"It is the poet's job to remember"
Gerald Stern

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Rules About Shoes

(Note: An introduction to "The Rules According to Linda," of which there are many)

I counted my shoes a year or so ago. I have lots of them. I admit to no specific number invoking The Shoe Privacy Act, which was instituted under the Rules According to Linda after the final count was made. Since the Act precludes me from having to make any defense, I will just state that the secret number includes all my shoes, the ones I don't wear often, sneakers and boots, and the ones I have never worn and ask myself why I bought them in the first place. If they fit in a shoebox, I counted them.

Men do not get the shoe thing. For them, a few pairs in black and brown work with everything. They generally have one or two types, all of them rather flat. Contrary to women, they do not buy shoes to go with their clothing, they buy clothing and have the pants hemmed to go with their shoes. They have no concept of heel height, for example, or how different skirt lengths demand different heels. There are colors, and then there are shades of colors. Then there are the dressy and casual categories. We need shades of colors in a charted course of different heel heights. It is a complicated formula and we don't expect men to crack the code. We accept that most men think all shades of navy are blue, and that the phrase, "it looks fine," means that it looks fine to THEM because they honestly think it doesn't matter. I don't fault any man for this as long as they do not violate the Shoe Privacy Act and ask too many accounting questions.

Shoe manufacturers play a hand in our obsession with shoe shopping because they purposely make it difficult to find comfortable and stylish shoes which makes long hours of new shoe exposure necessary. I also believe that there is some sort of calming drug infused into those little disposable socks the store hands out for trying on purposes. This is why we are able to jam our feet into narrow-pointed-toed-half-mile-high heels and keep our balance long enough to view our feet in those 8 inch mirrors. And the reason that there only those low mirrors in any shoe store in the land is so that we can't see ourselves unattractively grimacing as we walk.

If all of the above sounds like a justification for owning so many pairs of shoes, it is not. It is universal. Women can always buy shoes without having to measure up to the figure deemed stylishly acceptable for the season.

And, under Rule Number 623, Subsection I of The Shoe Privacy Act:
"Shoes are a concession bestowed upon women for giving birth and enduring menopause."

Any more questions?

: )

Multiples...or Who's Crazy?

Somebody told me about a series on one of the cable channels that I don't subscribe to about a Mormon family with one husband and multiple wives. I have to say that like a lot of others, I am fascinated by the concept of the life of multiple wives, albeit from a woman's point of view.

Men find it fascinating for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that it appears like a variety dream come true. However, I wonder if even a small percentage set that vision aside to think about how the guy manages to keep all those wives and children in shoes and spaghetti. Or how he explains it to his health insurance company. "Lets see Mr. Jones, it appears that you have 17 children and...can this be correct...6 wives? Your policy entitles you, under the family plan, to a spouse and children. A spouse. One." Perhaps the companies that write insurance in those states have some sort of an "Additional Spouse Inclusion Rider" that can be had for so many dollars per extra wife. I also wonder how a man with multiple wives determines who to list as his "next of kin" without some sort of showdown at the old homestead.

All things being equal, should there not be a sect where one woman has multiple husbands? I asked a few friends what they thought in a sort of socio-survey divided more or less equally between both sexes. The guys looked a little puzzled, thoughtful, and didn't give much of a response. However, each and every woman had the same reaction. Stunned. Horrified. Flabbergasted. "Are you kidding?" "Are you insane?" Some of my more colorful friends used phrases that would probably get me thrown off the internet, but the reactions go something like this and mostly in the same order:

"One is more than enough."

"Who the hell wants to wash all that underwear?"

"What ! And listen to MULTIPLE husbands complain that they don't get enough sex?"

I offered up the theory that there could be one expert husband for everything. A carpenter, a car mechanic,an accountant, a chef, a lawyer, an appliance repair man, a computer whiz, etc. That didn't faze one of them, or even stop the flow of reasons why my question was nutty in the first place. One woman retorted, "You HIRE somebody to fix things, If he does it wrong he has to fix it without fighting with you. Then you pay the guy and get him the heck outta your house."

Even my Mother shook her head at me on that one and repeated one of her favorites. "The shoemaker's children go barefoot," she said. "Haven't you been listening all these years?"

I offered up how so many incomes could let one wife lead a pretty nice life. Oh sure, they said, but they'd be so drained from tending to multiple male psyches that they'd be too tired to shop. And what if they all wanted a child? We'd be up all night with infants and could kiss our waistlines goodbye forever.

Then they went off on having multiple sets of in-laws and having to cook stuff the way all those mothers-in-law used to make it. One friend told me I had much too fertile an imagination, and perhaps I should take up something that would require me to focus on reality, or maybe something soothing like knitting.

The men have long forgotten my question, but my female friends are still mumbling. Okay. I get it, I get it. Oy vey and Amen.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unnatural Attachments

I have to buy a new computer. And soon. I'll probably get online with Dell today and put the order in because the one I'm typing on, according to a friend who knows these things, is ready to crash. It is nine years old, which in computer years is probably equal to cranking your Model T. Technology passed it by long ago. There are many things it cannot do, and it has given up some of the things it used to do so effortlessly. It has gotten slow. It blinks a few extra times before making a decision. Sometimes it freezes up and then limps along arthritic-ally. It is an aging soul.

I know I get too attached to things, but this beige-y old model has served me well. Compared to the new young things adorned in fashionable colors, it is a little faded and it's monitor carries some extra baggage in the rear end. That is perfectly appropriate. I'm grown accustomed to its look and sound and where all the lights blink.

Its been so patient when I'm reaching for a word that seems to have fallen out of my brain, and it has listened to my curses when my nonchalant muse takes extended breaks. I've read e-mails that have made me laugh to tears. I've been informed about many new babies, and have learned of the deaths of old friends while looking into it's eyes. It's been a lifeline in the hard times when my friends comforted me, and I've tried to return the favor. My family knows to tiptoe by when I'm typing away here, and that I'm so absorbed I'd probably not notice them anyway. Published pieces came from its innards, re-worked and saved over and over again. Multitudes of submission letters, and my self-addressed-return-envelopes so I could receive rejections in glorious black and white.

Time flies by when I sit in front of it's screen. When my house is asleep, this computer and I are word lovers until the wee hours. It was an affair that started at my own behest, and on such intimate terms. I connected all of it's wires and components myself, under my desk and in places no one else has ever touched.

How ironic I will order it's replacement through it. We will download it's years of documents and information into a shiny new model with a slim shape and a huge screen....a liposuctioned, botox state of the art number that I will get used to in time. But I will miss this familiar old friend.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ma Who??

I must be turning into one heck of a cranky old lady. Today I called my telephone company to ask about some outrageous charges on my bill. I usually don't look at the bill and just pay it, partly because I have better things to do but mostly because I'm disorganized and tend to pluck a bill from the pile on my desk exercising some sixth sense that tells me to pay before they shut whatever service off.

This morning the land line phone bill was calling me, and since I'd already had a cup of coffee and could focus on the so-called "breakdown of charges," I paid more attention than usual. I decided to call the alleged customer service number. I got a man on the phone with a thick accent who made me repeat my name and telephone number twice (and repeated it back to me incorrectly) before we could move on with my questions, which he did not understand. He was "very sorry” and transferred me to another department. The second department was no better. Nor the third. I politely asked if it was possible to speak with an English speaking service rep. As I waited I wondered where their end of “reach out and touch someone” went, along with the ironic fact that they are in the “communications” business.

I finally got a guy in the US who understood the question and my statement that I've been a loyal AT&T customer for thirty-five years. With the same telephone number, I might add.
Why is my bill so high? Apparently I am being charged every time I call my daughter's cell phone from my land line phone...even though she lives about seven miles away and it’s the same area code. He explained that her cell phone company does not have a "contract" with AT&T and therefore even if she was standing right next to me, the phone call is being routed more than 15 miles away and that I am already being charged in my "package" just for the privilege of being able to dial and have the call go out to that area. Then it’s an additional 45 cents per minute. However, I can pay another $17.95 a month and have a service that would enable me to make calls, limited to a set number of minutes per month, to "most" areas within NJ. "Most" is central and part of North Jersey. South Jersey would be additional.

I proceeded to tell the young man that I used to have what was called "extended service" for a few dollars month which gave me unlimited calls to ONE area of my choosing. He told me that sort of thing never existed with AT&T.

Do not tell a woman over fifty that something did not exist. Especially someone who sounds like the dust hasn't settled on his prom picture. And most especially when that fifty-something woman is beginning to question her short term memory. Pardon me, but I can remember the names of all my grade school teachers, the librarian, and the color socks my grandfather wore...light brown thin cotton ones...and the name of every car insurance company I've had since I got my license. I just can't remember where my damn sunglasses are. And sometimes my cat's name. And once in a while, totally un-induced by any alcoholic substance...my own.

Me: "Excuse me? Are you telling me that I imagined having that service?"

Mr. 20-Something: "I'm saying that we never had that type of service."

Me: "Well that’s funny because I spent 20 years calling my best friend every day on about 2 bucks a month until they changed it and limited it to 20 hours a month, and that was still a good deal."

Mr. 20-Something: "Well not since I've been here."

Me: How old are you?

Mr. 20-Something, "Why?"

Me: "Listen kid, I'm not asking you out on a date. I'm just telling you not to tell me "never" when you probably didn't even exist when I was dialing my friend in Somerville daily on a ROTARY phone. And in case you don't know, that’s a phone with a dial that you had to stick your finger in to turn each digit of the number and it made a pleasant little clicking sound in your ear on the return spin. And every phone rang with a little bell....rrrriiiinnnnngggg!....and not the tune of your hip-hop-indie-band-commercial-jingle choice."

Mr. 20-Something: "M'am, you're correct. I don't know what you're talking about, but why don't I tell you about the new services and packages we're offering?"

I have to give the kid credit for his smooth move into a sales pitch for more things I don't need that will cost me more money. I told him I'd call him back when I had more time. I suddenly didn't have the energy to tell him about the good old days of dependable service and reasonable rates. And, like the cranky old lady I think I've become, I just didn't have it in me to explain it to someone who has probably never heard a busy signal.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Year Ago Today...

I suppose since I started with one of these older pieces, the story should continue. This is dated October 9, 2008. In memory of.

A year ago today my telephone rang at 6:00AM. It was one of those not-quite-awake-moments when you're not sure if you are really hearing what you think you are, but I managed to get to the kitchen to pick it up before the fourth ring and the answering machine clicking on. I remember leaning against the wall with the phone in my ear still half asleep and frightened because it was still in that slice of early morning when no one should be calling. The voice on the other end mispronounced my name. Another bad sign.
In a heavy Jamaican accent, she identified herself as calling the nursing home Steve had been transferred to, and then said what sounded like "I'm calling to tell you that Steven has "aspired." I asked her to repeat it..."Steven has aspired," she said patiently. For a crazy moment I wanted to say "to what?" My sweet friend aspired to a lot of things...having a great band, being a good poet, having loving people in his life. I wanted to ask her which thing he was wishing for that morning when the sun was feeling its way toward my curtained windows... which I was bizarrely noting needed to be washed.
She of course meant that he had expired. That term the medical professionals think sounds better than "died" or saying, "so-and-so is "dead." Milk expires, the registration on my car expires, those stupid store coupons expire. My friend shouldn't expire. I know this because the doctors didn't stamp a date on him after his diagnosis, and he certainly had another half a lifetime of things to do before he was finished.
She went on to say that when they checked him at 4:00 AM he was sleeping. At 5:00 AM, they found he had "aspired." She told me that, according to the doctor, he went peacefully in his sleep.
I think it was his last gift to me. I didn't have to make the final decision he'd trusted me with, and I will always be grateful.
I'd asked to write his obituary. I wrote it that morning, and the words came without effort or editing. The paper printed it exactly as written. Steve was my cheerleader and instigator, always pushing me to "write! just write!!" He was the one I'd call and read my freshly finished pieces to, and the one who stood in the back of the room for courage the first time I read in public.
I'd met him in a writer's group. It seemed like coming full circle.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Please...Just A Few More Million

Some of my friends were discussing Stem Cell research. I've had an up close experience with that magic of modern medicine. This is almost two years old, but the discussions prompted me to share it.

October is a sad month again this year, which is ironic because it has always made me feel alive and energetic. The sky is the bluest shade blue, and the sun (although it blinds me after 5:PM driving down RT 22) shines crispy-beautiful. Two years ago in October we started the treks to Hackensack Medical Center to harvest Steve's stem cells.
On some of the most beautiful days of the year I sat with him in a room with four other patients hooked to machines that took blood out of their bodies, sent it into a centrifuge to separate the cells, and put the rest back in. Amazing stuff indeed. We watched the little hanging bag filling with layers of blood...dark red at the bottom, lighter red, pinkish red, and finally the coveted creamy yellow stem cells floating on the top layer.
We'd talk in millions....how many did we think got harvested that day? The docs wanted thirty million, some to use and some to keep frozen for a possible second transplant if needed. The other patients and the friends beside them compared notes. We congratulated each other on the climbing numbers, like gamblers rejoicing in lottery winnings.
Steve's stem cells were slow to give themselves up despite the daily Nuprogen injections he gave himself in the abdomen to increase their production. We gave them little pep talks in the car on the way..."C'mon you guys, step up to the plate! We need some homers here." After all, it was during the playoffs, and Steve loved baseball almost as much as music.
After a few extra tries, they finally had enough of those little cells on ice. They let him rest for a couple of weeks and then started the heavy duty chemo in preparation of the actual transplant. Then the precious cells were put back in. They did their little dance down to his marrow, engrafted, and started producing new healthy blood. The magic was working.
And then last October he died.
This year I can't help but look at the glinting sun and that blue sky and think about those rides to Hackensack on beautiful mornings when we were so optimistic. We had Kerouac's "On the Road" on CD to listen to in the car...but it never got played. It was hard to concentrate on anything but the millions we hoped to win at the end of the trip.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


When I was a kid, I used to think how nice it would be if everything cost a penny. Bubble gum, shoes, a house. The field was leveled, and a penny was the price. I'd daydream about it on long rides in the back seat of my father's big old Chevy, watching for as many items as I could spot from the window that would all be priced so accordingly. I was probably five or six, just old enough to understand that a penny didn't go very far even though in the late 50's it went a little ways further than it does now.
But, that was when candy was sold from big jars on the candy store counter, and some of it was even two or three for a penny if you settled for the less favorite kind. In my childish mind I also thought that it would a good solution so adults would not have to worry about money as much as they seemed to.
I mentioned my theory to a slightly older friend of mine. She was 7 or 8, and, if you ask me now, probably lacked any child-like imagination straight from the womb. We were laying in the grass on a summer afternoon under the big tree that still shades my mother's front yard. She pursed her lips and scowled. "That wouldn't work at all," she told me. "How would you know who had more money than you did?"
I told her you could tell by who had more things. "But they'd all just cost a penny so how would you know whose things are better?" She went on to opine that then people would get paid in pennies, people would have to carry around big bags of pennies, and the world would run out of pennies.
"What about nickels and dollars?" I asked her.
“They still have to always make change in pennies because everything COSTS a penny…stupid. “ She replied. “And anyway, I’m going to be rich and not even use pennies. I won’t need them.” She finished.
Maybe I was a little socialist. Or maybe it was just penny-candy inspired thinking based on the fact that back then children never had many pennies of their own. It was a big deal to find one on the sidewalk, or one that had fallen out of your father's pocket and slid under the cushions of his favorite chair. Whatever it was, after my friend scoffed at my one cent daydream, I didn't play my wishful game again.
I lost track of her after grade school, but I bet she has lots of things that make her better. And I hope she reads this.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Just A Litle More Proof Please...

(Thanks to Tony Gruenwald for sending the article that prompted this !)

When I was "proofed" when buying a bottle of wine yesterday, I was elated. The young man at the checkout showed no signs of nearsightedness, and displayed a nice sense of humor when I replied, 'Well Bless your heart!"
Of course, seconds after my momentary thrill I realized that it was just store policy. I thought that was only because it was a supermarket that sold alcohol. Why that should make a difference, I don't know, but I often wonder who makes "the rules," so I took that with a grain of salt...and a couple of glasses of that nice wine.
Today, a friend e-mailed me an article from the Sunday Times on the subject. It appears that this "proofing" of everyone is now law. At least in New York. I haven't checked New Jersey yet, but given the way Jersey is going...oh don't get me started.
Anyway, apparently when they say everyone, they mean just that. The article was written by a 71 year old man who was required to show his driver's license at the ball stadium when purchasing a beer. He noted that the woman behind the counter insisted that he take the license out of it's plastic holder so she could make sure it had not expired.
This leads my old side-trip-taking mind to the glorious possibilities here.
The way I see it, even if they truck you up to that beer counter, 90 years old and in a wheelchair, clutching your "life alert" button in one hand and the ten bucks the beer is gonna cost you in the other...you're going to have to prove you're old enough to drink. I hardly think there would be a valid driver's license tucked in your elasticized stockings.
I personally know senior citizens who have not been given a renewal because the DMV decided they were no longer fit to drive safely, and those who gave it up at the behest of their children. It happens. I also know some who gave it up because they can ride all over town in that little shuttle bus with the sign that I love..."Caution ! Senior Citizens ! " Damn straight.
So now there's a whole lotta people of a certain age who won't be able to buy a beer or a bottle of Manischewitz without photo ID.
As I see it, most of those "over 55" communities will eventually come to have what they will refer to in lowered voices as "The Guy." This will be one of those small wiry men men who will somewhat resemble Jimmy Cagney in his later years. He will be running a little "cash only" operation next to the water heater in the utility room of his condo churning out fake ID's. No one will question how learned this skill, but he will be the same guy who could "fix you up" with anything you needed 45 or 50 years ago. He may even be the guy supplied you with your FIRST fake ID..when you thought you'd only ever need one in your lifetime.
His name will be whispered at Senior-cise, in doctor's offices, and at least once in every busload to and from Atlantic City. There will be some sort of code, "Tell him you're a friend of Margie, and Bernie said it's okay. When he asks how he can help you, just say that you're 'looking for some paper work that you lost'."
I think all could go quite well until some sweet faced little lady asks him to make her a bit younger and some sharp-eyed clerk puts 2 and 2 together and it doesn't equal 39. I have no doubt that she'll blurt his name out loud and clear on her way to the pokey without her little glass of sherry.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How Many Did You Say?

I really don't like reality TV. I find that I'm embarrassed for the participants, as well as thinking that kind of programming is a poor substitute for the good writing and creativity television offered in the past. It’s as if they figure the general public are routine voyeurs and marginally entertain-able, so why not just send a camera crew in to capture the lives of the most obnoxious people they can find to sign a hold harmless contract and call it a program. Maybe I don't give most of them a chance, but I can't help but "flipping" them off at the first sighting of a 16 year old spoiled brat ranting at her friends for some infraction at her birthday party, or a houseful of people who can't seem to pass an evening at home without degrading each other. There are swaps of wives and hairdressers, monster-bitch brides, and some programs that I have yet to figure out what they revolve around other than meanness and insults.
Somehow...and it was probably because I couldn't find the remote control and was too lazy to get up and change the channel (horrors) manually...I've caught a few episodes of the families with lots of kids. 18 kids, 12 kids, 8 kids. I find myself amazed. Lacking heavy medication or a lobotomy, they must just be perfectly suited to whatever calling having a very large family is. They smile at the kids. They say "please and thank you" when instructing a child to do some chore or another. They never run out of milk or toilet paper. They're organized. They cope without attending a support group. They even have a sense of humor.
How do they keep them all in clothing and shoes? School supplies? Booster shots? I want to know who does a constant head count and who washes the dishes. Last night I watched the 18 children family spend over $1,000.00 in the grocery store, use 11 shopping carts and haul it home in a box truck in a segment on how they save money. They took all 18 kids with them.
Taking two kids to the grocery store is a exercise every adult contemplating parenthood should be required to try. If you succeed in preventing them from diving out of the cart, grabbing all the crap displayed at the checkout counter, and can listen to "but why can't I have it?" 643 times without hurting anyone, you get to go to the next step. Taking 18 to the store is lunacy. But not for those smiling, calm folks. They had it all under control, AND the mom reported that she was pregnant and nauseous...with child number 19. I, on the other hand had my last child long ago, leisurely grocery shop alone, and then have to take a nap.
I watch these things from a reclining position, knocked out from mostly sitting on my rear end in front of a computer all day. By the time an episode runs its credits, I'm usually holding onto wakefulness by an eyelash wondering how any of them get through a day. I know full well that I'd be exhausted halfway through cooking all that breakfast. Not to mention finding everyone's shoes. I don't doubt that any of those families are real though. At some point in every episode I've caught...and I'm keeping a tally.... I see mom and dad yawn.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Thermostat Wars

Since it has been abnormally hot recently, I dug this one out for a little
imaginary respite.

It is cold in my office. Not chilly, not a little brisk, but FREAKING cold. This is due to a curious quirk of human nature that prompts certain people to "adjust" the damn thermostat every time they walk past it.
I've come to the conclusion that the thermostat brings out a primal need to demonstrate control, and that the individuals who succumb to this urge have no control over anything else in their lives. It's either that, or controlling the temperature of their immediate surroundings makes them the Grand Masters of some tiny universe.
The way it works here is that there is a centrally located thermostat. It is illogically placed in a hallway that is half cold from the elevator shaft, and half very warm due to the proximity of a radiator. The thermostat gets a regular cold breeze simultaneously with the signal that it should shut itself off because the radiator close by is hot. Cold flash, hot flash. The unfortunate device probably thinks it’s in menopause. The thing is, if it is left on a constant higher temperature of about 78 degrees, it sufficiently heats all of our offices and we are able to work without coats, gloves and leg-warmers.
The "climate control" freaks here cannot grasp this concept, nor can they control their tendency to "touch and adjust." I will not divulge which sex they are. Suffice to say that they are the same ones who, beginning at a very tender age, cannot keep their hands off themselves either.
It has escalated into a true cold war between the trembling ladies and the rest...the ones who beat their chests and proclaim, " Why THIS is invigorating ! It's Good for you! It keeps you alert!" I suppose that real men don't publicly shiver. Not one of them will admit to adjusting the temperature down when it’s up, and up when it’s down. The setting changes almost hourly, but nobody in the Kingdom knows who toucheth.
My opinion is that the thermostat has given up and is just pretending to actually send any signals to the furnace. It now just blinks its numbers and fakes it. The unified shivering contingent among us can relate. It feels toyed with, taken advantage of, lied to, and left holding the bag. And no amount of sweet talk is going to make it any better.

Mad Money

When I was a kid, I remember women talking about their "mad money." Little bits of cash they stashed away from the family budget because they were mostly housewives with no income of their own.
I always wondered whether they meant it was money to be spent madly on some non-essential luxury, or money that they took with them when they stomped out of the house angry at their husbands. In my young imagination fueled by any trashy novel I could sneak into my bedroom, I envisioned women like my soft voiced aunt and my smiling grandmother in her flower-print house dress sitting on bar stools in some dark, beer-smelling tavern knocking back shots, buying rounds, and slinging their mad money at the startled bartender. "Oh, he makes me so mad!" they would say...one in English and one in Italian...and later they would help each other stagger home, glaring at their respective husbands and not one bit repentant.
Most likely, mad money was a combination to those women. And it is even more likely that it was used for emergencies when finances got tough. I think they talked about it more than they ever spent it on themselves or in a fit of anger.
I had my own mad money method, left over from the years after my divorce when I saved anything I could, any extra dollar here or there. That was literally it...a couple of dollars saved in a drawer, a book, a pocket, always worried that I might be a few dollars short of something we desperately needed. Once stashed, I never touched most of it because as things usually do, everything worked out. Nobody needed an emergency appendectomy, root canal, or bail money. The wolf, although he sniffed around a few times, never actually got to my door. I never lost the habit though, because there was something about knowing there is money earmarked for nothing-in-particular-but-just-in-case.
The whole financial crisis reminded me again about my mad money. I considered that if I had taken those ones, fives, tens and handfuls of change from the old purses and pockets, drawers and unused teacups, and invested it in....oh, lets just say the stock market...today I would have mostly zip. True, I could have put it in the bank and collected interest...at 2%....and I would have made mostly zippo interest and would have paid taxes on the zippo. Not to mention that seeing a lump sum in a bank account might have persuaded me to use it more readily.
So, I'm thinking that what I finally did with my mad money was probably a good thing. A couple of summers ago I gathered it all up...found it truly amazing what you can save in little bits over 20 years...and went to Italy. I had a mad-ly good time.