Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Musical Theater - A Commentary in Two Acts

Turns out that June 29th is not only my parents' wedding anniversary, it is also the birthday of one of my favorite lyricists, Frank Loesser.  Born to a musical family in New York, his choice of popular rather than classical caused him no end of heartbreak growing up.  Once he caught on though, there was no stopping him.  His parents finally came around.

His songs were written as stories to be told, rather than sung.  He was quite unhappy with the casting of Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit in the film version of Guys and Dolls; he sang too well.  A true New Yorker, Loesser knew that the cadence of Damon Runyon's language was music enough.  Listen.......I got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere...... are you standing next to me under a street lamp outside an OTB parlor reading the Racing Form and bouncing on the toes of your shoes?  The tune is simple enough for a toddler to hum (just ask the Cuters) and the story tells itself.  The fact that the character is named Nicely Nicely and that the extent of the evil-doing reaches dice with no spots and not much else, well those are just the icing on the cake.  Luck was a lady, Uncle Arvide played matchmaker for Sarah and Sky and Miss Adeline was a poy-son with a cold - my childhood and my children's were experienced to the soundtrack.  There weren't many areas where grandparents and grandchildren could meet over pop culture; Frank Loesser gave us many of those moments.  

I took my parents and my children to see Guys and Dolls at the Martin Beck Theatre in the early 1990's.  The kids had memorized the movie via the wonders of VHS and remote control; they could fast forward through the talking parts and concentrate on the important stuff - the music and the dancing.  Sitting 4th row stage right, we watched the beads of sweat and the twinkles in the eyes of the performers.  They were working hard and enjoying the ride.  Waiting for autographs at the stage door after the performance ended, I was struck by the surprise on the actors' faces.  "Were you in the Chicago company last year at the Goodman Theatre?" I asked one of them?  He'd been memorable then and was equally fabulous on the great white way but it looked as if I were the first person to have mentioned the fact to him His face upon hearing that I remembered him will stay with me forever.  The Cuters got their signatures and we headed for Little Italy, all 5 of us telling anyone who'd listen to sit down, you're rocking the boat.

We saw Aladdin and bought the soundtrack for Disney's Tarzan and hummed Hakuna Matata for a while, too, but none of them had the same staying power.  Don't get me started on Andrew Lloyd Weber and his repetitious and annoyingly monotonous oeuvre.  Just ask the Little Cuter.  After watching Phantom of the Opera with me from the balcony of the Geary Theatre in San Francisco,  she was asked for her opinion by two elderly ladies behind us.  "Honestly, I prefer 'real' musicals, like Guys and Dolls and Showboat.  This all sounded the same."

On a similar note (thus giving me an excuse to append it to this post), I wonder why musicals are miked these days?  Hearing the songs mediated by electronics, I might as well be at home, listening to the record.  Filling the hall with her voice was a pre-requisite for Fanny Brice's inclusion in the Ziegfield Follies; if she could do it why can't today's stars?  Jeannette MacDonald's movies usually include a scene where the doors to the auditorium are flung open so that the passersby on the street can be included in the song.  There was never any indication that her voice wouldn't/couldn't travel that far; she was an opera singer, after all. 

The Cuters and I took G'ma and Daddooooo to see Showboat at the George Gershwin Theatre in 1995.  Unlike the more intimate spaces of the Martin Beck or the Music Box, the Gershwin is a cavernous warehouse of a space, and we were way up in the nosebleed section of the balcony.  We could barely see the players, but their voices were screaming at us from the speakers overhead.  The disconnect was distracting, though the music was still wonderful.  But those little people down on the stage were made smaller by the amplification of their voices.  

Athlete's instruments are their bodies, and, over time, they have gotten stronger.  Why would it not be the same with the human voice? Musicals were performed before electronic assistance was invented.  Is it knowing that the microphone is available which makes the singers unable to project to the back rows of the theater?  Has technology provided an easy excuse once again? I'm not sure.  I do know that Kristen Chenoweth has a very big voice for such a small person.  I wish that I could have heard it, unamplified and in all its original glory, when we saw Wicked.

Live theater should be just that - live.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An Anniversary

G'ma and Daddooooo would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary today.  

They were married at the Waldorf Astoria on Thursday, June 29, 1950, in a ceremony that someone must have enjoyed but where the pictures show many grimaces and only a few strained smiles.  Everyone looks aggravated.  Maybe it's because it was a Thursday?  There was a religious prohibition on marriages during most of the summer (having something to do with Tisha b'Av but which G'ma always took personally) and G'ma was teaching until the end of June and maybe she should have looked at the situation a little more carefully, anyway. "No one listened to me.... his mother ran that show." I heard that when I was planning my wedding, and I still get the shivers remembering my mom's face as she said it. 

They went to Mexico and Cuba for their honeymoon.  There were red fire ants parading in full battle array around their casita.  Daddooooo "dove off a cliff and left my hearing at the bottom of the sea."  Men whistled and offered to buy G'ma right off Daddooooo's arm as they strolled the streets of Havana.  They both brought home tapeworms..... I'll spare you the details, but they involve a dinner party and an unpleasant surprise while using the toilet.

They had a fabulous apartment in Manhattan.  When I arrived 20 months later, they were able to take advantage of the pocket park around the corner.  The moms had one section, the bums had the other.  (When did a hobo become a bum become a homeless person?)  A year later they bought a house on Long Island, had two more kids over the next 4 years, and somewhere along the way, they lost the love.  

Was it ever really there?  She was 27, and had spent her college and young adult years amidst the chaos caused by WWII.  The pool of eligible men was limited to those too infirm or too old to serve.... at least that's what she told me.  He was 34 and living at home, working in the family business, and having a fine time dating a variety of women (one of whom grew up to be the mother of a friend of mine in elementary school.... it's very weird to hear your father tell her mother that she looks as good as she did that night on the boardwalk...).  They met on a blind date - her best friend and his best friend set them up - under the paws of the left (or the right, they never could agree) lion in front of the Main Library on 42nd Street and a few months later they were engaged.  Things happened fast in those days before rampant promiscuity (aka pre-marital sex). 

If there was respect, I never noticed it, except as it came to parenting and work ethic.  Over the decades businesses failed and finances were strained but vacations were taken and new cars were purchased.  We never had a bad time when we went into The City for a show or a movie and always a meal in Little Italy at the end.  But those days without rancor were few and far between.  Mostly, it was an emotional armed camp, where everyone just waited for the next argument.  

I remember going to the 1964-5 World's Fair with my friend Linda and her parents.  They were walking in front of us, holding hands,  and it struck me that I had never ever in my whole life seen my parents holding hands.  Not once.  I was 13.

We 3 kids made a 25th Anniversary party for them in the backyard of their house.  Middle Brother and I drove all night from Chicago to Long Island and slept for the first two days we were there.  That gave Little Sister ample opportunity to plan and execute and create and panic.  Emphasize the panic.  There were family and friends and the grill was turning out burgers and franks as fast as I could flip them, but there weren't any funny stories about warm and loving memories.  There weren't old photos of fun times past.  There were little silos of people standing on the lawn, looking at one another and, I'm sure, judging them.  I'd have more information, but I was busily enveloped in a cloud of bbq smoke all afternoon.  

When I asked G'ma if she wanted me to plan a 50th Anniversary Party she groaned and asked Why?  What do I have to celebrate?  Who would come?

I'm not sure how TBG and I have managed to stay together for nearly 35 years. Could it be that I have very low expectations?  I don't think so; his parents were happy (or so it seemed) and that was a big plus in the "should I marry him" column.  I wanted the fantasy marriage, wanted my house to be like the March home in Little Women, wanted us all to care about one another and those in the world around us while admiring and honestly kvetching about the time and energy it takes to make both pieces of life fit nicely together.  His family was pretty close to that, at least from the outside.  Over the years, I became aware of the cracks in the pretty facade, but the main thing, the part I wanted to emulate, was the love and affection his parents showed each other.

I never saw it at home.  I had to be taught.  My default position was to attack; TBG leads with love.  It's been an interesting 3+decades as we work to adapt and adjust to the other's foibles, but at least we work on it.  G'ma and Daddooooo just fought.  

I once asked her why she didn't leave.  "Money.... it's always about money," was her answer.  But she had a teaching certificate and a standing job offer from the school district which had "interviewed" her over her years as PTA president of the elementary and junior high and high schools we attended.  Laziness?  Fear of change?  Some vestigial feelings of devotion?  What made her stay?  Was there some psychic kick in the hostility? 

I think that it was more than that.  Married in the 1950, my parents made a commitment that was sacred to them.  They made their bed and they slept in it, so to speak.  They stayed together "for the children" and because they had promised to do so.  I'm sure there is something admirable in that, but there was also so much waste.  Individually, they were delightful.  Together, they were a disaster.  

For the three or four years after his death and before her memory started to evaporate, G'ma had a wonderful time.  Having gone from her parents' home to her husband's home, she reveled in living alone.  Dinner at 10pm?  Or 4pm?  Or not at all?  It was all good.  No one was digging the middle out of the stick of butter, or making her wait before she could leave the house because there's just one more thing I have to do.  She wasn't lonely, she was alone and loving it.

Daddooooo once told me that he married G'ma because he knew she would be a wonderful mother.  Not that he loved her; I never heard that.  Was he hearing his biological clock, choosing his spouse to fulfill a physiological imperative?  He always felt smug about his successful children; I'm not sure any of us ever shared a failure or a loss of faith or any other issue with him.  Or her.  Did we raise ourselves?  I don't remember the kinds of conversations TBG and I have had with the Cuters, conversations about values and relationships and right and wrong.  Children of the Depression, they were focused on keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table.  Gender roles were rigid, and a bankrupt business with 2 in college and 1 on the way must have put inordinate strains on an already fragile situation.  G'ma went back to work, as an administrative assistant, not a teacher.  Was she afraid to take on a professional challenge again?  Was she upset that life had sent her back to the workforce when, by rights, she should have been at home raising her youngest child?  Did his business failure make him unlovable?  Had she married him because he was her last chance? 

Who knows.  I am certain of one thing, though.  They never regretted having babies.  I'm glad of that, at least.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Sometimes I really like my life.  

Amster and TBG are sitting on the couch, discussing economics and life plans and discounting as she prepares for a deposition and he shares his wisdom.  The air-conditioning is humming along,  the loaf of fresh bread made our lunchtime sandwiches even more delicious, and Amster finally understands what the charts were trying to tell her.   TBG feels useful and Amster feels smart and I feel the love.

The quail eggs have hatched and parental units are shepherding babies around the neighborhood.  Some managed to salvage 2 little ones, some 5, but one family hit the jackpot.  There must be 10 or more little fuzzy creatures following the grown-ups in the family that traipses through my courtyard in the late afternoon.  They move so quickly it's hard to count.  Do you think it's too anthropomorphic to decide that this dad is sticking his chest out just a little bit further than the dad with the 2 chicks?  No matter, they're making me smile.

I managed to resist giving un-asked-for instructions in the gym this morning, even though the woman on the seated row machine was bending so far at her groin that this simple back exercise was turned into a hip flexor annoyance.  I bit my tongue and moved on with my own work-out, proud of the fact that I had corralled my urge to intervene in her life.  could it be that I am maturing?

Wally-World had all the staples I needed, and I wasn't tempted to buy anything that wasn't on my list.  No impulse buying, just filling the gaps in the pantry. When I am able to stick to the written words instead of paying attention to my inner Greedy Smurf my bills are much lower.  Is this another sign of incipient maturity?

The library had Hell Gate, a Linda Fairstein novel I'd missed earlier this year, waiting for me on the front shelf.  Elizabeth Gunn's 10th Minnesota novel was sitting right next to it.  My request for the newest John Lescroart was also fulfilled, resting on the shelf with my name sticking out of the top.  I read each one in one day, forgoing television and Tetris and Wordscraper and swimming around in the mystery genre.  Having just finished a 4 week class on British Detective Fiction my head was primed and ready for insightful reading.  My id took over, though, and I raced through them, anxious to find who dunnit and why.  I'm not sure any of them count as great literature, but they are good reads.  And since my next class, starting in July, is 4 weeks on The Inferno I think I deserve some brain candy.  Being kind to oneself is a skill honed with age..... I'm working on it.

And then, finally, after much procrastination and only because there was hardly any room for my car, I cleaned out the garage.  Amster says that my garage has morphed into a woman-eating beast, but I remind her that most of what she hears is me talking about doing it, not actually stacking the boxes and going through the stuff I'd taken from G'ma 11 months ago and putting things back in the drawers set aside for their storage and picking up the broom and sweeping.  Three hours, four fans and two radio stations later my trunk was filled with donations and repairs and returns and that Wally-World list from a paragraph or two ago and I ran some errands and came home to Amster and TBG and sandwiches and lessons.

Some days are special in their very ordinariness. 

Friday, June 25, 2010


I've been putting off writing this post.  Every time I think about writing it I get sad.  I am not sure where I'm going to end up with this, but if you're hoping for light-heartedness, I think you'd better search elsewhere.

When the Cuters were little, I used to laugh when hearing about "the terrible twos."  To my mind, it was no worse than the threes or the fours or the tens, and certainly not worse than the 12's.  It was a stage, and it would pass.  More often, the new behaviors were worse than the previous ones, but at least they were horrible in a new way.  The novelty of it all helped me get through the days, and, in the end, I held onto the knowledge that they would, eventually, with the passage of time, become adults who could be responsible for managing their own stages themselves.  When things changed, I had to remind myself that it was all for the good.  Aging meant growing and developing;  it was my job to keep them safe while getting out of their way.

The mistakes I made were in getting comfortable and secure in a pattern.  While their basic characters never changed, their attitudes and capabilities and awareness of the world around them were movable targets.  It was difficult to find a handle sometimes.  This led to tears, frustration and personal growth - on both sides of the equation.  Once again, though, change was a step in the right direction.  It was necessary, it was expected, and everyone around me was going through it, too.  There were books (Louise Bates Ames wrote a series called Your Two/Three/Four/Five etc Year Old), there was research (remember Reviving Ophelia?) and there were television programs dealing with my life, right there on the screen.  The Cuters may have thought that TBG and I watched Full House and Boy Meets World just to keep them company, but there was more.  The tv kids were facing issues that my kids were bumping into, too.  The shows provided a window into their world, and a look at how the celluloid parents were doing, too.  If nothing else, it showed me that I was not alone.

Somehow, I forgot that G'ma is emulating the Cuters, only in reverse.  Somehow, I allowed myself to get comfortable, to think that this was the way things were going to be.  We are settled into a lovely routine.  She was happy and no more or less confused or forgetful than she was the week or month before.  My friends were her friends and everyone was glad when she was around.  Life was good.

We went for Sunday brunch at Acacia, and G'ma opted to take the steps rather than wheel her walker around the long way to the ramp.  By the third riser, she was breathing heavily.  By the fourth, she looked at me, plaintively, and asked "Why can't I walk up these steps? What's wrong with me?"  I had a pretty good answer - when was the last time you walked up steps?  If you don't work the muscles, it's not fair to expect them to be there when you need them.  Remember what Daddooooo used to tell Nannie?  Use it or lose it!   She agreed with my assessment, and acquiesced to seeing the physical therapist again.  After all, we're going to a wedding in 6 weeks.  She needs to be able to dance.  

We laughed, we dined in style, and the pod-castle agreed to make the referral.  Life was good.

The PT referred G'ma to an Occupational Therapist.  Why, I do not know. The lovely woman was interviewing G'ma when I dropped in on Tuesday afternoon.  Foolish woman.... I am the reliable informant as far as G'ma is concerned.  She'd not read the chart, and was trying to take a history.  I watched for a while, until G'ma began to get anxious, then I piped up and began to fill in the blanks.  I'm sure the therapist was trying to treat G'ma with respect, but the information wasn't retrievable and she knew it and she was unhappy.  And my mantra has been No Unhappy Days.  I began to sweat.

We went over the surgeries and metallic replacement parts and medications and activities and capabilities and suddenly I was seeing my mom through a stranger's eyes.  This stranger's eyes... her trained, competent, educated and emotionally uninvolved eyes.  I was listening to the questions and recognizing that G'ma wasn't answering some of the ones she'd been able to access at her last therapy appointment, six months ago.  I started to breathe deeply.  I wasn't going to cry on the sofa.  

I've made a conscious decision to avoid situations where G'ma might feel incompetent.  Sitting there next to her I began to wonder if I'd done that for her or for me.  It was easier for me to blame the pod-castle staff for not keeping a closer eye on her outfits, but was I justified?  G'ma had a system for rotating her clothing in her closet (worn on the right, clean on the left)... she'd had that system forever..... she repeated that system aloud to the OT.... but she wasn't following through.   And I'd looked outside for answers, instead of confronting the reality.  She's changing.  

I'm not prepared.  I liked the way we were going along.  I had come to terms with the pieces which had disappeared, and I was happy with what I had.  But she's a little bit more outrageous, a little bit more brittle, and a lot more tired.  Actually, she says she's sleepy not tired.  It's not the medication; she's been on the same prescriptions for a year,and none of them have needing to nap all afternoon as a listed side-effect.  Could it be a mini-stroke?  No one has ever been able to give me a firm diagnosis of her condition; it's never seemed necessary.  There's no treatment beyond Aricept (which might or might not help, but it won't hurt so why not..... ) and a structured environment to ease her through the days, but now I want more.  

I want to stop this in its tracks.  I am unwilling to watch her decline.  I won't I won't I won't.  There has to be something I can do.  Something someone can do.  I liked this last stage.  I'm not happy that it's changing to something more challenging.  The changes are subtle, but they are, no doubt, a precursor to what will follow.  More change.  More adjustments.  More fighting back the tears.  

I knew what I was getting into when I asked her to move to Tucson.  I was prepared to be the decision maker, the companion, the entertainment committee, the decorator.  I wish I had remembered that things change and that she was likely to deteriorate over time.  I was surprised when the Cuters were looking me right in the eye - when had they grown so tall?  I am equally surprised as G'ma fades away - when did she start to disappear?

There are no tv shows with families encountering my problems with laughter and love.  There is research, but it's basic and not very helpful or uplifting.  There are more unanswered questions than there are solutions.  And the sun keeps rising in the east, bringing with it more change and less G'ma.  

Really, I want it to stop.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Donovan to Altidore to Dempsey for the shot - blocked! - then the rebound off the goalie back out to Donovan who zings it right into the back of the net.  The Algerians were sad, the Americans were euphoric.  No matter what happens now, they have made it out of the Group Round in the World Cup for the first time since 1930. And that is something to celebrate.  TBG and I put on our American flag clothes and hung the flag outside.

McChrystal is out and Petreus is in and the war goes on and on.

It's obvious to everyone that McChrstal was out of line;  I've not heard anyone defending him, on tv, radio or in the papers.  I have to think that Michael Hastings is a hell of a reporter, and probably somewhat of a chameleon, too.  Stuck in Europe with the general and his henchmen, involuntary companions as Eyjafjallajokull spewed ash into the skies,  I'm sure they did all the manly man things I see in the movies, and they probably bonded the way Spencer Tracey and Clark Gable and Alan Hale did in the 1940's war films which TCM has been featuring this month.  And then Hastings went home and reported what he'd heard and seen.  Just as a reporter is supposed to do (sorry, Nance,  I do think he should have published his article).  The mistake was the general's, for allowing access where prudence would have dictated otherwise, certainly, but more for fostering an atmosphere where such disrespect could be displayed openly.  

Whether you are in the military or a school district or private enterprise, it's always bad form to cast aspersions up the food chain in a public forum... especially, in this case, when the superiors outrank just about everyone else on the planet.  
Princess Myrtle is packing up to leave Cairo, where, she complains, the temperatures are a balmy 103o.  My little brother reported mid-90's in Maryland, with 95% humidity.  I'm wondering if either of them has burned a body part while trying to load groceries into the trunk as their feet melted into the blacktop of the parking lot?

With only the solar power heater, our pool is up to 95o; we are boiling. Literally.
Have you noticed the ads running under the Blogher banner to the right of my posts?  Blogher is an interesting community of writers, mostly women, mostly, it seems, mommies or wanna-be-mommies or used-to-be-mommies.  There are promotions and a website and syndications and ads.

When I first created The Burrow, TBG wondered how long this hobby would last.  I'd started and stopped several other great ideas over the 40 years he's known me; there was no reason to assume that this would be any different.    Somehow, I've continued to write, publishing every weekday at 6am, and on Monday I received my reward.  Blogher sent me my share of the ad revenues they have collected.  A paper check arrived in the mail, with detailed descriptions of the amounts I've earned each month since I signed up with them in October.  

$14.62 may not seem like much, but to me, it is everything.  The total is not the point; the fact that I've earned money for feeding my passion is.  I love your comments and feel nurtured by them, but this is actual, coin of the realm, external validation of the fact that I exist on the grid.

Am I a greedy, money-grubbing, materialistic cad?  Probably.  But I'm busting my buttons with pride, right now.  Someone is paying me to do this.  Unbelievable. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Rant

I am tired of excuses.  I am tired of people and organizations laying the blame everywhere but where it ought to be.  I am tired of explanations and reasons and gibberish when what I want is "It's my fault"  "I am responsible"  "I can do better."

BP is the obvious whipping boy, but that feels like a cheap shot right now.  I'll leave it to members of Congress to ask questions without receiving real answers.  I'm no longer surprised that CEO's claim to have no knowledge of the heinous behaviors of their underlings.  Ken Lay set a high standard for such prevarication; Tony Hayward was an amateur in comparison.  I wondered during the Enron debacle as I wonder now:  if they were so clueless how did they manage to be in charge?
My annoyances are more personal today, though.  I went to the pod-castle to kiss G'ma good morning and found that the date had not been crossed off the calendar.  I'd asked the workers to help keep her oriented by marking the passage of time with the sharpie I attached to the calendar for that purpose..... six months ago..... the sharpie disappeared but the calendar remained unmarked.  Now, as I'm noticing a gentle fall-off in G'ma's cognition, it's becoming a more important issue to me.  For her.  Not because I'm looking to make more work for them, but because this is such an easy fix.  She knows she's missing some pieces relating to the world around her.  It bothers her but she manages to smile.  She's still able to use a calendar effectively, so why not help her orient herself to the world around her?  Everyone agreed that it was a good idea, it was written in her care plan, but it didn't happen.

I asked the med tech if she would remind the other caregivers to pay attention to the calendar.  Her face fell as she told me that yes, she had been asked to mark the days but .....
it's new behavior..... someone called.... I should have done it.... I forgot.  At least she was honest.  She didn't try to hide the fact that the work wasn't done.  Another call...  a distressed resident.... meds to give out.... I understand the pressures.  But this is work and certain things should not be optional.  G'ma doesn't need much in the way of care or assistance with her activities of daily living; her issues arise from her lack of short term memory and her inherent laziness.  The fee is the same, whether she needs help getting dressed or not.  Somehow, it doesn't seem like over-reaching to ask the workers to make an X in a box on a calendar on her door.  They check her every 2 hours as part of their routine..... is it really that hard to remember to look at the door, notice the calendar, and update it?

I'm sensitive to this issue because I'm noticing that she's slipped a rung or two recently.  It's nothing dramatic.  Rather, she's now forgetting to put her "worn but still clean" clothes on the right side of her closet so that, when she takes tomorrow's outfit from the left side of the closet she's not wearing the same shirt and pants.  She's used this routine since I've known her (she tried to teach me to do the same, but it was just a bit too anal for me) and it's served her well.  Today, though, was the third day in a row that I saw my favorite yellow shirt adorning my favorite maternal unit.  Once more, I heard excuses.  "The Sunday staff weren't the usual staff."  "There were clothes on her walker that we thought were fresh."  I can believe it all, but I don't care.  I want them to do their jobs with the same kind of care with which I did mine.  I want it to be taken seriously.

The Little Cuter laughs about her current state of employment.  If she could forward the phones to her cell, she could accomplish her tasks between 8 and 10 in the morning, and spend the rest of the day with my Grand-Dog, fielding questions and requests remotely from the beach.  She's fast, she's efficient, she makes lists and she does her work in a timely fashion.  Standing at the grocery's check-out counter, watching the cashier talk to her manager about her upcoming vacation request, I pretended I was in a high school English class and I began to compare and contrast.  Customer being ignored - Customer greeted with a smile.  Customer's needs being met - Customer taking second place to personal matters.  Time wasted - Time passed.  Did TBG and I do an outstanding job of raising the perfect employee?  Have we created a unicorn, an impossible being, one who actually takes her job seriously and finishes her tasks in a speedy and competent manner?  Did we do her a disservice by insisting on promptness? Is she alone in the world in understanding what work means?  

Sometimes I think so.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on January 27, 201, titled "The Great American Soap Overdose."  The thesis was that Americans "pour too much detergent into their washing machines."  Amidst the reasoning and the explicating and the reporting, was the statement that the "molded lines and numbers inside detergent caps are hard to read, especially in a dimly lit laundry room."  OK, then.  The reason that my clothes aren't as clean as they were when I washed them in good Chicago or California water is because I am using too much detergent because I can't see the line on the measuring cup that All provides.  I become dissatisfied with the product, and switch to Tide or Method or Cheer, but none of them have an easier to read dispensing device and there's no measurable difference in the brightness of my wash.  (I actually did this.)  I read this article and I come to grips with the problem - I need to be able to see how much detergent I am using.  Before this, I'd been guessing.  Now, I want to be precise.  But the article is correct - the lines on the cup are teeny tiny itsy bitsy and the same color as the rest of the cup.  They aren't raised nor do they go all the way around.  They're useless.  I can understand the detergent maker's desire to have me use more of their product -- I'll be back to buy another container more quickly.  But don't they want me to have clean, bright, beautiful clothes?  I should think so.  But my mind wanders to the design studio..... "It's really hard to make it cost effective"  "We've never done colored lines before."  "Who cares?"

And I sigh.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lunch with The Girls

I was not invisible at lunch today.  I was the star attraction.

G'ma and I had some family errands to run so I dropped by her pod-castle to collect her after lunch.  My timing was a bit off, though, and when I got there the residents were still  seated at their round tables in their comfortable chairs, awaiting their noontime repast.  Salads had been served and consumed and removed - except for G'ma's since she likes to munch on her lettuce as she's having her main course - and the 4 of them were waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  The deaf one and the querulous one and G'ma and the newcomer with the quiet voice were sitting patiently, watching the cloud in the sky drift across the window.  Then a little wren landed on the outer windowsill and we were all amused for another little while.  And still they waited. 

I shared my cell phone's screen saver shot of Thomas, our Grand-Dog, and tried to find a topic of conversation.  And I failed.  They enjoyed the picture of the beast, but no one made any attempt to go beyond "Oh, my, how cute."  As they waited for the main course, I wondered if they were also waiting for the conversation to continue.  Just as with lunch, they were assuming no responsibility to see that it got done; they just waited.  And so I jumped into the gap.  "He lives in Chicago with my daughter and her wonderful boyfriend."  "He's just learned to swim and they are very proud of him."  "His name is Thomas; does that mean that they'll name their first son Fido?"   That last one got a laugh; the others were dropped into a well of silence.  

Asking questions is a risky business in an old folks home.  In the here and now they are just fine.  Calling up information is another story entirely.  I've learned to avoid starting sentences with "Do you remember when..." since that just makes for an anxious pause.  No, they don't remember.  Not the ones at G'ma's table, anyway.  They notice, they judge, they smile and they eat.  They don't initiate much at all.

Except if it has to do with the food.  When the main course finally arrived it was greeted with some skepticism.  Identifying the squares of meat was the first task, as the ladies shook their heads and pushed the small squares around.  There was orzo and a tomato slice and a wedge of pita, but the meat was a mystery until one of the worker bees told us that it was lamb.  That may well have been true; none of us could confirm or deny it.  We all agreed that it was tough.... chewy ..... hard to swallow ... and impossible to cut.  No, the newcomer didn't want my help in cutting it.  She just wanted to say, out loud and to someone who would listen, that it couldn't be cut.  

And I didn't mind hearing her tell me that fact every few minutes.  Nor did I mind G'ma asking "what is this, again?"  I kept them company and answered the questions and watched the cloud and I felt very grateful that they were all pleasantly occupied with the task at hand.  I tried not to feast on the sorrow creeping around the edges of my soul.... that ache for the mom I used to have.  But that mom was very happy in her own world, just as this one is, today.  G'ma never went out to lunch with the girls.  She would make herself lunch and sit in the kitchen, under the window, facing into the house, with a book propped up on the table before her.  

I always wondered why she didn't choose to look outside, toward the tree and the yard and the sky.  Can I be profound and psychobabble-ish?  Let me posit that her focus was always inward, toward her family and the things which affected them (schools, scouts, groceries, laundry), rather than out to the political or social or family world around them.  She was connected to her parents but ignored her brother and his family.  We'd see them for holidays, but that was with her whole family in tow.  I never knew her to call him just to say "hi,"  never came home to find him sharing coffee and conversation around that kitchen table.   

She always seemed very comfortable being alone with herself, although I won't go so far as to say that she didn't miss having friends.  I never asked her and now I'm not sure she'd remember.  (Note to those of you with sentient mothers:  Ask these questions today.)  But I don't think that I'm failing her as she sits alone in the company of strangers.  My memories of her don't really include other people.  True or not, I've convinced myself that she is happy when she's not being bothered by others, and that the lack of a lively lunchtime companion is just not a problem for her.  

I look at these four solitary old women, each of whom occasionally exhibits flashes of who she was before, and I marvel that they are able to muster the courage to face another day.  Their lives are dwindling as are their bodies.  Yet they watched the little wren with such intensity, they followed the cloud with what I can only describe as reverence, that I wonder if, perhaps, there's not another thread which they are feeling, a quantum connection between people who are aware of the world in a softer, less frantic way.  With fewer distractions, they focus on the smaller things, the broader pictures, and allow themselves to go with the flow.  

They really didn't need me to provide a soundtrack for their meal.  That was my issue.  Once they got past the inedible lamb and on to the lemon meringue pie the quality of the silence changed and gradually grew into appreciative smiles and mmmmmm's of delight.  They smiled at one another, they licked their spoons like naughty kids at a birthday party and then laughed at themselves for the charade and they were there, with each other, in the moment.  

I may have started out as the star attraction, but, in the end, they had each other.  And that was enough.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Out With the Girls

Amster invited me to join the party last night, and I said yes.  TBG isn't much for sitting on bar stools or imbibing the liquid refreshments proferred by the bartender, so spending Saturday night apart from him wasn't a problem for either of us.  There are many advantages to being part of a long marriage; the ability to spend time without each other is one of them.

We started off at Jax Kitchen for Jax Ice Water and the cheese plate.  Known in other establishments as Kansas City Ice Water, this crystal clear confection is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet way to wet your whistle on a hot summer's evening.  And yes, I know that summer doesn't start until the 22nd of June, but if the National Weather Service can make an arbitrary decision regarding the start of the monsoon season, I feel justified in declaring that any day where the temperature is over 100o can be called summer.  Touching the steering wheel or shifting from first to second reinforces the fact that, though the calendar may call it spring, my flesh is singing a different song.  When I burn my fingers as I graciously hold the door for G'ma, it's summer.  And Jax Ice Water is just what I need.

We sat at the bar, Amster and her friend and I.  We laughed - loudly enough that the diners were not amused.  The bartender saw their stares, and reassured us that laughing at the bar was totally acceptable behavior, and that if people were unhappy with the sounds of joy, well, that was just their issue now wasn't it?  We weren't crude or rude or really all that loud... we were happy.  Old movies, old men, old flames... we covered it all.  Three decades of women were holding hands down memory lane.  This is my favorite part of living in Tucson.

We moved on to Armitage , adding two more friends along the way.  At this point, the outing turned from girls' night out to moms escaping for a while.  Not a bad thing, just not where I am these days.  The waiter's name was Stallone..... he thought he was as cute as we did.  Amster had a recommendation for a red wine, but somehow Stallone decided that we really wanted to drink the Grgich Hills which he'd give us for the happy hour price and since Amster never drinks red anyway she said "Sure." 

I wondered about that interaction over the next hour, as their conversation touched on peole I didn't know and events I no longer had to worry about - swim teams and school moms and pregnancies.  These were the stuff of my life for two decades, and now they are not.  Like turning off a switch, all those roles have disappeared.  I don't miss being known as the team parent or PTA president (a role I never held, but the alliteration was too sweet to pass up) or the Cuters' mother, though I reveled in it back in the day (another expression I just couldn't avoid).   I like the freedom to define myself without the accouterments of family or community.  I've never been anonymous in quite the same way as I have been here in Tucson, and it's been fun.  Lonely, sometimes, but fun nonetheless.

Without the connections the others shared, I was free to take a mental trip with Stallone and our hijacked order.  The colleague who recommended the wine also recommended Stallone as a waiter.  Was there some connection between the two that gave Stallone the authority to override our request?  When a customer tells you she's been told to drink this wine even though it's expensive and she doesn't normally drink reds what in the world would make you bring her something else?  Does he know that she will be back because she still hasn't tasted the wine she knows her colleague will ask about on Monday morning?  Could it really be that complicated?  And why did I care? 

That was the point at which I realized that sitting outside in June in Tucson is an exercise in perspiration and endurance.  I packed up my purse and kissed everyone goodbye.  I was home and asleep by 10pm.  Among other things, I've also lost the ability to party, it seems.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ranting and Raving

So many many things to talk about today.....

Let's get the whole small people thing out of the way, first.  My position on the assassination of the Gulf of Mexico has already been made clear - some of the prettiest and most productive shoreline in the world is being altered irreparably and expensively because nobody wondered what might go wrong if safety were sacrificed to profit.  BP's executives should have to explain themselves, to as many Congressional Committees as want to flay them.  Yes, it's an extraordinarily absurd exercise and a vanity showcase for our elected officials to demonstrate their outrage but humiliation is all we've got going for us right now.  The oil keeps gushing into the Gulf, and we're reduced to collecting snippets of hair and shoving them into nylons.  Does anyone even wear nylons anymore?

But, I digress.  BP's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, was interviewed in the driveway of the White House this week.  He had just left President Obama, and he was smarting from the spanking.  The President had told him stories of lives destroyed by his firm's exploding oil rig, and he obviously wanted to prove that he had been listening.  With what looked like real emotion on his face, he looked at the cameras and told Americans that he would not forget them, that he was concerned with the small people..... at which point all hell broke loose.  He was insulting "real" Americans.  He was tone deaf.  Who did he think he was, setting himself above people who had lost everything because of him?  The outrage led the evening news and Chris Matthews' rant-fest and talk radio the next morning.

I have only one question.  Posit a US company causing an environmental disaster in a foreign country.... perhaps Union Carbide in Bhopal in 1984 .... and the English speaking Chairman of the Board being questioned by reporters in Hindi or Urdu or any of the other languages spoken in India.  Does he understand the questions?  Is he fluent in the language of his interrogators and listeners?  And if he is, as Mr. Svanberg is in English, is he idiomatic?  Mr. Svanberg certainly is not.  To me, that was his only crime.

It seems to me that the media is seizing on a visitor's attempt to speak our language and making him feel uncomfortable about it.  There is enough about which to fume... there's no need to be rude while we're at it.
TBG and I went next door for a Meet the Candidate night on Monday.  While John McCain battles the conservative right wing of his party for the right to run, yet again, to retain his Senate seat, the Democrats' primary has been lost in the ozone.  There are 4 candidates running in the August 24th primary; up until Monday I knew the name of one of them.  Now I know three. Given that my lack of interest in the race for Secretary of State contributed to the fact that Jan Brewer is now my Governor,it behooves me to investigate the situation further.

Rodney Glassman is the candidate I knew about.  He's acquired a JD, PhD, MBA and MPA in his 32 years on the planet, and his entire political career consists of an hour and a half serving on the Tucson City Council, as dysfunctional a body as can be imagined.  I read his website to prepare for this post; I can't say that I disagree with any of his positions, though I wonder where the human touch is hiding.

Monday night I met Randy Parraz, whose political career seems to have begun on April 26, 2010, when he decided to run for the United States Senate.  He's an attractive, well-educated Latino who thinks that SB 1070 is a really, really bad law, that it is hurtful and hateful and that immigration is an issue that needs to be discussed rationally, without rhetoric or vitriol because people are people no matter where they live.  Beyond that, he hadn't a clue.  He may be smart enough to pick up some talking points along the way, but he didn't have any on Monday night. He's asking to be hired to do a job that requires thoughtful analysis of complex issues; it would be nice to know if he's done any of that analysis already.  Getting people to talk to one another is laudable; I'd just like to know what he thinks about the end of the conversation.  What are his goals?

Do I sound old and crotchety?  Who is this young whippersnapper? Has he paid his dues?  I hope I don't, because that's not it at all. I'm insulted on behalf of my state.  He is hoping to win the primary by galvanizing the Hispanic vote, which has been underrepresented on both the registration and the voting rolls.  SB 1070 may well be the catalyst which engages this uninvolved piece of the electorate, and that would be a good thing.  We should all be participants.  But it's pandering rather than campaigning for Parraz to present such a uni-dimensional face.  Hispanics are as concerned as Jews and WASP's about the economy and energy and national defense.  To assume that being against SB 1070 is reason enough to secure their vote is insulting and demeaning to them as citizens and as voters.  It's a separatist message from a prospective Senator, a person who will represent 1/100th of the national self.  Senators don't authorize funds; that bit of housekeeping, of detail, is the purview of the lower body, the House of Representatives.  Senators, in the upper house, are supposed to deal on a loftier plane with meta-issues.  At least that is what Mr. McCarthy taught me in the 6th grade.

I'm not saying that Randy doesn't have ideas, just that he didn't tell me what they were on Monday night.  He wandered in a maze of platitudes when the question was "what will you do."  I think that it's a bad idea to run for the US Senate without giving some thought to issues which are outside your comfort zone.
The National Weather Service has decided to take charge of our monsoon season.  Up until 2008, the monsoon season began after 3 consecutive days with the dew point over 54.  In 2008, the National Weather Service decided that that was too much to deal with, and they set June 15th as the official start date.  Too bad that it's still dry as a bone.  Too bad that their own data shows that the average time for the start of the monsoon by the old standard, the one based on actual facts and science instead of bureaucratic comfort, was sometime in July
It's just another example of our government at work.  The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and they are trying to control the weather.
I'm going to watch Slovenia vs USA tomorrow morning at 6:30am.  Yawn.  NPR interviewed someone on the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia.  I wish I had paid more attention.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Grandma

Yesterday's post got me thinking about my paternal grandmother.  She's been haunting my thoughts all day, not letting go, a constant presence nagging, picking, worrying at the back of my mind.  She was a confusing person for a young girl, and she's not become any clearer with the passage of time.

Eight of her nine siblings were born in Europe.  That's what she called it.  Not Galicia.  Not Poland.  Not Russia.  Europe.  When her parents decided to come to America, they sent Rae and her younger sister off to a cousin in London.  Apparently, two young girls were more trouble than they were worth.

That arrangement lasted less than a year.  My grandmother convinced her relatives that she was not going to live anywhere except where her parents and sisters and brother were living, and if that meant taking her 10 year old self and her 8 year old sister alone, in steerage, across the Atlantic Ocean, to people who had demonstrated in a fairly dramatic fashion that they didn't want them, well then that was what she was going to do.  And that is what they did.  Entrusted to a "family friend who got paid to do it" they came through Ellis Island and were reunited with their father.  He lost no time in telling them that since they were here, they could work to support themselves.  When I think about the kind of woman she became, I always come back to this story.  Remember, she was 10 years old.

School was important, but so was earning their keep.  My great-grandfather sold rags from a pushcart in the Bronx, was a big shot in the synagogue, and had a temper to match his fiery red hair.  When Rae intimated that she was being courted by an Irishman, he put an end to the affair in a dramatic, if never fully described to my youthful self, way.  I overheard bits and pieces of the story over the years, but one detail never varied.  "Joel always wanted Rae's money.  That's why he kept her at home."

A talented seamstress and designer, she earned $33/week in the millinery department of Macy's in the years before the depression.  That was an unheard of wage for a young woman in those years; her father took the entire envelope every payday.  In later years, she kept her cash in a small change purse safety-pinned to her bra.  When it came time to pay the bill, she'd turn and discretely take out "the bank."  She'd lick her fingers, rubbing the thumb and pointer together, and then begin to peel back the bills, counting and caressing each one.  She'd straighten them and then recount them and then, sometimes, allow me to hold them and be sure not to drop them or lose them until "the bank" was safely repinned.  She'd told me often enough about handing over her envelope; I never wondered why parting with the money was so difficult for her.

She was a powerful woman in her family of devoted men.  Three sons and a husband and she ran the show.  The boys grew up to be just what she wanted them to be, and she kept Daddooooo, my father, closer and more connected than the others. After all, he was the oldest son.  It was his responsibility to be there for his parents, to respond more quickly than his brothers, to take over the family business.  And so, he did.

Neither he nor his mother were very good at telling their parents to butt out of their lives.  She ditched her Irishman and he left his career in psychology because their parents had other plans.  As I watch the Cuters wrangle with their futures, I'm kinda sorta jealous of the parenting style that led to those decisions.  Obviously, I know exactly what would be best for each of them and the fact that I can't/won't/shouldn't/daren't insist that they follow my plan just kills me.  I would sleep better at night if they'd just do what I think they ought to do.  If they would just decide to be happy doing what I want them to do.  On my timetable, on my terms...... then I'll be happy.  And if they're kinda sorta miserable, well, isn't everybody?

That kind of life includes an acceptance of being unhappy, of looking over your shoulder to see where the next blow will fall, of life as a glass not only half empty but with a crack running down the side, threatening to split apart and let the whole thing pool helplessly, hopelessly, miserably and irretrievably on the floor.  There's no room for joy, though sorrow has place of honor at the table.  There are smiles and nachas (reflected glory and the warm feeling that comes with it ) from the children and good times, but joy, relaxed and restorative happiness, 15 minutes without angst... well, the concept was inconceivable.

They were bitter people who felt short-changed by life, who thought that they'd been dealt an unfair hand, but one they were forced to play.  Taking charge of their own lives, being responsible for their own happiness never occurred to them.   Things happened to them.  Life was a bitter pill with a few happy moments interspersed amidst the pain.  It wasn't a placid depression; it was a loud and angry and aggressive toward the world which was attacking them, day after day, at home and at work.  Relaxation might be fatal; Europe's Jews had stopped worrying and look what happened to them.    

These were bright, intelligent people who were involved in their communities and their families.  They read copiously and argued vociferously and were always ready to listen to a young voice, testing her opinions in the conversation around the dinner table.  There was great respect for learning and erudition, for tradition and loyalty to the family.  They worked hard, building and rebuilding businesses in ever more challenging times, but I'm not sure either was ever satisfied with anything they did or saw.

Except for me.

And maybe, Nance, this is how I had the courage to lock myself in the lioness's den and read her the riot act.  I knew that she loved me.  She looked at me with soft eyes ....when she thought no one was watching her.  She never let my Grandpa cheat me at cards, though she hardly cared about what happened to my cousins.  She made the hamburgers exactly the way I liked them, even though they were too rare for my siblings' tastebuds.  I always thought she and my dad saw themselves in me more than in anyone else in the family.  They never tried to push me in one direction or the other.... or perhaps they did and I just didn't notice.

It's the same thing either way, in the end.  I'm always telling TBG that I come from hearty peasant stock.  Perhaps my courage came from knowing, on some level, that I was doing what they wished they could/should/dared to have done.  I do know that I am happier, more joyous, more content than either of them thought they had a right to be.  Maybe it just took 3 generations to figure it out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Wedding Invitation

G'ma and I are going to a family wedding. She's met the groom, my first cousin's son, but she doesn't remember where or when. Actually, to say that she's met him is an exaggeration. What she actually said was, “I must have met him sometime, don't you think?” Ah, yes, welcome to our world.

A Save the Date card arrived in the spring; it had no last names anywhere. The picture of the happy couple afforded us no clues, either. TBG and I were stumped. Visiting G'ma and finding a similar card on her coffee table helped my synapses to snap together and make the family connection. We laughed about it for a long time. The invitations followed in due course, one to each of our homes. It was decision time – should we go?

It's an easy flight from Tucson's tiny airport to LAX's long concourses, but Southwest will push G'ma in style while I follow dutifully behind, toting the walker and the carry-ons and the medicine. We're arriving a few hours before the ceremony and we're only staying overnight, so there shouldn't be too much to carry. Of course, I am packing for a woman who managed to fill the trunk of the car with necessities for an afternoon at the beach, so we may well be checking a valise. Time will tell.

For now, I'm enjoying the tumult the event is creating within my family of origin. My cousin, the groom's father, is divorced from the groom's mother. It was an amicable separation to those of us on the outside; she even returned to the family fold to nurse his father during a difficult death. Why?
I always liked Ob; in fact, I liked him more than I liked your cousin."  All that changed when she reopened the alimony issue long after they broke up and the kids were grown. It was ugly and expensive, as these things are, and my cousin can't bring himself to say her name aloud these days. All this was made clear to me over the phone, in response to my email that I would be attending the wedding, G'ma in tow.

The phone call itself is a notable event. We've exchanged emails and seen each other at other family gatherings, but our lives don't intersect beyond that. He's not an easy man, though I think his intentions are good. After thanking me for coming he told me that G'ma and I had chosen the nicest hotel, but that he couldn't stay there because the ex-wife might be there and he had almost decided to avoid the whole thing rather than see her.... but he loves his son..... but she is evil and …..he hadn't spoken to his sister in 10 months because her husband had been much too nice to the ex-wife at their other son's wedding. I was there representing
his side of the family, wasn't I? He just wanted me to remember that fact.

The outpouring of venom, of pain, the vitriol of barely controlled rage was remarkable even from this man who is angry or aggravated or peeved most every day. But this is supposed to be a happy time, isn't it? A time of joining, of enlarging the family circle, of expanding the boundaries of love and devotion. Okay......
"I'm not promising to be rude to anyone, Cuz," was my somewhat tentative reply.

My family has a tendency to forget warm and loving piece of these kinds of celebrations. The whole scene reminded me of my own grandmother's reaction to the news that I was marrying TBG, a Protestant by birth. With a scowl and a grimace and several extremely loud grunts, she announced that she would never acknowledge the marriage, nor would she attend the ceremony. In a moment of stunning clarity, I realized that it made no difference to me. I was making a wise choice, and she was in no position to deny my happiness. So, I had Daddooooo drive me to her apartment. I locked us in her bedroom, with Daddooooo on the other side of the door, and I told her that she was welcome but not required to attend. The wedding was happening with or without her. And, by the way, did she think that my grandfather, her husband, who'd loved me better than all the other grandchildren combined (it's true, and fodder for another post) was looking down from heaven and feeling glad that his wife was trying to ruin my big day? I doubted that very much. “And so, Grandma, come, don't come, whatever you want to do is fine with me. But I'm getting married on Sunday. I know Daddy would love to have you join us. Let him know if he should pick you up.”

My father had been pounding on the door, screaming at me that my words were going to kill her, but the old broad was tougher than that. She scowled when I left the room, but she showed up for the party. I wish I could find my wedding album so that you could see her, wrinkled face scrunched up into a walnut, displeasure oozing out of every pore, but there. I was glad, for my father's sake, and for the opportunity to avoid the drama her absence would have occasioned. I wish she could have smiled, but that just wasn't her style.

Nor, it seems, is it my cousin's style. There's a need to put one's own drama at the center of another's celebration that is vaguely unseemly. Attention should be focused on the couple......who have the same initials ….. jAm ….. it's a nice monogram, don't you think? We should be smiling at the fact that people are flying in from all over America, just to see them wed. The black and shiny hot pink invitations were as unusual as any I've seen; why weren't we talking about that?

When I told G'ma about the phone call, she looked at me out of the corner of her face (it's more than just the corner of her eyes.... the entire musculature moves.... if she weren't so camera shy it'd be viral on YouTube) and asked me to remind her when we got there because she knew she'd never remember it on her own.  And then we both laughed. It's a family thing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Karate Kid Redux

What a wonderful two hours we spent watching Will Smith's kid hang out with Jackie Chan. Yes, it's a remake, but this one is at least as good as Mr. Miyage and “wax on – wax off”.  This time it's "jacket on - jacket off," but the message of discipline and training and respect is still the same.  Michael Wilbon may think that it's "too young" for him, but I think he's wrong.

Jackie Chan always does his own stunts, and if you didn't believe it before, just watch him walk up the steps in this film.  Think Walter Brennan in To Have and Have Not or Gunsmoke's Chester; the hitch in the step that's been earned by a lifetime of enjoyable hard work.  There's jauntiness tempered with age and experiences, and a rueful acceptance of the fact that some parts wake up faster than others now.  In an understated way, he's telling us that we can watch the movie we saw as kids, and that we can enjoy it every bit as much as we did in 1984, albeit from a different perspective.  He certainly seems to be having a very good time.

Jaden Smith cannot weigh 80 pounds soaking wet, and yes, I'm sure he got a leg up in the business by having connected parents, but none of that matters once you watch him training.  He does his own stunts and he's every bit as aggravated as any other 12 year old if an interviewer doubts him.  His little boy's frame has definition, and his form doing push-ups (something on which I have definite opinions) is perfect.  Sparring with Jackie Chan...... the kid's peaked and he's not even a teenager.  He's completely believable as a son, a friend, a student and an athlete.  

There's a car in this version, and a girlfriend, and a bad teacher and a competition and the fact that it's all predictable only adds to its charm.  It's big on values - real values like hang up your jacket, apologize if you make a mistake, don't be afraid to ask for what you want and to work hard if you want to succeed - and some might find it heavy-handed.  But asking the 5 and 7 year olds outside the theatre what they learned from it, Amster and TBG heard respect your mother and work hard and focus.  There are worse ways to leave a movie.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Whole World is Watching

It's the World Cup - soccer's quadrennial international get-together. Hosted in Africa for the first time since its inception in 1930, it's America's least watched sporting event over which everyone else in the world is obsessing.  People are getting up at ridiculous hours of the night to watch their country kick for the honor and the glory of getting out of the group round.  Do not worry, Grasshopper.  Elucidation is on its way.

First, I should establish my bona fides.  I understand the basics of the game.  I watched it, sometimes twice a day, for a decade and a half.  I coached, until the 7 year olds asked me if I realized that everyone on the team could kick the ball better than I could.  At that point I retired to the post of Team Mom, a position I relinquished reluctantly when the Little Cuter went off to college.  The high schools in Marin thought they played pretty well, and the championship games usually involved a school or a player with whom one of us had a history, so I saw a fair amount of what passed for real soccer.

Watching these players on tv puts the lie to that theory, but that's fodder for a different post.  Some things are unchanged - aiming is still crucial, as those who sat on the sidelines beside me heard me repeat often enough.  It does no good to trap the ball and strike the ball if you don't also aim the ball.
There are yellow cards (for warnings) and red cards (for more egregious acts leading to an ousting from play) and refs.  Of course, the refs in the World Cup are wearing headsets with microphones, not little black boxes on their belts as the NFL refs do.  We can't hear their words, but someone must be listening.  Or, perhaps, they are merely a fashion accessory? 

Players still stop and shoot the ball with their heads.  Our star midfielder's parents were often heard to remark "There go some more brain cells" after another amazing header.  It couldn't have done much permanent damage - she's a medical student now - but I was always glad that the Little Cuter had other skills on the field.  

The uniforms are as colorful as the pink and silver the Big Cuter's coach once tried to pass off as light red and metal to his co-ed team of 2nd graders.  The fact that the best player on the team was a girl mitigated the humiliation somewhat.  In just a few days of watching I've seen orange shoes and yellow shoes and a goalie named Green in a green outfit.  

There is nothing to be said about that beyond relating the facts.  In case you were unaware of the tradition, goalies can choose their own outfits; they do not have to match the color that their teammates are wearing.  OK, I can't stand it.... does he have such issues remembering where his locker is that he must color-coordinate it to his name?  The goalies are easily recognizable, and the USofA apparently has a very good one.  Tim Howard jumps really really high and may just have some broken ribs after being kicked in the chest while blocking the ball.  Somehow, I think he's going to play on Friday regardless of the pain.  He's 31 years old and these events happen every 4 years..... I don't think he'll feel any better when he's 35, do you?

The pros are prone to acting fouls.  There's lots of flopping on the ground, especially if the ref is right there to hear your moans and groans.  Surprisingly, most of the players pop right back up if a foul isn't called.  You don't see NFL or NBA players writhing for effect, but this is not an American game.  Is there something to be deduced from this?  I wonder.  I'm reminded of the British chastising America for coming down so hard on BP because it is a British company. I'm sorry.... I don't care if they are British or Nebraskan... the Gulf is dying.  Yet, the whinging* continues.

The broadcasters are less annoying than they might be; they sound smarter with a British accent.  I don't know if they are good broadcasters, but at least I understand most of the words .  It's much better than watching the Stanley Cup finals where the words were said, in English, but neither TBG nor I could make sense of what they were saying. 

The fans are fabulous - Nelson Mandela tearing up, Bishop Tutu dancing, thousands gathered before outdoor jumbotrons.  There is bizarre headgear - a woman was wearing a sculpture of New York City on her head - and the ubiquitous vuvuzela.

Somewhere between a mosquito buzzing and a boiler exploding, it sums up the experience for me.  It's different, it's foreign, it's vaguely uncomfortable but the fans just love it.  I may not have World Cup Fever, but I'm not minding it as background to my days.

*whinge  Chiefly British     To complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner.

Friday, June 11, 2010

TBG likes to say that America, like Americans, is fat around the middle.  At the risk of offending a reader or two who might actually inhabit the 500 miles of Kansas, Wyoming, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa... you know, those square states which are on the way to but not quite really there....  it's kind of extra.  After a week in Chicago, one of the all time great towns for those who like to eat, I'm thinking that I ought to stop repeating his joke.  It feels just a little too close for comfort.  I'm hiking tomorrow and my favorite shorts won't snap.

How did this happen?  Well, for starters there was breakfast at Ann Sather's.  I've been eating there, at one location or another, since I was a graduate student 35 years ago.  We used to go for the apple pancakes, waiting in line on Sunday mornings in the snow, knowing we'd be warm, inside and out, once they were on the table before us.   There's a branch around the corner from the kids' apartment, and it was empty at 11 o'clock last Friday morning.  How could we resist?  

I wanted orange juice, but I couldn't resist ordering the SOB Juice, just for the chance to say the name.  Strawberry, orange and banana frothing in front of me.... this is what was left after I put it down the first time:

I wasn't that thirsty; it was just that good.

In the mood for protein, I ordered an omelet with tomatoes and chose the sweet roll over the toast.

Are you starting to see how the week was going to progress?  That is not 2 rolls.... it's one roll.  And they brought us an extra serving by mistake and laughed and told us to take it home.  There were potatoes next to the eggs, but by the time I finished half my roll I was wasted.  

I spent the rest of the afternoon licking melted sugary syrupy glaze off my fingers, inner arm, camera and cell phone.  Everybody wanted to get into the act.

We ate three meals a day, every day, and at none of them did I consider the health benefits of the food.  Chicago hot dogs only exist in Chicago ... how could I turn them down?  Greek Islands makes saganaki better than anyplace I've ever eaten

We had to ask for another loaf or two of the sesame bread .... there was taramosalata to be wiped up, too.  After appetizers and salads our dinners were superfluous.  I was grateful that I'd left G'ma in Tucson.  Had she been there, she would have ordered baklava and my destruction would have been complete.

In Michigan City on Monday night, we ate at Rodini's ... ok, I'll be honest, we gorged at Rodini's.  It sounded Italian to me, but the decor was Greek and the food was steak and fish.  We tried to refuse the appetizer plate, but the waitress wouldn't hear of it.  After garlic bread, meatballs, fried chicken livers and fried zucchini I was ready to go home.  But there was salad, a loaf of fresh baked bread, and filet mignon covered in bleu cheese and mushrooms to be devoured.  I made it about half way through before surrendering.  I almost cried when she asked if we wanted desert.

And then there was the alcohol.  I'm not a big drinker when I'm out on the town, but every meal was a celebration which demanded a toast.  We had Botox Bubblies and Bellini Gone Wilde at Wilde, where all things Oscar are celebrated.  Seret and Mr. DreamyCakes were downtown for an appointment, and when they caught up with us it was time to toast again.  There was no abuse of alcoholic substances, but there was certainly consumption.  At Rodini's I was served a water tumbler filled with clear liquid in response to Stoli on the rocks.  Had she added water?  Nope,  it was all vodka.  I've never left half of my one and only drink in the glass before.

It was the Killer Margaritas at Cesars ( seriously... that's the url) that finally did me in.  The kids had been talking about them all week, so off we went to celebrate my departure.  This is a large and powerful potion; it took me the better part of 2 hours to finish it.  The fresh night air felt good, and then there we were, at Phoebe's Cupcakes. Yes, of course they had one with yellow cake and white frosting for me.  There were sprinkles on top and inside and it's making me smile just to think about it.   There was Death by Chocolate and Pineapple Right Side Up and then there was the one SIR decided to try... the one with crispy bacon on top.  

Yes, bacon on a cupcake.  It was definitely time for me to go home.  I left the kids with the leftovers; they won't be grocery shopping any time soon.