in her sporty convertible. And, if that wasn’t humiliating enough, several years later, on the first day of MY job as editor, I found myself lying in the backseat of my manager’s car with the bus boy putting a wet washcloth on my forehead while the folks I really wanted to impress were inside packing up my fries. And, that was after a 15-minute ride across town. All of this to say, I WILL NOT GET USED TO IT!

Two, I do not love swimming. I know I’ll be in a boat, but anytime one travels in such a way, he or she must face the realization that she could somehow, someway, end up swimming – in the ocean - which lends itself to a whole other set of dislikes. Not to mention, I’m clumsy. If the boat doesn’t sink, then I could very well fall overboard. Did I mention I don’t like heights?

Three, claustrophobia. Enough said.

Four, food buffets. I am sure I’m wrong, but the thought of the food on a cruise reminds me of my son’s favorite restaurant – Golden Corral. I am gluten-free, and despite the numerous buffets of food there, I can rarely find anything to eat. Furthermore, I have never there left their thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to go back for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” 

Five, germs. From salmonella to norovirus, cruises have been known to spread them rapidly among passengers. Talk about captive audience.

Sixth, the Carnival ship that was stranded at sea because a fire knocked out the power and the plumbing was compared to “a floating porta potty,” and the ordeal was broadcasted live. I watched the passengers’ horror for days on the news channel at work every time I went to the refrigerator or elevator. I have never felt such relief as the day they were rescued, which, by the way, took a very long time, long enough to make my bathroom breaks feel like a luxury.

Some people counter my argument by saying, “Well, I would like to take an Alaskan cruise.” I agree. An Alaskan cruise is better, far more appealing than being in the heat, but it’s still a CRUISE! Not to mention, all of the things you’d miss while on a boat. For example, buying beef jerky from the guy on the side of the road, spotting a bear playing with a lost glove as you ride the rail car up a glacier, checking out the view of (not from) Sarah Palin’s backyard in Wasilla and getting four parking tickets because you are so excited to see your sister that you don’t notice the signs. Oh, wait a minute, perhaps there is a benefit to a cruse after all. 

I guess in the end, it’s whatever floats your boat. Just don't try to get me on-board. 

Bon voyage!


Friday, September 25, 2015

A writer's life

Being a writer is like having an assignment that's always due. No matter how much fun you're having, in the back of your mind, there's a voice that says, “You still need to do that paper,” except, unlike in school, you aren’t given a topic. 

Being a writer, at heart, means you always have a nagging feeling that you're leaving something undone, incomplete. Like a hungry child who's forced to leave food on the table or an alcoholic who has to leave wine in a glass, that raw nagging, gnawing feeling, the yearning, remains.

Being a writer means no matter how materially successful you are, how cushy your "real" job is, how many weeks vacation you have or the size of your boat, you feel a fraud. You can't relax. You don't take a deep breath and look around and sigh, “Ah, I've made it!” because you know, just below the surface is a story that must be told, that must burst forth, that in your mind, your fingers, your soul is a story that might somehow, someway touch someone and make your life worthwhile. For why else, would God, the Higher Power, the Master of the Universe, why else would He or She enrich you with this gift, this drive to put words on paper or font to the screen? It's a calling that must be followed or forever regretted.  

And it's an odd one. Musicians seem to pick up a guitar and let it play, to make music and joy, but writers are a different lot. We fight it. We want it, yet we are terrified we’ll lose it. It's our identity, yet we resist it. We downplay it. We force it to be quiet when it compels us to pull out an envelope to jot down a phrase, or when we are introduced to a person, and we roll her name around in our minds to see if it would fit a character. A character we have in our heads, as we appear here but not here, living in a world all to our own, feeling guilty for not sharing it, the stories we make up as we go. We see the couple in front of us at a concert and come up with ten different scenarios for who they are, why the wife seems so weary, why the husband seems to be trying to hard, their background, their future, we see it, all in a span of a song. Yet we push it away. We do the laundry, cook breakfast, nag ourselves and make plans to do it tomorrow while the compulsion bubbles beneath the surface threatening to erupt.

Then, suddenly, we look at the screen where we passively sit and watch other people’s lives, and we see that one of our writer friends has done what we only dreamed, they published something, a book of essays, a work of fiction, a newspaper column, and we profess happiness, but, deep inside, we hear our voices saying: I can do that. I should be doing that. Why am I not doing that? Am I lazy? No, the effort it takes to resist writing is far more than it takes to actually put pen to paper. Is it fear of failure? I don't really think so because it's not success I care about. It's getting it out, it's telling it, so I can be free and breathe and know that when I meet my maker that He'll look at me and say, “Well done.” 

Because, to a writer, hell would be getting to the end and having God shake his head in disappointment, and my having to look down in shame, knowing that I squandered it, this special gift He entrusted to me, and others like me, and that my story, your story, our story would be buried with me.

That would truly be a life unlived – and nothing to write about.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Going up?

There’s a phenomenon that occurs when elevator doors shut that causes personalities to change.

For example, seemingly ordinary people turn into comedians, cracking jokes and forcing laughs from his captive audience. He, or she, to be fair, say things like, “Guess this isn't the express? At least we’re in good company! Yuk, yuk!” and “Are you working hard today or hardly working?” and, of course, the “Is it hot/cold enough for ya?”

Sadly, there’s no off switch for these people. No amount of looking at one’s cell phone or shoes or folding one’s arms in a leave-me-the-hell-alone stance can make them stop. In fact, the more you ignore them, the harder they try. Conversely, the worse the jokes get.

The second type of person is perhaps the most disturbing. I hesitate to mention it, but since it’s the most annoying, I will. Ladies, see if you agree with me. Certain men think that because a woman is standing next to them in the elevator that she wants to be there. They truly believe that she thinks what you have to say is amazing; thereby, they seize the moment to treat it as if they’d just walked up to you in a bar.

“So, how you doin’?” they’ll ask, as they try to lean coolly against the wall.

To which, I’ll reply “fine” without looking up from my phone.

“Havin’ a good morning so far?”

“Pretty good,” I will unenthusiastically say, glancing up to see a grinning face, before quickly looking down.

“I’m glad you are having a good morning,” he’ll say and continue to stare outright while I ignore him completely and pray the next stop will be his. If God is in a good mood, it is, and as he steps off, he will say, “Hope you keep on having a good day!”
At which point, I’m in such a foul mood from his speed dating attempt that my day is a long way from being good, especially since it’s only 8 a.m.

The third type is the person who is clearly terrified to be in there – claustrophobic, crying out at the slightest shake and on the verge of screaming “We’re all going to die!” when the elevator door doesn't open right away. I’m actually OK with these people.

Of the three, I would prefer to be trapped with this person. I’m not claustrophobic and think that I would be able to calmly wait until the paramedics arrive should the elevator break down; however, were I trapped with personality type number one or two, I would quickly morph into number three. And, were I stuck in the elevator with number one AND two, I would run in place, do jumping jacks and probably a set of burpees or two.


Because next time, I will definitely be taking the stairs.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wanna wait or go in?

A law is under consideration to allow citizens to break into the other citizens’ vehicles in order to retrieve a child who has been left inside. With cases of parents and grandparents forgetting their children/grandchildren in the backseat becoming more and more commonplace, I think it’s a good law, especially in light of Georgia’s summer heat.

But, it’s definitely not one I would have supported in the 1970s. The highest honor my mom could bestow on me and my sister was allowing us to wait in the car for her while she went in and did her shopping. I cannot describe the exhilaration. Of course, we kept our windows down – and our doors locked – as if that would save us, but the truth is we never had to worry. The only time we would be in trouble was if we laid on the horn or hung out the window and waved too hard at passerbys. In that case, someone would recognize us, go into the store and promptly tell on us. Mother worked for the school system, and the fact that I could never get away with anything because of that was the bane of my 10-year-old existence.

If we were lucky, Mom would leave the a.m. radio on and a song such as “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” would start to play, and my sister and I would sing every word as the breeze blew through our hair, or more than likely, as our thighs stuck to the seat, and we waved a piece of paper rapidly as a fan. Sometimes, I’d scoot into the driver’s seat, under the big round steering well of my mom’s white Pontiac and pretend to drive. In my mind’s eye, the car was a comvertible, the song was something by Andy Gibb, and my legs were long enough to reach the pedals. In my dreams, my sister and I would roar out of town, leaving a trail of busy bodies wagging their fingers and clucking their tongues behind us. OK, truthfully, they’d be clucking because I roared off and left my sister behind because she wouldn’t stop looking at me.

Ah, nothing like the imaginary freedom of the open road.

Apart from the independence, there’s another significant reason my sister and I were grateful to be able to wait in the car. We hated going inside the store, no matter what store it was. My mother had, and still has, a warm manner that made everyone from the bread aisle to the meat department want to tell her his or her life story, and what’s worse is she’s a good listener! She’d patiently listen and ask probing questions and take the time to give thoughtful responses, while my sister and I would wave off cigarette smoke from shoppers and compare the bottoms of our feet to see whose had gotten the dirtiest from walking down the grocery aisles without shoes. At least at the end of the  grocery shopping trip, we were likely to have conned a pack of Little Debbie oatmeal pies out of Mom in exchange for our misery. 

The worst experiences, however, occurred in the downtown fabric store. First of all, there was no air in the fabric store, not one breath. Second, there was nothing to look at in the fabric store, except, you guessed it, fabric. Third, I did not always enjoy the matching outfits my mom made my sister and me from material purchased at said fabric store. Of course, had I behaved better and not pleaded, whined and begged to stay in the car until she threatened me bodily harm or to tell my dad (same difference), then maybe said fabric may have looked a little more ten-year-old girl appropriate, instead of six, to match my sister’s age. Who’s to say? I just know I hated that place.

I’m not sure how my sister felt about it. I only knew she hid under the fabric rolls once we were in there and would not come out for what felt like hours. I was convinced I would die in there, or worse, be locked in and have to spend the night until my sister started sleep walking, and we found her hiding place.

I had this happen in K-mart once, the locked in part, that is. Somehow my mom didn’t heed the last call announcements, and the front doors were bolted. About the time panic set in, we were ushered out the back through a dark warehouse, where we shuffled through in a herd, until we exited out the back side of the store, seemingly miles from our car.

It had quite an impact on an imaginative girl, enough to know she’d rather take her chances and wait in the car. It's too bad kids today can’t.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

There's food in the breakroom!

A strange thing happens when you bring food to work. People, civilized, nicely dressed, well-paid people, turn into ravenous wolves that have apparently not eaten in days.

Don't believe me? Bring any kind of leftover to work, put it on the table in the break room and then stand back to watch the crumbs fly. I've seen half-eaten boxes of cereal brought in and then quickly emptied; uneaten sandwiches and pasta from lunch meetings are gone faster than the blink of an eye and dessert is devoured almost simultaneously. For a group of people who remain largely inactive, office employees sure do like to eat a lot.

For someone like me who has enough of her grandmother in her not to see good food go to waste, I have found it a satisfying, though oft disturbing, environment. It’s a great way to get rid of extra holiday candy or peanut brittle or loaf bread, for that matter.

A recent study showed that providing lunches for employees boast loyalty. It can also cause employees to bite the hand that feeds them so to speak. For example, my former office had a donut day. The first day they were hot and from Krispy Kreme, and we all ate and appreciated them. By the second time, however, we were criticizing the fact that they weren't hot, and by the third, we bemoaned the fact that they were no longer from Krispy Kreme. By the fourth time, we were completely disgusted, “What the heck is this? “ Why can’t we have bacon and eggs?” “Who chose these flavors? Pink icing with sprinkles? We aren't kids!” we said, bitterly.

I guess our complaining worked. We no longer get donut day.

My sister has had a similar experience at her office. She works in Alaska, so her boss is kind enough to bring them lunch almost daily, so they don’t have to get out in the cold – until he went on a diet, that is. Her office was no longer filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread, pizza and cookies for dessert.

“He’s got to get off this %$* diet,” my sister and her coworkers complained. “I don’t care if he losing weight for his health, we need some food up in here!”

So much for loyalty. The stomach wants what the stomach wants, even in the workplace.