Thursday, December 30, 2010

Topic 80: Suspended judgments

         A Clean, Well-Lighted Place in Prescott                
 The weather has disrupted our family.  Our satellite dish is covered with ice, so our TV reception has been out since last night. Milo’s morning walk was canceled, and  worst of all,  so was Megan’s six a.m. flight from Prescott to Denver. She is booked on an afternoon flight, but the weather in Denver is starting to deteriorate and it’s snowing again here. “Wait and see” is the mantra for the day as we put on the coffee, crank up the heat and hang out in the living-room for weather updates

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was about Megan’s travel plans. My second thought was about some folks I know who must be pretty cold, wet and uncomfortable right now. Bad weather doesn’t disrupt their TV reception. Most of them don’t have electricity. It doesn’t interfere with their travel plans. Most of them don’t have transportation. Luckily, they can drink their coffee and hang out in the heated living-room of Quixote’s Garage.

Thousands of tourists visit Prescott each year, with its yesteryear charm and reputation as “Everybody’s Home Town.” Unfortunately, that friendliness doesn’t always extend to the homeless people who also come here to escape the summer heat of Phoenix, look for work,  or seek military benefits at the local VA hospital. Community groups provide meals, but shelters have limited capacities and public transportation is almost non-existent. Increasingly, local business owners and the police have made the downtown Courthouse area and local parks inhospitable for anyone who appears to be loitering. No hanging out allowed.

That’s where Quixote’s Garage comes in. The Garage is exactly that, a former business  with huge roll-up commercial-grade doors that go up in the summer to let out the heat and down in the winter to keep out the cold. Modeled after the principles and vision of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker Movement, and hospitality houses for people “at the margins,”  Quixote’s Garage is “Everybody’s Living-room,” where all are welcome, homeless or not, jobless or not. A big sign out front announces “Loitering Allowed,” and the space inside is laid-back, friendly and safe. That safe part is important, more important than the heat, hot coffee, books and games, or comfortable couches. 

Quixote’s Garage is a drug-free, alcohol-free, hassle-free, fragrance-free, hostility-free zone. It is  NOT a  Free Speech zone: no talk about drugs and alcohol, and no discussion of controversial issues (religion and politics) that might disrupt the atmosphere of safety and respect.  Spend time at Quixote’s Garage, whether as guest or volunteer, and it also becomes a judgment-free zone.

 Divisive preconceptions about “lazy people who don’t want to work”   and anonymous statistics about homeless vets, the mentally ill or vagrancy don’t stand up well against the stories and faces of individual people, of real human beings. Listen in, and you’ll hear funny work and travel anecdotes, re-hashes of chess or rummy strategies, newcomer advice on where to find hot food, the best campsites, day work, or how to maneuver the red tape at the VA; and, you’ll hear lots of good-natured teasing. Join in, and you’ll get intelligent, interesting discussion of history, philosophy, and okay a little politics. You won’t hear foul language, cruel gossip, or whining…that gets teased out of people really fast. 

It is snowing again with a hint of blue to the north-west. Megan is curling her hair in the bathroom in hopes that the storm will abate in time for that afternoon flight. I’m thinking about my friends. Do they have enough AAA batteries for their flashlights, garbage can liners to protect their gear, a dry change of socks, and transportation to get through the snow and muck to the warmth and safety of a clean, well-lighted place called Quixote’s Garage.
“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community” (Dorothy Day).

Learn more about Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the spiritual/philosophical notion of “radical hospitality” at the following sites:

  The Catholic Worker Movement Homepage
  Baylor University: Christian Reflection—A Series in Faith and Ethics.
I haven't written an essay because I am supposed to be in Colorado. Also, I would just like to add that I wasn't curling my hair. I was drying it so I wouldn't get sick in the snow. Geez mom, you make me sound so spoiled. Wah wah, my flight got canceled. Wah wah I might not get to spend New Years in a ski chalet in Vail. Way to remind me what's important.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Topic 79: On Wearing Overshoes


Oh My Galoshes

The last time I owned real overshoes, I was in grade school. In L.A. it rained a lot, and galoshes were a must. They not only kept my feet dry, but they  protected me  from the millions of earthworms that migrated onto the sidewalk after a storm. It took forever to pick my way along without touching, or worse,  squishing, a worm.

My mother had overshoes that fit over high heels. They were transparent plastic wedgies  that matched the transparent plastic rain hat she woreto protect her 1950’s perm. My mother’s fashion rule, what mattered most, was Sensibility over Style.

Calgary winter, 1962.
When we moved to Calgary, we bought all the gear for long, cold winters.  On weekends, I would bundle in parka, mittens and snow boots for  neighborhood  snowball wars or take the toboggan up the steep lane next to our house with our old cocker Taffy tucked in front.  I walked to school when the bus wasn’t running (they never cancelled school), so I really needed overshoes. Mine were rubber, big, warm and clunky with plenty of traction. My mother found winter twins for her transparent rain shoes, cloth boots that pulled over her high heels and had fake fur at the top. Sensible chic.

In  high school, I banished the clunky rubber boots to a box in the basement. I was into chic not sensible. My friends had been skiing since they were toddlers, and I was clumsy at best. I tried to fit in with fashion, which meant matching stretch pants and ski parka. We bought the jacket and stretch pants on a Fall trip to Spokane, at a store with  poor lighting. When we arrived back in Calgary, I opened the package to find a black jacket and brown—dark, mud-colored brown—ski pants. No amount of pleading would convince my mother that this perfectly sensible outfit, wasn’t good enough for the Banff ski slopes.

Mortification could only be offset by the perfect pair of boots, which I put on my Christmas wish list. The vogue in 1964 was sealskin; that’s what my friends were wearing with their powder pink ski ensembles, and that’s what I needed to distract from my black and brown mismatch. My mother bought me those sealskin boots, and I loved them dearly. This was back in the olden days before the documentaries showing hunters separating baby seals from their mothers and clubbing them over the head, before PETA.

After two good seasons of wearing the boots, I went away to college and began to feel uncomfortable about wearing animal fur in public. Eventually, the boots were stolen from the back of a van Marc had driven across country.  I mourned the loss of My Favorite Boots Ever, then I realized the thief had taken care of my moral dilemma of owning (and loving) a pair of boots I could no longer in good conscience wear in public or private.
Prescott winter 1986

When we moved to Prescott in the early 80’s, we bought all the winter gear, including not just the mittens, hats, and sensible overshoes but a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The weather changed over time, a lot less snow, no need for 4-wheel drive.I banished the overshoes to a box in the basement. They were ugly. 

Today’s forecast is 90% chance of precipitation. I can see a little sprinkle of white at the top of Granite Mountain, and a light mist is falling.   We have a wedding in two hours, and I will probably get my one pair of dress shoe soaked.  Maybe I have time to go down to the basement and look for, somewhere behind the boxes of children’s books, camping gear, and summer clothing, a box with  overshoes. The sensible kind.

Prescott New Years, 2010

So, as I’m sitting down to write this with no idea what to say, I’m looking outside at blizzard-like conditions. Usually this would thrill me – the first big snow of the season – but tomorrow morning I’m supposed to fly to Denver to meet up with a friend. Usually I would be flying out of Phoenix, but I managed to find a flight from our tiny local airport, which seemed like an excellent idea at the time.  Instead, I’m looking at a massive snow storm which, according to the weather channel, is going to last until tomorrow night and may drop as much as 16 inches.  Needless to say, I’m not sure I’m going to make that flight.

I’m still going to act like everything will be fine. My clothes are in the washing machine, my room is on it’s way to being tidy(er) and I’ve suddenly remembered I forgot to get some appropriate footwear. Even if the snow does stop here, there’s still going to be about 20 feet to wade through in Colorado. I told my father that since skiing isn’t on the agenda, I only need to get from the car to the house and back again but I’m rethinking that now… now that it’s too late.
More stylish than the typical green pairs
In England they have a universal pair of shoes for dealing with wet weather – the wellies. Originally made of leather and popularized by the Duke of Wellington (hence the name), these mid-calf or knee-high boots are now made of rubber and are the quintessential English country footwear. Approach any house in the country (by country, I mean rural areas) you will find piles of wellies by the back door. I have never owned a pair, but on more than one occasion (including this one) I’ve wished I had. The thing is, for all the times I’ve seen them in people’s houses, I’ve only ever seen anyone wear them once or twice – usually on anglers or a dog walker plodding through the marshy fens.

Having never worn them, I always assumed they went over the shoe (which is why I mention them here), but now that I take a closer a look at Wikipedia that’s wrong. A google image search of “overshoes” reveals a whole world of seriously strange looking footwear that I cannot imagine anyone but fisherman and dog sledders or hazmat cleanup crews choosing to wear.

Anyway,  this was again one of those times where I had nothing to say, was distracted by other things and have cobbled together words into paragraphs in the shape of an essay, without any real substance. Sorry about that. But there’s a lot to do. Assuming I do make the flight tomorrow, we will be taking a break until next Tuesday because I’ll be on vacation and Mom doesn’t know how to work the website. Have a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Topic 78: Understudies

And the Award Goes To
Anne Baxter in All About Eve
When they see today’s topic #78, most men and women of a certain age (i.e. my age) would immediately think of the most famous understudy of all, Eve Harrington. In 1950’s Academy Award-winning All About Eve, Anne Baxter portrays a young, ambitious actress-in-waiting who insinuates herself into the life and career of aging Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis. The film garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Actress   for both women although they were upstaged by a Hollywood newcomer named Judy Holliday. (source: Independent Movie Data Base).

All About Eve did win the Oscar for Best Picture, and part of the power of the film is in the growing realization that Eve’s strongest role is the na├»ve, ingratiating “My Biggest Fan” who successfully masks her calculating climb to success until it is too late.  Several themes play out here, all of them familiar cultural myths. 

One theme is the story of “The Little Engine That Could,” the tenderfoot who takes over in crisis and finds heroic stature in the process. I can hear the dialogue now:

Older (Doctor, Lawyer, Actor, General): Sorry, my boy, I can’t (operate, argue the case, go on stage, lead the charge). I am too (far away, drunk, sick, wounded).
Younger (intern, student, understudy, corporal): Omigod, how can I possibly do this. I’m too (inexperienced, young, scared, weak). But, I’ll have to do it.
Older….. you can do it, boy. There’s no one else
Audience:  you can do it, kid. Get out there.
Younger… I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

Of course, the understudy saves the day after a few nail-biting twists and turns, the Little Engine has delivered the toys safely over the mountain, the Intern has completed the delicate heart surgery, the law clerk has won the Supreme Court Case, Mr. Smith has conquered Washington, etc. 

But, we cherish another theme, the “Fight Fair” ethic. We root for the underdogs, love the tenderfoots, applaud the understudies, but we want them to make their way to the top through courage, determination and heroic behavior. So, there is a kind of tipping point. We want Eve to make it into the limelight, to save the day when Margo can’t go on, but she has to do it through luck and talent, not machinations. One of the great tensions of All About Eve is the audience’s rising awareness of the diabolic Eve behind the innocent Eve. So, we feel an increasing sense of dread and loss of sympathy as Eve’s dark intentions become more transparent.

The final satisfaction of the film is the theme of “just deserts, “sweet revenge,” “what goes around comes around, “or “kharmic justice,” depending on the audience’s age. Eve’s ascendancy to the spotlight is threatened, not only by blackmail but by the arrival of Phoebe, who promises to be Eve’s own wannabe “My Biggest Fan.” 

Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell in Mad Men
Okay, so maybe I have reached too far back in filmic history to find the world’s best understudy. Here’s one for you. His name is Pete, looks good in a suit, can sell Clearasil to a gecko and is just standing in the wings…no, he’s standing in the office doorway, waiting for Don Draper to make a mistake. In a world of Mad Men ad men Pete Campbell is Eve’s  heir to the crown of Understudy Upstart.

All About Eve. Independent Movie Databse. 
Photo credits to Wikimedia
Except for Pete Campbell
Jesus was an Understudy

The other day I watched Jesus Christ Superstar, which is my favorite religious musical/movie. You may ask yourself how many religious musicals can there be? Lots. Actually, I can only think of two others – Godspell and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. Of those, I have only seen the former so maybe I should restrict my opinion until I have seen them all. It’s just… there’s something about Donny Osmond that I cannot stand.

I’m sure it was my mother who introduced me to Superstar, but I also remember long lectures from my father about the meaning of the lyrics in "I Don’t Know How to Love Him," which involved analysis of drug references and whether or not Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. I was also fascinated with the idea of Judas as a sympathetic character, something we were not taught at Catholic school.

Although the plot is an interesting take on the biblical version, the greatest thing about it is the music.  My favorites are “Everything’s All Right” and “Gethsemene” but I know the lyrics to every song, and I had elaborate fantasies about playing the role of Mary on stage, even though I have never actually been interested in drama or acting. And even now, if I picture Jesus in my head, I see Ted Neely.

When I was a teenager, my mother got us tickets to see Ted Neely reprise his role on stage for the 20th anniversary special. We had excellent seats up close and I could see every line and wrinkle in his face, but somehow that didn’t distract me. His voice was different, slightly deeper, but his performance of “Gethsemene” made me cry. My parents have taken me to many plays, but this production is among my favorites.

I just paused in writing this to ask my mother if she’s also writing about Jesus Christ Superstar. She said, “No. And I’m curious what that has to do with Understudies.”
Oh right… time to get to the point. I looked up Understudy in Wikipedia to see if there were any famous examples, and the entry included three: Anthony Hopkins replaced Laurence Olivier in The Dance of Death, 1967; Edward Bennett replaced David Tennant in Hamlet in 2008; and Ted Neely was not the original Jesus.

Originally, Mr. Neely auditioned for the role of Judas, but instead was cast as a chorus member and the understudy for Jeff Fenholt, who originated the role of Jesus on Broadway. In 1971, Ted Neely replaced Mr. Fenholt for the Los Angeles production after receiving a standing ovation for one of the times he substituted.  That opportunity led him to star in the film, and then thousands of performances for the revival in the 90’s.  Although Ted Neely has done a number of other shows and projects in his career, Jesus Christ Superstar made him famous but most people probably don’t realize he started out as an understudy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Topic 77: On Giving Advice

How to Enjoy the Holidays

This morning I am bleary-eyed and fuzzy-brained from four days of Christmas celebrations, of having both my adult children home together, of being “early to rise” without “early to bed,” of taking a delightful but intense break from the daily routine—and the daily theme.  I did think about today’s topic from time to time, especially when I was tempted to dispense some unrequested “wisdom” to my husband or kids.

 I have spent the last few years trying hard NOT to give advice, at least not unsolicited advice.  My father used to admonish my mother “Mind Your Own Business,” which at the time I appreciated—except for the tone—because the business he was trying to keep her out of was often mine. I guess whether or not I have succeeded you would have to ask my friends and family.

I first decided to write about my favorite advice-givers, Ben Franklin and William Shakespeare, especially Polonius’ speech to Laertes. However, as I struggled my way through several  false starts,  I realized that what I wanted to write about was just a few feet from my head, the only framed piece of writing in a room filled with art and mementos of my world travels.

The hanging was originally typed up with fancy computer fonts and colors as a retirement gift for a friend who wanted suggestions on places to travel. The words are actually a set of Practices taken from Phil Cousineau’s book The Art of Pilgrimage—The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred: 
•    Practice the art of attention and listening
•    Practice renewing yourself every day
•    Practice meandering toward the center of every place
•    Practice the ritual of reading sacred texts
•    Practice gratitude and praise-singing

Cousineau’s book is a thoughtful guide to making travel more meaningful than a sightseeing opportunity.  Adapted from a 5th century writing from Confucius, these 5 practices can become a guide for traveling through life with fresh eyes and renewed intention. That includes retirement. And it even includes holidays with a houseful of family and friends, lots of cooking and cleaning, and the intensity of excitement and emotion that can tip into chaos and stress.

Most of what made this week special for me was the opportunity to practice The Art of Pilgrimage. I got to listen to a 5-year old explain the intricacies of his brand new spy watch that blinks and pings. I was able to slip away a little each day to work on a project or read a book. Each evening, I meandered upstairs to the loft to hang out with my children around the TV, and this afternoon I’m looking forward to meandering into the loft to work on the jigsaw puzzle Megan gave me for Christmas.  I watched and heard the ritual re-enactment of sacred texts at a church service full of excited children and  proud parents. Christmas morning, I sang alto on “Joy to the World” over the telephone with dear friends and Christmas evening I listened to my niece sing "Silent Night" in German with her son, the spy master.

How to enjoy the holidays? Listen, rest, focus, ritualize, but most of all sing praises and show gratitude.


On Getting Advice
I don’t give a lot of advice (not serious advice),  but I get a lot of it. Sometimes my first instinct is defensiveness (with anger being my default defensive reaction). Sometimes I react this way to stupid advice, but more often if the advice is warranted. Still, most advice is unwelcome. Example: the other day my father suggested that I NOT tell potential employers about this website because if they read I was lazy in college they won’t want to give me a job.

To which I responded: Mind your own damn business I don’t want to talk about it leave me alone.

I have since worked out a more reasonable response about how I approach my part of this project from a humorous angle, and some of what is written here should be taken ironically. Also, college was 10 years ago (or 5 years ago depending if you start counting at the beginning or the end).  Something like that.

The other person I regularly get advice from is my grandmother. Some of her comments are so far beyond the mark of what is appropriate or what I believe in that it’s best just to nod and smile. For example, this weekend she suggested I move to Washington D.C. because that is where all the rich men in their 30’s are living, and then I could hook up with someone in the Obama administration. Strangely, she is not the first person to make that exact suggestion. But I would rather work for the President, than date someone who works for him. Have you seen The West Wing? Those people are super busy and have no time for their families. So, thanks but no thanks, grandma.

Here’s some advice from people who want to give me advice:

Don’t mention the job search
. If you’re not a librarian, don’t tell me what qualities you would be looking for in a librarian. Just because you don’t want your employees to be “lazy” or “drunk” doesn’t mean everyone uses the same hiring criteria. Some people like their employees to be “efficient” and “ironic.”

Don’t encourage me to attend single’s clubs to find rich, older men. The average age of attendance to one of these clubs is at least mid-70’s. He may die soon, but first he’s just gonna blow all the money on pills and experimental treatments trying to hang on and spend time with his young wife, and then where will I be?

Don’t encourage me to move 3000 miles on a hunch that I might meet someone in politics.  
I already tried moving 6000 miles to try to meet someone Royal and look how that turned out.

Don’t get mad if I ignore your advice and make fun of it on the Internet.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Last night, after we picked up my brother from the airport and drove through a blizzard and finally got home at 1:30 AM, we then spent the next hour searching the neighborhood for Milo who had gotten out sometime in the previous ten hours.  My father (who doesn't even like the dog) drove round and round the block, and even tried to invite a coyote into his car. Finally we heard a long howl from the porch and Milo was back, soaking wet and freezing cold.

Obviously, we are pretty exhausted today, and there is shopping to be done and family time and movies to see! So, our advice to you is to enjoy the holiday, spend time with your families and don't forget to shut the gate when you leave your dog outside for the day. We'll be back on Monday. 

Christmas 2008
  From the Hammonds      

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Topic 76: Telephone Manners

Call Waiting   
 I don’t like talking on the phone, not since my mother gave me an egg-timer to minimize talk time. I usually spent hours on the phone with friends who I had already spent hours with at school.  Until we got the egg-timer.   My mother’s rules were mostly about good manners when answering the call or taking and leaving messages. The egg- timer was to remind me that it was rude to keep the line tied up when someone might be calling other members of the family.  Since 99% of the calls were for me anyway, I didn’t really see the point. I was just being rude to myself, then, right?
When I went away to College, long distance was expensive and inconvenient.  Sunday evenings at the dorm, I would stand in line behind all the other girls, keeping a courteous distance from the wall phone that was not in a booth.  I didn’t need an egg-timer to make it brief. The body language of the next person in line did the job. The year I lived in France, no phone calls. Too expensive and too complicated,  not to mention the weird telephones and operators who couldn’t understand your accent.  My final year of college, we actually had our own phones in the dorm rooms.  Who would think that someone who hated to talk on the phone could rack up a $150 phone bill the first month? Let’s just say, I learned quickly to adopt the egg-timer approach to telephone conversations and to pay my part of the bill on time.
I really got to hate talking on the phone when I started work.  It began with the temp job Marc got me at a Palm Springs law office where he was working for the summer. I was instructed to lie to callers when a lawyer wanted to avoid a client. So, I was saying “I’m sorry, Mr. Law is in court on a big case, but I’ll see that he gets your message, “but I was thinking “I’m sorry, Mr. Law wants to avoid talking to you as long as possible, at least until he finishes another few cups of coffee.”   My next job required more advanced skills related to hitting the correct buttons in the correct sequence so as not to disconnect, interrupt or forget people at the four different phone numbers. My general ineptitude was offset by really polite phone manners.  “I’m sorry, Professor Yale, that I cut you off again.  Please hold while I try to get Dr. Harvard back on the line.” 
 Changing telephone technology calls for new rules of etiquette.  We don’t need egg timers around here because we all have our own cell phones and personal numbers. Our land line has caller ID and voice mail, so I don’t even have to answer the phone if I don’t feel like talking. No Call Waiting—bad manners.
 Regarding cell phones, my rules are simple: never talk loudly in public, don’t drive and talk, return voice messages promptly. Yesterday, my cell phone died on me…from under-use. After I recharged it, a message popped up on the screen. The message was from my husband (I do know how to retrieve voice mail)  from September.  He should know by now that I don’t like to talk on the phone.

Telephone Manners
I really enjoy the topics on manners because they allow me to recycle older essays and adapt my three Golden Rules of Etiquette to almost any situation where politeness is required. Quick review of the Rules as they were applied to company and ancestors:

Be Clean
Accept Food or Drink
Do not overstay your welcome.

How can these be applied to the phone, you ask? Well, some of it is common sense, and some of it is quite a stretch, but I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m too tired to come up with new rules. Plus there are tons of normal guides online, especially concerning when and where it is appropriate to use mobile phones. Let’s not rehash that here.

Be Clean:
The other day, the phone rang. Person A (names have been changed to protect the guilty) answered the phone and then shouted for Person B. “Person B, it’s for you.” 
To which Person B shouted back, “I’m on the toilet.”
Person A: “So what should I do?”
Person B: “Pass it around the door.”

This all went on without covering the mouth part, or muting the phone so the caller must have been horrified to hear what he was getting in for. But just in case he hadn’t heard, Person B flushed while still on the phone.
People, as convenient as it may seem, don’t talk on the phone while you are on the toilet. Not every call has to be taken immediately. That is why God invented Caller ID, Voicemail, and little pads of paper upon which can be inscribed the details of a message.

Except Food or Drink (haha, see what I did there? It’s a pun.):
Most phone etiquette guides will tell you that talking on your cell phone in a restaurant is a no-no (same goes for toilet talk). I propose we go a step further and don’t talk on the phone while eating at all. There’s a reason it's rude to talk with your mouth full, and it’s not just because everyone can see your chewed up food. It’s also much harder to understand you, doubly so over the phone because reading lips and facial expressions is impossible.
Also, it’s not nice for the caller to hear the crunching and chewing sounds amplified and projected directly into the ear. 

Do not overstay your welcome:
Some people don’t like to talk on the phone, and others are content to do it for hours. This can make getting off the phone tricky.  In this house, Person A really hates using the phone. She hates it so much that when she has finished what she has to say, she sometimes overrides the caller with “Ok, nice talking to you, I’ll let you go” and then hangs up without hearing the other person.  She did this to me while I was in England a lot, but I just called back again and was like, ”Dude. There’s a reason I was calling.” It’s less important to be polite to your parents.

When I run out of things to say, and so has the person I am talking to, there can often be an awkward silence. I’ve learned it is easier not to pussyfoot around with “Umms” and “Uhhs” and “How is your family?” for the 5th time. Instead, I just get to the blunted point: “I don’t have anything left to say.”
Other person: “I guess… neither do I.”
Me: “Good phone call.”
Other person: “Um… what?”
Me: “Bye.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Topic 75: Automobile Society

Take Me for a Ride in Your Car, Car

According to the statistics, we are a typical American family that owns four automobiles, which is 35% of American households. Of that 35%, we are also in the majority because one of our vehicles is a truck, and since it was “pre-owned,” we are now in the 70% of that original 35%. (source: So, we are trendy members of the American automobile society. 
The Maxima has given us  two hundred thousand miles of reliable  transportation.  Marc bought it for a business deduction in Phoenix on a sweltering hot day.  My frustration level began to rise with the temperature after Marc started haggling on the price. Negotiations took two hours, and I was only inside the air-conditioned dealership for about half the haggle. Eventually, Marc replaced the Maxima, so it passed down to me. 
The Passat is our second sedan, the next business deduction after the Maxima.  I resented this car for a long time because he traded in my Subaru Forester for the Passat while I was out of town. I had been hearing the “P” word for months, and my frustration level began to rise with every  conversation about the pros and cons of Passats. The purchase was inevitable, but it was sneaky to sell my beautiful green Forester behind my back.  Marc eventually replaced the Passat, so it passed down to me. Megan got the Maxima.
The  Nissan pick-up truck? Marc bought it used on E-Bay, and it kind of feels like being inside a tin can. Its only problem appears to be that it mysteriously locks itself sometimes when “someone” leaves the engine running while he hops out to take care of a quick errand. My frustration began to rise the third time I got a call to meet that “someone” with the extra keys,  this time at the video store where the truck was blocking three parking spaces -- engine running, radio blaring, and the doors locked.  Marc tried to give Megan the truck, but the seat release was stuck and she couldn’t reach the pedals. So, Megan kept the Maxima.
The Altima Hybrid electric is our newest purchase, Marc’s latest and probably last business deduction. He assured me there is no way this “smart car” will let him lock the key inside the car, but the Altima isn’t smart enough to signal “someone” who drove into the parking garage, locked the car and took the key with him, only to return four hours later and find he had forgotten to turn off the engine.  I have driven the Altima, but my frustration level began to rise  when I was switching between the standard-shift pick-up, the automatic Passat with the remote unlock, and the Hybrid with an electronic key that stays in your pocket.
Marc is seriously talking the R word, which usually means down-sizing. He talks about selling the truck, but what will he use to haul the kayak, go to the dump, or find a new home for the pack rat he caught in the “Have a Heart Trap”? Not the Altima, not my Passat, not Megan’s Maxima.
Down-sizing? I have a suggestion. It’s in the garage, too. In fact, it’s parked right between the Altima and the Passat.  I used to get frustrated trying to maneuver my Passat exactly into position so that I can open the door without hitting the BMW motorcycle, leave enough room at the front to get the laundry room door open and enough room at the back to get the garage door closed. I have a suggestion, but it might lead to the D word. And besides, I’m retired. I’m mellow. I don’t get frustrated anymore. 
You can never have too many cars -- or keys.


I have to make this quick because I’m meeting a friend in 45 minutes, and it takes 15 minutes to drive to her house but I have to allow an extra 15 minutes for getting lost.  In England, even though I had a car, I walked most places and I think that was better. I didn’t get so distracted that I made a wrong turn because although walking was slower, everything else was closer together. One time I was texting while walking and I walked into an electrical pole, which was embarrassing but not dangerous to myself or others – so I don’t text when I drive.

The other reasons why walking is better than driving are obvious – good for environment, good for self.  Over there, I drove to work because 3 miles is a long way to walk in pouring rain but there were a few times when I left the car at home. Actually twice. I walked there twice. The first time wasn’t so bad, the second was never again—I had a hole in the bottom of my shoe and the road was wet so my shoe filled up with water and was sort of slapping on the pavement and no one stopped to pick me up even though I got a couple of waves from people who knew me. 

Being back in Prescott (or rather 5 miles outside of Prescott) means a lot more driving. When I was growing up, I felt marooned out here in the summers sometimes because my mother didn’t jump at every chance to get in the car to drive me into town (my dad might have, but he was already in town at work). One time I was invited to a friend’s house about 3 miles away, no one would give me a ride, so I hopped on my bicycle forgetting that it was 3 miles uphill. Walking would have been faster, because that’s what I ended up having to do … but I was pushing the bike and it was really hot. It took me 2.5 hours to get there, and at some point the super-padded bike seat had ruptured and I had black goo all over my butt. No one noticed right away because I was wearing black jeans, but I left a black butt print on every thing I sat on. That’s why bikes are bad. Plus a drunk driver hit my dad on his bike (dad on bike, not drunk guy).  So, we are limited to using the car to get into town.

Once in town, I try to park in one place and walk around for all my errands, which make sense, but you wouldn’t believe how many people get in the car and drive two blocks. Or maybe you can. There are places in this country where people don’t drive everywhere New York, San Francisco and Portland are the only ones I can think of, and Portland is the only place I could afford to live (if I ever find a job).  Anyway, this essay makes pretty much no sense, but I’m about out of time. Once I get to my friend’s house we are leaving my car and taking hers to the mall for some last minute Christmas shopping. In case you were wondering.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Topic 74: The Monotony of Student Life


Letters Home

First day of college, 1966
Freshman Year—Nevada, Missouri
“For the past two days we have had a guest speaker from the Danforth Lecture Series. His name is Dr. Robert Speaight . . . a Shakespeare scholar, and an actor. He is considered to have given one of the best performances of King Lear in this century. . . He gave four lectures in the two days he was here and he was just terrific. Spoke on Macbeth, Shakespeare and the Theater, a comparison of British and American theater, and King Lear. Often he would give a few lines from one of the plays and he was just amazing.”
 Sophomore Year—Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C.
 “Guess I’ll start at the beginning   . . Saturday morning we went to the White House but found out we could take the nicer Congressional tour on Tuesday,  so we went up to Arlington to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Kennedy’s grave, which is very impressive.  While we were at the graveside, Ethel Kennedy and most of her children arrived, knelt and prayed before the grave, then left. (This was about one hour before Robert Kennedy announced his presidential plans, and their appearance at this time of day was considered very unusual.)

Tuesday, our last day in D.C., we went on the Congressional tour of the White House, and up to the Capitol. Mullie and I went to our Senator’s office (didn’t meet Murphy, though), got passes to both galleries, then went on the Capitol tour while waiting for the Sessions to open. We were quite disappointed to see only three Senators at the session although one was Margaret Chase Smith.  We had seen Mark Hatfield earlier, but he never showed up."                                                           

Hacienda Restaurant, 30 years later
Junior Year—Aix-en-Provence, France
“Lor and I both worked at the Hacienda [restaurant] this week. . . while the cook Jean-Pierre and his wife Francoise the waitress took a trip. Monday night I worked in the kitchen peeling potatoes, cutting bread, etc. It was really fun for one night and we got our meals free for two days. Casualties: Lor cut her finger on the bread knife and ran into a low doorway, which was a kind of laugh because she said I was the one who’d have all the accidents.  We also had fun because the husband of the girl who works in the kitchen did the cooking and nobody really knew what he was doing, so we laughed a lot and Georges [the owner] almost had a heart attack.  The couple’s really cute, Rabaye is 18 ½, Chafee 24, they’re from Tunisia, been married for 2 years and live in a tiny apt above the Hacienda. They like us because we are good sports, and asked us to Sunday dinner sometimes. (I can imagine you’re sitting there amazed at all this, thought you’d never live to see the day when I’d get a kick out of peeling a potato. I have to admit it took me 15 minutes to figure out how to work the potato peeler, but after that….)"

Graduate School—Riverside, CA.
“I had the strangest thing happen when I was driving the Bluebirds home yesterday.  Debbie started asking me all about government, and [why] there hadn’t ever been a black president, could there be a black president?  All of a sudden, after three years with those girls [as their  Bluebird leader] I had finally heard the question of color brought up.  She also asked me if there was going to be a war in this country, and that some people said the blacks were going to start a war because people treated them like slaves.  Then she said, “A person can’t help what color he is.” I was kind of sad because, well for two reasons. One, that a nine-year-old child would worry about that kind of thing, and two that I wouldn’t know how to answer them.”
Graduation Day, 1972

Love, Carol

 Typical British Students
When I first moved to England to study my junior year, I was placed in the residence halls with a group of first year students. Being several years older than them I didn’t immediately make friends with them, and spent the first couple of months annoyed by the inconsiderate way they would run screaming down the hall at 3 AM after getting in from the Brighton clubs.

My class schedule was light. I had a two hour class on Tuesday mornings and a one hour class on Wednesday (at the end of the term I would discover that there had been a supplemental lecture twice a week and I had missed every single one – but no matter, I still passed the exams). This left quite a bit of free time so I took long walks and went to the movie, and was generally bored and homesick. On Thanksgiving (which of course is not observed in England), I bonded with the other residents over a shared resentment of being locked out of our kitchen while the other American student made a turkey dinner for her friends. That I was not invited bothered my new friends more than it did me, and sitting in the hallway, I was introduced to what would become a regular experience for me all the time I lived in England. Drinking and Insulting America and Her People (“But not you, Megan. You’re all right.”) This was late 2002, the US was preparing to invade Iraq, so there was a lot of animosity.

From that point on, we were a united group of three girls and three boys and they showed me how British students spend the 165 hours a week they are not in class -- Binge drinking and dancing, smoking pot and watching Asian action films. We became nocturnal. During the winter months, we would rise at sunset spend the night in gleeful debauchery and go to bed as the sun came up. It was the craziest, most fun time I had in college and it’s a wonder any of us passed our exams (in fact, one of us didn’t).  But that kind of lifestyle is unsustainable.

When I returned to Brighton for library school, I lived in off campus housing with most of the same group. Now in their third year, things had calmed down considerably. Our workloads were bigger and we were all a bit more serious about studying, saving money, and graduating from our respective programs. Nights out clubbing were reduced from several times a week to maybe once a month (although the Asian action film routine was still popular with the boys). The girls had boyfriends and the boys had Playstation and I was just grateful to be back in England again.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Topic 73: On Card-Indexing One's Friends

You Can Call On Me
When I got my first teaching job in 1974, the school librarian was working on a book,  a bibliography of books of fantasy and science fiction. She had her own indexing method, shoeboxes full of note cards, one for each book that included annotations. She could  add or subtract cards as she expanded her research. I don’t remember her name although I know the book was published. I could look her up if I had kept track of her  on an index card in a shoebox.
My own  method for keeping track of names and contact information hasn’t changed all that much since 1974. I have address books that are a messy record of people  who moved, married, and/or died.  Most of the time, when I meet people that I want to contact later, I end up scribbling their phone number (or e-mail address these days) on the back of a grocery receipt or used envelope, only to lose it before I can transfer it to something more permanent.

Vintage Calling Card Case
The wording of daily theme #73 is rather unusual, however, hinting at a different era where social protocol required people to  use calling cards.  As I recollect from reading period romance novels, people paid visits to each other, announcing their arrival with a calling card laid in a silver tray in the foyer: “The stack of cards in the card tray in the hall was a handy catalog of exactly who had called and whose calls might need to be returned* (source: Center for Apparently, there was an etiquette not only in the use of calling cards, but  between men and women. For example, men were supposed to carry their calling cards loose in a pocket but women were to use card cases. The Bedford Museum in England has a number of such cases of varying quality on display. Business cards were more widely used than calling cards, which were generally reserved for the middle class, but it was never acceptable to leave a business card when making a social call.
So, if I were a 19th century lady of distinction who received callers on a regular basis, I might need to keep and organize those calling cards so as to make sure I met my social obligations for returning visits or reciprocating with teas or evening soirees.  If I had to actually “card index” the cards from that silver tray, that might indicate social prestige or popularity. High and mighty, hoity-toity woman of means, I might even need a social secretary to keep track of my calling cards and social engagements.

The closest thing to calling cards I have ever seen have been those joke business cards that retired business people (mostly men) make up to hand out to people. They say things like “ Fred Smith, fisherman” or “Retired and Ready to Roll.” I guess that such people were used to handing out business cards when they weren’t retired. I had business cards, too. The College provided them to encourage professional networking at conferences, I assume. When I got tenure, I ordered a box of them with the college logo, my title and department, etc. I think 500 come in a box. I forgot to carry them with me, so I ended up writing my phone number or e-mail address on the back of someone else’s grocery receipt or used envelope. I think when I retired, the box still had about 485 cards in it.  If I were going to print a calling card, it would say:

Center for


In the olden days in Europe and also in America,  a person of a certain class had a calling cards, which he would deliver to another person’s house as a way of introducing himself. Then, if that second person found the first person to be agreeable and wished to pursue an acquaintanceship, he would send a servant over to the first person’s house with his own card. I’m not sure how it was decided whether a person was agreeable or not based on just a name on a card. Maybe discreet enquiries were made. Upon receipt of the other person’s card, the first person may now visit the second person in their home during certain hours. The cards were kept in a fancy case, called the card case. 

After a brief visit and conversation, then each person added notes on the back of the other's card -- some personal attributes and information which would aid them in planning the seating chart in the event of a dinner party. If a person was tipsy at 2:00 in the afternoon, then that person would not be seated next to the tee-totalling wife of the Member of Parliament. It was very important, at dinner parties, that people were seated in such a way to aid conversation and to avoid boredom and offense. That is why married couples were not seated together.

Now in these modern times, we do not have calling cards. Some (employed) people have business cards and those are handed out at parties or accident scenes;  perhaps one might get a card in return but there is not the expectation there once was attached to the exchange. One is not expected to visit the address on the business card unless one has business to do. They are not designed to facilitate a social network, is what I’m trying to say.

Speaking of social networks, when I was complaining to my mother about not knowing what to write about this topic, she suggested I write about Facebook. She was sort of snooty about it, “I would expect you of all people to have something to say about your experience with Facebook.” So fine, I’ll say something about Facebook.

 Yes, it is a social network, but it is artificial. A person sends a friend request (not unlike a calling card) and if the other person finds it acceptable (after a discreet glance at their public profile), they accept the request. Then they are “friends.” One can “visit” the other’s space, leave messages and invitations to play games, but maintaining this friendship requires isolation rather than integration. A person does not need to leave the house, instead one pushes a few buttons and stares at a screen.
The more time a person spends interacting with virtual friends, the less time one has for real dinner parties and actual conversation with interesting people who are not your spouse (if you even have one).

The only other similarity is that some people collect friends as people collected cards in the olden days. In both cases, a person will sit by himself, staring at the friend list or the collection of cards and think “Look how popular I am.”


With the exception of the first paragraph, I made up everything in this essay. The analysis of Facebook is my own, therefore also made up.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Topic 72: Fashionable Tardiness

Timely Matters
I don’t like to be late for anything, so I overcompensate by arriving early. Another member of my family—you know who you are—is often late not to be fashionable but because he gets caught up in a newspaper article,  lingers over  one more cup of coffee or can’t find his keys. I once got the idea that we could carpool together to our jobs in San Diego, about a half-hour drive from our home, but one morning as I sat waiting for him in the car again, waiting. I imagined him scurrying around the house looking for his wallet or a notepad; I realized carpooling was not good for my blood pressure or our marriage.
I do recall one occasion that merited the grand description of “fashionable tardiness.” The summer of 1972, several friends traveled through Europe together. In London we bought matinee tickets to a play, but someone—you know who you are--decided to meet us after he did some last-minute shopping before our return to the States. I arrived at the theater early, of course. As the minutes ticked by, my anxiety level began to rise. The theater filled, and the lights dimmed. My anxiety turned to anger as I stared at the empty seat next to me. Anger turned to concern as the play began, and I thought of possible scenarios: death by double-decker bus, mugging by Cockney pickpockets. Fifteen minutes into the play, I finally spotted him at the edge of the aisle waiting for an appropriate moment to squeeze along the row to his seat. Concern turned to relief turned to anger turned to…omigod, he looked so handsome. He had bought a brand new sports coat and tie, and I had never seen him look quite so, well, fashionable. I gave him a little pat as he sat down, and he smiled at me quite proudly. This was the same guy who the year before had bought his first pair of plaid polyester bell-bottoms at K-Mart. Marc had smiled at me quite proudly back then too.
I suppose the notion of “fashionable tardiness” comes from the idea that in high society people wanted to make a grand entrance in front of a crowd. I know that what makes being late fashionable versus rude is a matter of cultural context. Google shows us that.  Fanny Burney wrote about “fashionable tardiness” in her 1782 English novel Cecilia. Ohio-born William Dean Howells wrote about it in his 1888 novel April Hopes.  A 2010 Peace Corps trainee blogs that time is “fluid” in Rwanda, and being fashionably late can mean anything from 40 minutes to an hour. 
My favorite part of My Fair Lady is the ballroom entrance of Eliza Doolittle, newly transformed from flower-seller into a finely-gowned lady of society. Henry Higgins, who would never dream of being late to anything himself, carefully schools Eliza about the drama of making a grand entrance, the epitome of “fashionable tardiness.” Abso-bloomin’-lutely loverly!
Now that I’m retired, I don’t even carry a watch and I don’t care so much whether people in my family are late or not—you know who you are—but I still can’t break my own habit of punctuality. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as “too early.”
Fashionably Late

I am never fashionably late. I am neither fashionable nor late. My friends would tell you that I am extremely prompt, strangely so … often arriving exactly at the time we’d arranged. There is a reason for this: I arrive early and hide around the corner with an eye on my watch.

Ok, that’s not exactly true (I don’t have a watch).  I mean, I don’t always do that. I just cannot stand being late. I would rather be an hour early than 15 minutes late.  I think I get this from my father in reverse– he is always late. When I arrange to meet him at the movies, he often walks in late. This irritates me to no end (especially if I’ve already seen the movie and I know he will like it). I also don’t understand someone who is okay with missing the previews.

Tardiness runs on both sides of the family, and it actually doesn’t bother me (except at movies).  I don’t hold it against the late person, especially if that late person has kids. Kids slow you down. I have no problem waiting around for someone, that’s why I always carry a book in my bag.

Anyway, the expression “fashionably late” conveys the impression that a person is too busy and in demand to arrive on time, having to flit from one engagement to the next. I am neither busy nor in demand (possibly because I am not fashionable?). But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the first person at a party because, even though the invitation said 8 p.m., no one bothered to show up until 9. That does annoy me. I didn’t show up early (cuz I was hiding around the corner), but the fact that I am the only person there is embarrassing and conveys the impression that I am desperate and over eager. I don’t want to have to think about this crap – that’s the problem with these topics sometimes. I am not a very good grownup, I fall down stairs and I’m obsessive compulsive about being on time. Thanks for reminding me Topic.

Wait, here’s something kind of funny and weird. I get lost a lot when I drive. I’ve mentioned that before. Consequently, I leave early to allow extra time in case I get lost. What I might not have mentioned is that I often get lost driving familiar roads. One might cause the other. For example: a couple of weeks ago I was going shopping with some friends and arranged to meet at one of their houses at 8 AM.  This friend lives roughly ten minutes away, but it had snowed that morning so I left at 7:30 to allow extra time. The snow melted by the time I reached the main road, and I knew I was going to be early so I started planning where I could park the car and not be seen when I missed the turn to her house. It took a couple of minutes to find a suitable place to turn around (inconvenient dog walkers) and I was heading back in the right direction when a song I really like came on the radio and I was distracted. I missed the turn again. I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but I missed that turn 3 times and by the time I got on the right road, I pulled into her driveway at exactly 8 a.m. That happens to me all the time. I don’t know if it’s luck or my self-conscious screwing with me, but seriously: all the time. That’s why I’m never late.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Topic 71: Too Much Momentum

Falling Bodies
Most of what I know about physics comes from watching falling bodies-mine or my family’s. I want to blame it on our house,  which is a veritable booby trap for the young or careless. Stairs up to the front door and off the back deck, stairs up to the second storey and down to the basement, an open loft and upper hallway  protected by the flimsiest of railings good only for hanging decorations at Christmas.
We  raised two children here with fairly simple safety precautions.  We bought kiddie gates for the stairwell and installed child-proof latches and outlet plugs.  We even covered the upstairs railings with chicken wire, inelegant but effective in keeping them from sticking their heads between the posts,falling through the rails or throwing anything dangerous off the balcony. 
Unfortunately, we adults seemed to be the weakest link in our safety system.  I was the one who left the door to the basement open while carrying laundry down to the garage, the basket blocking the sight of my toddler following behind. It was pretty amazing actually that, after bouncing off one section of the stairs and hitting his chin on another section, my son didn’t break any bones. He  did put his teeth through his bottom lip. it  sounds worse than it really was, I swear.
Child-proof Fence
The outside of the house wasn’t much better than the inside with its wrap-around deck,  railings edged by cat claws and other prickly shrubs, and the varied drop-off from the deck because of our sloping property. We put up fencing there as well, but only after—omigod, same kid—our 2 year -old son got too much momentum going on his Big Wheels and went through the railing and into the bushes while Marc was playing with him. Oh, the wails and tears…from my husband at the sight of the plastic cycle hanging precariously off the deck, his baby boy caught in the cat claws.
As the children grew, our inelegant safety system was dismantled. Countless children have stuck their heads through the balcony and not one has ever fallen. The only damage from  throwing things off the balcony was not done by children. Who woulda  thunk that #1  I would be such a lousy thrower, and that  #2  a flimsy piece of clothing could actually snap a propeller arm off the ceiling fan?
The chicken wire and baby fences are still in use, moved outside to contain a dog who can leap tall buildings and the front gate of our deck in a single bound. A barricade of chairs and fencing inside the gate has worked so far, but I was stingy with the chicken wire, thinking that the increasing drop-off and the huge bushes alongside the deck would be a deterrent, and they were until yesterday.  A chocolate Lab wandered into the yard. Milo, sitting atop his favorite outdoor perch, our glass-top table, spotted the intruder. Squeezing through the railing just where the chicken wire ended, he leaped off the deck, up over the gigantic bush right into the chocolate lab. According to Milo’s sister (Megan hates it when I call her that), the confrontation between Lab and mutt was a frenzy of gyrating bodies, a collision of tails and squeals as the two powerful animals became instant pals, running huge circles through the neighboring yards. I now have several more plastic chairs barricading the railing, inelegant and probably not very effective.  

I love my house even if it may appear to be a death trap. Hopefully, our youngest child doesn’t remember his accidents as well as his parents do. And hopefully, our latest dog will forget how easily he flew off that deck, unharmed despite the speed from too much momentum.
Dog-proof fence?


When I was little I was quite a gymnast, according to my parents. I was enrolled in gymnastics at the age of 2.5 and I guess I was a little darling or something. What I remember is an exhibition and being the only one who could do neither the splits or a back flip. We went down the line, every girl doing the back flip and when it got to me, I did a somersault. Every time I would gear up to try a back flip or a handspring or something, I would freak out and lose momentum. That’s  how I remember it.

What I was good at was somersaults, cartwheels and headstands. Especially headstands. My little party trick was to tuck my shirt into my pants and then stand on my head for as long as I could – sometimes it was 45 minutes. I only stopped because I got bored. My favorite place to do them was in the living room against the door that leads to the basement, but I didn’t need a wall for support so I’d do them anywhere – the playground, PE, in front of the TV. I remember (although I’m not sure if it actually happened) my brother throwing toys at me, trying to knock me over.  The last time I tried to do a headstand was sometime in college, but I had to use a pillow under my head.

At some point I learned to do a back bend from a standing position, but again I didn’t have the strength to flip my feet over into a handspring. The last time I did a back bend was shortly before I quit gymnastics. I was in the gym at school and my arms gave out so I landed on my head. After that I lost my confidence, and wouldn’t even do one on a padded mat. Instead I lay on my back and then pushed myself up.  I walked around that way, not unlike Linda Blair in The Exorcist but not as fast, and definitely not down the stairs.

Growing up we were not supposed to play on the stairs. I remember mom warning us, “Someone’s going to get hurt” in sort of a singsong voice and then when it turned out she was right, there was no sympathy.  So, one time I was playing by myself  and I had this brilliant idea that if I did a somersault down the stairs, I would be going so fast I could launch myself as I came up and jump really far – maybe all the way to the couch. Maybe it would have worked if I’d started at the last step instead of the top, but I was right about going really fast. I lost control mid-way through the first roll and then did two or three more. I only slowed when my head slammed into the bottom of the banister and hooked my chin in the corner. I lay stunned at the bottom of the stairs, amazed that I had survived such an ordeal and I was waiting for someone to rush to my aid before I started crying. But my mother was in the kitchen around the corner and had missed the entire thing. Not even my brother had been watching.  So I didn’t bother crying. 

Later I came up with a new game to play on the stairs. Suitcase sledding. It's a wonder my brother and I survived our childhood.