Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back-to-school Shoes

Note: Ugly back-to-school shoes
Why haven't I bought my back-to-school shoes?

Why, at 57 years old, do I still at this time of year look forward to buying what were usually the ugliest shoes ever to come out of the mind of humans? Because, back when I got "back-to-school shoes," they had to be sturdy and functional; patent leather mary janes were for church and Keds (and PF Flyers) were for gym class. But school shoes were dark, leather and ugly and I got a new pair every fall.

And so, every Labor Day weekend in those moments just before dropping off to sleep or just waking up, my mind prepares itself for the first day of school. You know, back when the school supply list consisted of: a cigar box (seriously -- in first grade we asked the druggist for actual cigar boxes, which he nicely saved up throughout the year; in later years, you could get cigarbox-shaped boxes that were sold with school supplies), a pack of six crayons, a jar of paste and No. 2 pencils. In fourth grade I was excited that "ball point pens" were added to the list.

Was I the only one who insisted on wearing my new back-to-school clothes on the first day of school...and then sweated through the day because that's what you do when it's 89 degrees out and you're wearing corduroy and a sweater?

When I see kids board the bus these days, it seems so odd to me that there was a time where girls couldn't wear pants to school and boys couldn't wear jeans. No one was allowed to wear sneakers anywhere but in the gym. If you lived within a half mile of the school, you walked or rode your bike. If you rode a bus, you walked a block or so to the bus stop. Do they even have bike racks at schools anymore?

Side Note: This article from The Atlantic should be a must-read for all parents. I'm not saying we should allow our kids to ride their bikes behind the mosquito-spray truck (Umm...explains a lot, huh?) --  but playground equipment these days looks about a much fun as a handicap ramp at your grandmother's internist's office and, for God's sake, when did the school bus start this door-to-door service?

Autumn is bearing down on us and, while others are thinking in terms of apple-picking, raking leaves and pumpkins, I just remember the stress of that first day with all its dread and optimism, its jockeying for position in the classroom and its forming of hierarchies in the playground. And I remember getting home and feeling like I'd gotten something over with and now I could go back to my carefree summer life, only to realize I had to get up and do it all again the next day. And the day after that.

Mostly, though, I think of the new shoes...the ugly new shoes, glowing with cleanliness and not yet broken in, molding my feet to it's structure and eating away at my old worn socks.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The ALS Bucket Challenge and Snarky Memes

The Lifespan of a Trend

First there are the accolades: "What a great idea! Hope it catches on!"

Then there is the excitement: "Let's all do it!"

Then there is the peak: "We're all doing it!"

The tapering off: "We're all doing it."

The trickling off: "Sorry I'm late with this, but now I (your grandmother) will now do this."

To ambivalence: "Are we still doing this?"

Denial: "I never felt the need to do this."

And, finally, the hate: "What sort of idiot does this?"

If you don't want to do the ALS Bucket Challenge, don't. If you don't want to give to ALS research, then don't.

Nobody cared about the California drought before this, including the many golf courses and green lawns found throughout that state. The ALS Bucket Challenge is not causing the California drought or threatening the water supply in Africa.

You can't deny, though, that this "stunt" raised plenty of money to combat a horrible disease. That is a good thing -- get it? Disease: Bad. Curing bad disease: Good.

Do you have some problem you want eradicated for which you need to raise money? Try just asking people. I guarantee you won't get far.

Involve them in the effort and you'd be surprised.

That's why people run 5Ks or walk around a track all night long for cancer research. That's why people walk 20 miles around their own town for environmental causes.

So, please, enough with the snarky memes on YouTube and Facebook. Certainly there are more constructive things to be angry at than caring citizens who are just having a little fun while doing a little good.

Besides, if I thought it would raise enough money for the farm, I'd be happy to dump a bucket of ice water over Dirtman's head!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lost Shih Tzus

ALERT: The following blatherings contain spoilers of all six seasons of the TV show Lost. That's right -- four years after the series ended, I've finally gotten around to watching and commenting on it. So goes my life: four years late with something no one cares about anymore.

Oh, Lost! You left me unfulfilled. But you didn't kill the dog.

I was quite adament about not watching Lost when it first came out. Back then, in 2004, I was fighting a losing battle with media in general and network TV was my last stand. I began hearing all kinds of buzz about the show but, by the time it became evident that it was not just the usual media hype, too many seasons had passed. 

So much has been said about the series, I almost decided not to write about it at all. After all, there was so much speculation while the series was on and, from what I've managed to glean on line, plenty of kvetching when it ended. What could struggling writer from Virginia have to add to the dialogue.

I happened to bring up the fact that I was watching Lost during dinner with my extended family. I had only two episodes to go at the time and, while everyone politely asked me how I was enjoying the show, they refused to discuss it any further until I finished watching the last two episodes.

"Just tell me one thing -- yes or no," I said. "Do the Shih Tzus mean anything?"

(Crickets chirping)

No one had noticed the Shih Tzus. I went on line and Googled "TV Show Lost and Shih Tzus" and nothing came up other than the image of Hurley wearing the "I (heart) my Shih Tzu" t-shirt from season 5.

So there it is. I can comment on the Shih Tzus. First, the "I (heart) my Shih Tzu" iron-on transfer is seen on a piece of cloth in the wreckage of the airplane in Season 1. Then the t-shirt Hurley purchases and wears (that can now be purchased and worn, but only ironically) and then there is the Shih Tzu painting that is dragged out of Jacob's cabin in, I think, Season 6.

My brother John Boy pointed out that I am, perhaps, the only one who would have noticed that. And, granted,  I am more predisposed than most to noticing dog-related themes. I spent all six seasons worried that they might kill off Vincent the dog, only to be ticked off in the end because he didn't get to be dead with the rest of them. I guess he's back on the island...or maybe in some metaphysical way, he's wherever Walt went.

But back to the Shih Tzus. The reason I was so fixated on the Shih Tzus was that I had begun to notice a whole lot of little themes, most pretty heavy-handed (like those chocolate bars), some more subtle (two Mama Cass songs? Bet the ASCAP guys were scrambling for the last one.), and some that hinted at a complexity heretofore unheard of on network television (The Geronimo Jackson album that shows up several times, hinting that the Dharma people tried to replicate moder culture, but didn't quite get it right). Then there were the people showing up on the island and in the survivors' backstories. There were hints that the airplane passengers had been connected even before the crash.

I can't tell you how anxious I was for the last episode when I would finally find out about the Shih Tzus...and also about what, precisely, was so special about Walt that they spent the entire season building up to and where a loser like John Locke learned all his survival skills like knife-throwing and tracking.

So I sat through the endless treks through the forest, countless women in labor (am I the only one who could only say, "oh,no..." whenever they saw someone in the show was pregnant?), that whole Jack-Kate-Sawyer soap opera, the inexplicable arguments everytime they needed a medical supply that was in Sawyer's tent (45 people couldn't gang up on the guy? They couldn't storm the tent when he went off to pee?), and the never-ending fist fights where men were punched in the face, but noses and jaws were never broken.

I figured the last episode would blow me away because that storyline about Desmond and time and Daniel Faraday the physicist with his all-knowing mother was potentially brilliant! Brilliant, I tell you! Here were all these bits and bobs of pseudo-scientific gobble-dee-gook swirling around that would all fit into the gigantic puzzle!

And in the center of that puzzle would be the Shih Tzus.

And so I sat in that stupid temple with the dirty water unnecessarily long and waited. I waited through a slapped-together ancient backstory with YET ANOTHER WOMAN IN LABOR.

Then, The Last Episode. I waited through gauzy, over-processed sappy love connections (did the writers think all the viewers were sixteen-year-old girls?). I waited while people were picked up and dropped off in a storyline about as interesting as a AAA Triptik.

Finally, everyone assembled in the church. Bright lights. The End.

Wait!

What about Michael?

Why do only couples go to heaven? (except Boone, but he had that creepy sister thing going on, so maybe that was his...ahem...love interest?)

When did Penelope Widmore die?

For that matter, when did Hurley, Ben, Kate, Miles and Lapides die?

Who is in charge of the Island?

Where is Miles and Lapides?

What was the point?

What? Did the writers get tired of writing or did they make their storyline so complicated, even they couldn't figure it out? My neat, tidy puzzle ended up being a box of puzzle pieces, only half of which belong in the actual puzzle.

AND WHERE ARE VINCENT AND THE SHIH TZUS?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Just a Couple of Guys

Let me tell you about a couple of guys.

Actually, I was just going to tell you about one of them, in honor of Father's Day. Then it turned out I had to travel to New Jersey this week for the funeral of the other.

The first one is, of course, my own father; the other is my Uncle Ciro, who was also my godfather, who passed away this last Tuesday at the impressive age of 95.

Tom Brokaw called them members of "The Greatest Generation." The television show Mad Men presents them and their peers as misogynistic cavemen. The more I think of both those extremes, the more uncomfortable I am with painting one group of men with one, wide swath. It robs them of their humanity and make too many assumptions.

And yeah, yeah...they were just normal guys. Pa was a salesman; Uncle Ciro was a pharmacist. They went to work, paid the bills, took their wives out for anniversaries and birthdays, fired up the barbecue, popped a beer, always drove. They were the framework and infrastructure that enabled our mothers to focus on nurturing and, if at times they seemed to be less present than our mothers, a lot of ground could be gained by an afternoon at the ballpark or a Sunday picnic. 

Even that is too broad a description of what these two men meant to me. The thing is, even though they were in-laws, Pa and Uncle Ciro genuinely liked each other. And they were both really funny guys. They would find some stupid TV show (their favorite show to rag on was The Lawrence Welk Show), turn off the volume and then dub in some stupid recording they always managed to have around. When my brothers, cousins and I would try to "put on a show," they'd sneak off, festoon each other in Crazy Foam and join the act. There was never a generational separation at family gatherings in those days.

In fact, one of my fondest memories are of the post-dinner conversations, the tablecloth covered with crumbs and coffee cups (and probably a bottle of Sambuca), sitting sleepily on Pa's lap listening to the grown-ups swap stories. They'd talk of people with exotic names and sometimes a story would slip out I wasn't supposed to know about. I'd try to keep very still and very quiet so that there would be no cause for anyone to realize it was close to midnight and I was still up and taking in every word. It was a very secure feeling.

Oddly, as secure as I felt and as calm and light-hearted as my father was, I now know that during some of that time, my parents were going through some major financial troubles. I never knew, never saw or felt any indication of the disaster from which they were trying to recover. 

All I remember are the crazy, quirky, wonderful things that used to just spontaneously happen. We were supposed to be driving the four hours home to Maryland from New Jersey one night when Pa and Uncle Ciro decided that instead we were going to go to the New York World's Fair. One boring, hot summer day in Maryland, we were just about to be sent to bed when up drove my Uncle Ciro, Aunt Marie and cousins Steven and David; they'd been out for a Sunday drive in New Jersey and just decided to visit us in Maryland. 

So you see, I could write about how Pa and Uncle Ciro fit in as members of The Greatest Generation and defend them from being cast as the shallow caricatures of 1960s businessmen. But I'm no sociologist or historian. I'm just a grown woman who remembers two men I love sitting at the head of the table, clinking together frosted mugs of Ballentine Ale, one attempting a toast in Italian (my father) and the other in German (Uncle Ciro) and both laughing at each other's mangled accent. 


"Don't feed the dog at the table -- do you hear me, Jeanne?
If you feed the dog at the table, he'll always be begging. Don't
let me catch you feeding Shane at the table.
Do you understand?"
I just quote 'em as I hear 'em.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Last Days of the Mom Dress

I think every mom has one of these. It's the go-to warm weather outfit when the last thing you want to think about is what to wear. It's comfortable, practical, durable and timeless. It works in heat or cold and you can, in a pinch, wear it in public.

And one sad day, when you are old and your kids are grown and gone, you take it out of the dryer and have to admit: It needs to be thrown out.

My own mother had one of these that got it's start during what I call her Doris Day period. It had a full skirt and was white with yellow, orange and gray flocking and came with it's own thin yellow belt. The gray may have at one time been black, but I don't remember back that far. She had plenty of full-skirted dresses in those days, but that was the one that stuck.  When I think of my mother, she is wearing that dress. I remember sitting on her lap in the car and falling asleep while picking the flocking out of the fabric.

The white flocked dress even soldiered on through her Jackie Kennedy period, which consisted mainly of a black pill box hat and a classic navy blue and black fitted sheath dress and, for casual occasions, a kerchief and sunglasses. It was hopelessly out of fashion, but still showed up on hot Saturday mornings for a run to the grocery store or summer Sundays after church.

I was at least a teenager when one day when looking for a dust rag I pulled out a white piece of cloth with yellow, orange and gray flocking (with some blank spot where the flocking had...um...disappeared...). And there were more of them in the rag bag, all neatly cut into 12-inch squares.

I was horrified! Why wasn't I consulted? It was as if my mother had taken my favorite stuffed toy, Saffie, and decided to scrub the kitchen floor with him. Ma was mildly amused at my outrage and, now that I'm a mother of grown children myself, I know she probably throught it typical that I hadn't noticed the deterioration of the dress prior to this. No one really looks at a Mom, do they? I mean, you just know what she looks like. She's just supposed to be always there on the periphery, waiting to serve. Wearing that dress.

My own Mom Dress first appeared on the scene shortly after I had my first son. My mother-in-law bought it for me after the birth of Heir 1 so I would have something new to wear on my post-pregnancy body after having endured maternity clothes for so long. It is made of a cotton knit that is cool in the summer and has a skirt heavy and full enough that it didn't require a slip. And the print on the fabric was so dense, it never showed a stain.

I took it out of the official wardrobe rotation a few years ago, but it remained something to wear around the house when no one but family was around. But now, I have to admit -- draping yarn around my neck would be just a effective as putting on this dress.

I don't want my boys, without proper warning, to encounter the Mom Dress in its forthcoming disreputable state as, say, the rag with which I ask them to wipe up dog vomit*. So, Heirs, I'm just letting you know:


It's going in the rag bag

*Go ahead, Charley...say it: "Wiping up dog vomit is a fitting end to that dress."