Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally for Sanity and/or Fear in Washington DC 10.30.10

I and an intrepid friend attended the Rally for Sanity and/or Fear in Washington DC on October 30, 2010.  For anyone short, who did not camp out the night before, it was impossible to get near the stage or see anything. However, it was a moderate crowd, everyone was cheerful and pleasant, so it was difficult not to have a good time. The magnitude of the crowd made a statement, although I cannot attest to what it was. I think everyone had their own idea.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Web-Dancing with Yourself

Like most narcissistic Americans, I recently Googled my name on… Google. To my surprise, another woman with my name popped up. Pages and pages of her; almost nada of me. However, unlike me, she was an accomplished author and psychotherapist who has contributed to the betterment of society. Undaunted by the stark comparison, I decided to email her and find out what my doppelganger was all about.

My email explained my pointless quest to find out more about her since we shared the same first and last name. That, after all, almost made us related, didn’t it? She graciously replied and after several emails we stoked up enough curiosity to exchange phone numbers and have an historic conversation.

What I learned was that she was about the same age as me, our last names both came from our husbands, we were both Aquarians, studied journalism in college, lamented the atrophy of the Fourth Estate, were divorced with new partners and had daughters. She was a lot of fun to talk to and we promised we would get together for dinner sometime in the same way good friends who never get together promise that to each other. And along those lines, we occasionally exchange casual emails to make sure the other hasn’t expired.

Even more recently, I exercised another form of narcissism when I joined I was able to trace the Jewish side of the family to its emigration to America from Transylvanian Hungary back in 1906. But imagine my surprise when I was able to follow the family tree of my stalwart Christian ancestors back to William the Conqueror, his son, Henry I “Beauclerc” King of England, King Henry I Capet of France and several earlier kings of Sweden, Denmark and Uppsala. My favorite ancestor, because of her name, is Hilda of the Vandals. Very Heavy Metal. How credible is this genealogy? I have no idea. I found it on Who knows?

 One of my distant relatives, Henry I "Beauclerc" 
King of England, pictured in a bit of a mood.

It is strange how the Internet enables us to make immediate connections with people who, a decade ago, we never would have known about. These current and past ties will not result in any financial or social advantages nor will they lead to any epiphanies or reveal any long-lost secrets. But finding them was good, egocentric fun. And I guess, sometimes, that is enough.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hitting the Breaks

I recently broke my foot. I would like to be able to say that I broke my foot during a K2 mountain-climbing accident or in a nasty bar fight. But no. I was loading boxes on a rainy day, slipped on some steps and maimed myself.

Before this, I had never broken a bone. For the first time in my life, I felt fragile (sniff). I also experienced, ever so briefly, a small inkling of what it feels like to be disabled.

When I went to the supermarket, I looked for the motorized carts. Often, they had not been recharged. But when they were, I went Nascar throughout the grocery aisles. It took me a while to get the hang of how to drive one of those babies, but once I did, I was tooling around, piling cans and boxes into the basket like a pro. It was all frolic and games until I passed someone else who was permanently disabled in another motorized cart and felt guilty for having so much fun. Although the person driving the other cart seemed mildly amused.

That reminds me: When I first got my crutches, the nurses were too busy to give me any instructions. I had no idea how to use them. The height was not adjusted properly and, well, I was doing it all wrong. My daughter suggested I look up how to use them on YouTube. There, I found a video filmed by a 5-year-old girl on crutches who taught me everything I needed to know. The only caution I would offer to others who may use crutches in the future: make sure your good foot is wearing a well-padded shoe or you will damage it with all the impact it is taking on behalf of your gimp foot.

Even after I mastered the ancient art of crutch walking, I noticed just how heavy entrance doors in public places can be when you are trying to balance on sticks and push them open. Occasionally, someone would show pity on my inept coordination and hold the door open for me. More often than not, people would bustle by, impatient at the slow obstacle in their way. This is, after all, New Jersey.

The hardest part about a broken foot is the amount of time it takes to heal. Normally, it takes 4 to 6 weeks, which is a limping-long time. But I broke my 5th metatarsal—whatever that is—and my doctor said that bone can take longer to heal because it moves around a lot. In my case, I was told 6 months, although I stopped needing crutches and the ugly Velcro shoe made in China after about 8 weeks.

So what did I learn from having a fractured bone? If you break your foot, seek medical advice from small children on YouTube, milk it for all the sympathy you can get and saddle up in the motorized carts at your local grocery and department stores. Oh, and avoid extreme sports, bar fights and being a clumsy twit.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Importance of Posturing

These visionary apartment buildings overlooking the Tromsø strait were designed by 70°N Arkitektur of Norway

When I was in my 20s, I went to a doctor who informed me, as if proclaiming from a tablet brought down from Mount Sinai, that if I didn’t improve my posture, I would definitely be in a wheelchair by the time I was 50. He strongly suggested that I take up tennis. But tennis is for sissies so I never did that, and I have lived long enough to prove him wrong. My posture still remains strikingly slumped, as I have spent my life hunching over a keyboard, but I remain a functioning biped.

Many people have pointed out to me over the years that good posture is essential to beauty, social life or health. I have heard this from my chiropractor, general practitioner, yoga teacher, homeopath, personal trainer and landscaper—with the latter garnering the most credibility to my mind. Still, while I can straighten up if I’m thinking about it, I get preoccupied with life and soon find gravity pulling me back into the same Neanderthal pose I have always held.

It is worth mentioning that I do not have any serious back problems, or any significant health problems at all for that matter, so I am not sure why people get so disturbed about the acute angle at which I hold my spine.

I’m sure there have been many great people throughout history who have been perfectly successful, temporarily at least, with a less than ramrod silhouette. They might include King Richard III of England (aka the Spider King); Helen Thomas, a renowned Washington reporter; and Igor (of Frankenstein fame) who held a respectable lab position.

Even architecture has paid homage to the merits of a less than perpendicular approach. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a timeless reminder, and more recently, there are flashes of structural brilliance such as the leaning buildings of Tromsø strait in Norway (see photo above). Now that’s where I want to live!

Indeed, Nature is filled with slumping examples of powerful creatures like panthers, hyenas and elephants. None of them seem to be uptight about how they hold themselves. You don’t see anyone walking behind a leopard lecturing it about the merits of a head held high (not for long, anyway).

I think it’s time to dispel the unfounded superstitions about how life will go terribly wrong if one’s head is not squarely situated over one’s tailbone. It is time for us all to proudly exhale, curl our shoulders inward and lean forward into the future.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Holy Confusion

Defensive Disclaimer: I respect all religious and humanist beliefs. This essay is not meant to offend anyone in any way. I’m just thinking….

I am confused about God. This, most likely, is because one of my parents was Jewish and the other was Christian. Consequently, I am not sure which one of them is destined to enjoy the luxurious amenities of Heaven and which will be plunged into the fiery armpits of Hell. Worse yet, there is also the possibility that the only true religion is neither one of theirs, in which case Mom and Dad might end up turning on a spit together in the Dark Domain for all eternity. Not a pretty picture.

What I don’t understand is why God doesn’t just tell us all—irrefutably—which religion is THE RIGHT ONE. It would clear up a great deal of confusion and solve a lot of long-standing feuds worldwide. Sure, it might put some people out of work, but they could always go over to the God-endorsed group and find something to do. Better than investing a lifetime in the wrong belief system.

Think about it. What if the one religion that got it all right belonged to an obscure tribe living along the Amazon? Wouldn’t that be a mess for everyone? We might have to replace Darwinism and Intelligent Design in our high schools with stories about the Santo Daime Queen of the Forest and the importance of hallucinogenic ritual tea.

For my part, I must admit that I am somewhat drawn to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. First, unlike most things these days, this religion was made in a guy named Bob… in Kansas. In addition, I’ve always been fond of pasta and pirates and this religion includes both.

Buddhism sounds kind of cool, too. If you see someone suffering, try to help. Whatever you do in life—good or bad—will come back to you in the form of karmic payback. You can’t possibly get everything right in one lifetime, so you have to reincarnate until you work out all the kinks. Fairly simple. I get this religion. No one suffers for Buddhism. They just sit under fig trees and think a lot.

This confusion about God has been on my mind for some time. I’ve had discussions with friends of various faiths and philosophies who seem satisfied that they are following a true path to eternal life, enlightenment, oblivion or a nice plate of noodle-y goodness. Is it possible that they could ALL be right? Maybe everyone gets what they expect, like an afterlife menu? I’m not sure.

Then I worry…. Wait. Does God believe in religion? What if God is an atheist, showing an omnipotent lack of self-confidence? Where would that leave us?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How Facebook Ate My Time

I didn’t want to join Facebook. Honestly. But I kept getting invitations from everyone I have ever known since before I was conceived. Dozens of needy messages appeared in my inbox from people desperately, repeatedly pleading for me to be their Friend. It began to feel like I was the last holdout on the planet. Finally, I succumbed. I joined the cult. And strange things happened.

My two daughters "friended" me and I now knew where they were and what they were doing, occasionally in more detail than I might have wanted. It became easy to keep in touch with friends as well as the remotest of acquaintances. Even people I found personally irritating and for whom I had negative interest, kept me abreast of their nauseating whereabouts. I learned how to post my vacation pictures online and bore people senseless across the miles. I could multitask, conducting instant message conversations with people while reading my Wall, ignoring invitations and puzzling over some incomprehensible online game people seemed to be playing. I could offer LIKE votes of confidence for cool comments or links and skip over all the dumb stuff, of which there was no shortage. (Please don't ask me to LIKE your commitment to your Personal Savior. If you are that insecure, run to your nearest house of worship or become a Hare Krishna.)

Then, one day, I realized with horror that the seemingly innocuous Facebook was methodically, maniacally eating my time. I would start to read the latest writing on my Wall and hours later realized that I was still caught in the spidery web of social networking. Facebook postings invaded my email. The beast was everywhere. There was no escape.

It all seemed so innocent at first. Now I was lying in the gutter clutching my laptop—a social-a-holic on a daily binge. I wondered if previous generations had felt the same sense of creeping dread about the new-fangled technologies that had invaded their lives like intractable parasites—the car, radio, telephone, television. Not to mention more recent disruptions to our way of life including cable, computers, Internet, cell phones and GPS.

When something that didn’t previously exist in your life suddenly becomes an indivisible part of it, it becomes one more uncomfortable dependency, one more small loss of personal control.

Unless a 2012 catastrophe wipes out all communication, the social-networking monster is here to stay. It  hungrily eyes my personal time like a wolf tracking its prey. Its Boolean drool runs down my computer screen. Having consumed and digested me, we are now inseparable.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Einstein Code

Albert Einstein offered us the great insight that time is relative. It speeds up or slows down based on how fast one object is moving relative to something else—thus the term, relativity. For instance, a clock traveling near the speed of light would be slower than a clock mounted on the wall of Bloomingdales near a sale rack.

Despite the fact that many of us were not yet born in 1905 when Einstein published his Special Relativity paper, I believe that couples everywhere were specifically what this genius with bad hair had in mind when he came up with his theory. The secret and authentic meaning of Relativity can be referred to as the Einstein Code (with apologies to Dan Brown and Einstein). How, you may ask, can such a remarkable claim be true?

Simple. Just close your eyes—no peeking!—and think about a relationship in your life, past or present. Now picture the two of you getting ready for an important social occasion. Okay. Now consider this. Almost every relationship is made up of two types of people—Always Late or Always Early—who move according to the speed of different clocks. As the name would imply, one tends to be infuriatingly late; the other tends to be unnecessarily early. This, most likely, is because one partner’s mind is gently wafting off into space where time notoriously slows down. And the other is firmly planted on Earth, where second hands are known to be speeding along at a faster clip.

The important question in understanding how this relationship equation can work is figuring out how these two people—locked in slightly different time zones—can peaceably co-exist.

While Einstein was quite successful in observing and identifying relative time differences—even winning the Nobel Prize for it—he was, nonetheless, not very helpful in coming up with ways to bridge the gap. True, theoretically, one partner could cross over to the other’s universe. Always Early could “relax already” into a slower timeframe by exploring the ethers of inner space and ignoring life’s deadlines. Or, perhaps, Always Late could touch down to Earth and actually give a damn about getting somewhere on time.

Sadly, neither of these scenarios appears possible because of the immutable matter/antimatter nature of these people. Science has not yet found a safe means for speeding up or slowing down the pace of human beings. Either would amount to an aberration of physics. To expect two parallel people to move through life at the same rate would defy the physical realities of the space-time continuum and, more importantly, of the basic, stubborn nature of the one who is obviously wrong.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Paradise Lost

The first job I ever had was working for a small weekly newspaper in Boonton, New Jersey, called the Times Bulletin. Tom Trenholm and his family had owned the paper since the 1800s. That fact was proudly displayed on the masthead of the newspaper. When you walked into the Times Bulletin building, you could smell the melted lead that went into the molds—known as hot type—that would become the printing plates for the next newspaper.

Mr. Trenholm was slightly overweight, always chewed the remains of a big cigar and lived in town. Things were slow and personal and friendly. I was 16 years old and Mr. Trenholm was glad to have me as a weekly humor columnist despite my lack of resume. After all, I was Louise and Al’s kid from down the block, and he thought it was nice that I wanted to write.

I don’t mean to sound like a walking antique, but I miss those days when business was personal on all levels, not just in the boardroom inner circle. After several generations in Mr. Trenholm’s family, the Times Bulletin was purchased in the late 1970s by a newspaper chain that closed it down and left our small town without the heritage of a caring, local paper. They now distribute a pre-fab newspaper with some localized news of Boonton and several other communities thrown in. I don’t know if any of the people who work for the paper have ever lived in Boonton or even know all that much about the town.

While I didn’t realize it back in the Seventies, the day of the small family-owned business was becoming endangered as large businesses in the next few decades would hungrily devour them or undercut them with low-priced foreign labor. Local hardware stores, clothing stores, drugs stores and dime stores fell victim to larger chains, and many Main Streets withered with the advent of malls.

This is not to say that people are not starting their own businesses anymore. They certainly are. But this is often done with the goal of being bought up by a larger company so the owners can retire as millionaires, as opposed to handing the business down to the next generation and keeping things personal. My last full-time job as a writer, before I went freelance, was for a company that made the transition from a quirky, fun-loving entrepreneurial environment to a more driven, self-important corporate milieu. I’ve seen it happen many times over the years and it never ceases to inflict me with culture shock.

I guess that’s progress. Corporations employ many people and there are workers out there who thrive in an impersonal corporate environment. Perhaps my discomfort with it is simply a sign of age. Or perhaps I’m just old enough to remember what others may never know.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being

If my moon-eyed, seemingly innocent, black cat looked like a 40-year-old, unshaven man, I would throw her out the door in a nanosecond. Fortunately for her, Nature made her tiny with a mew so dainty that it sounds like a squeaky toy, and gifted her with the knowledge of how to tilt her head just so, in order to melt the heart of anyone standing within a 30-foot radius. Consequently, I tolerate strange behaviors from this unbearably cute creature that would be unacceptable from any other living being on the planet.

First, she is selectively paranoid. If I try to pet her, she skitters away in a nervous, sideways sort of walk as if she is convinced that her very life is at stake. That is, until I lie down at the end of the day, dead tired. Then she head butts me and mews incessantly until I pet her for at least 20 minutes. Only then, having exacted her pound of flesh, does she settle down in the crook of my knees and proceed to snore beyond her size.

Second, she is a kleptomaniac. I must be very careful where I leave my papers. For some reason, she has this odd habit of transferring receipts, lottery tickets, tea bags, bread ties or any other small miscellaneous item from one spot to another. She will also take things out of the trash and redistribute them throughout the house, often carrying them from one floor to the next.

Third, she has control issues. One of her favorite toys is a crinkle ball—a small, multicolored ball composed of a shiny material that makes a crunchy sound when she plays with it. Invariably, she bats it under a heavy piece of furniture, and then looks up expectantly at my spouse, whom she has carefully trained to retrieve it. This action generally involves said spouse lying down on the floor and fishing for the ball under a dresser, bed or couch—an undignified process that this fluffy martinet presides over with satisfaction.

She weighs only 6 pounds and is the size of a small loaf of bread. However, when displeased, this perpetual source of shedding hair indignantly faces off with any comparatively towering human, smug in the delusional certainty that she holds the superior position. Why would anyone tolerate such unbalanced behavior?

She is a paranoid, sticky-pawed, control freak with delusions of grandeur—Queen of the jungle, Ruler of the house and Keeper of her humans. And we, God help us, pathetically pander to this purring Svengali, weakening at the sight of a soulful stare or pink-tongued yawn. Such is our lot in life... to serve as her loyal, emoting, mesmerized enablers.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Down, Spike, Down... (inspired by R Cullmann)

Who wears those spike-heeIed shoes displayed in the windows of designer shoe stores? I have come to the conclusion that they were developed for masochists with an Olympic ability to balance. Yes, they look incredibly hot and give shape to the leg, but stepping out in them is like walking the tight-rope on tiny stilts.

You don’t see men's shoes elevated on five-inch spikes or pointed like elves’ feet at the toe. Men have sensible shoes with a spacious toe box that does not render them limping at the end of the day. No one seems to care how shoes affect the silhouette of a man’s leg. Perhaps that is because they do not—normally, at any rate—wear nylons. Men just go clomping around in spacious banana boats without a care.

As I have gotten older, I have found that my choices in shoes have steadily dwindled. Even the slightest elevation of heel sends pain reverberating down my toes like tiny thunderbolts. Then this past summer, I broke my foot and discovered that the quality and design of the shoes I wore was essential to avoiding radiating foot pain at night. No more discount shoes. I have entered the well-padded, wide-toe-box, sensible-shoe era of my life. My feet have been put out to pasture.

We certainly do love our shoes. The American public bought 2.4 billion pairs of them in 2007 according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. With a population of about 310 million people, that averages out to almost eight pairs of shoes per person. They are worn for work and for play. But they do not merely protect our feet from sharp objects, grime and plantar-wart viruses. They are a symbol of status and as integral to fashion as cosmetics, hairstyle and apparel.

Shoes can even transcend style. They are a part of our psychological makeup. Some people are addicted to shoes—like Imelda Marcos and her infamous collection—and others sexually obsess over them, trembling at the thought of holding, smelling or surreptitiously wearing them. They can be used to drink champagne or to toss at heads of state, giving them social and political utility. They are the subject of children's stories, such as Cinderella, teaching us all at an early age that it takes small feet and good balance to capture the interest of a handsome prince.

So who, I repeat, wears those damned spike-heeled shoes, anyway? Well, not me. At this point, they are only good as windowsill planters or to hammer nails when I’m hanging a picture. I can admire the pluck and fortitude of women who wear them, but I no longer wobbily run with that wolf pack. Such tiny torture chambers remain the domain of the young, the strong or the pedi-vain.