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!