Posted by: Catadromy | June 7, 2011

The Druish Princess–A Fable

Once upon a time, far, far away in a remote part of the forest known as Penn’s Woods, there lived a Princess.  This Princess was very special, in the way that Princesses generally are.  She was also just a tiny bit rebellious.

Oh, who are we kidding?  She was hell on wheels.

But that’s a story for another time and place.

Back to our fable…

Our Princess had been feeling badly for quite some time, ever since the Season Of The Big Snow And Ice had begun and couldn’t understand why.  She’d been treated by the finest doctors in all the land (these things are relative, you understand).  Even though she’d had pneumonia the Winter previously, her current doctor failed to recognize the signs of the recurrence and never conducted any of the proper sort of tests.  Even though our Princess kept telling him she felt like she was drowning every time she tried to breathe and even though our Princess was coughing up blood.

How messy!  How very un-Princesslike!

Things rapidly came to a head in the Spring.  Our Princess was traveling in the Royal Coach with the King, Queen, younger Princess and the Prince (of course, he became a doctor—what else would he be?) when she became alarmingly ill.  The severity of her illness and the escalation of her symptoms necessitated a hospital stay for treatment.  As her current case of pneumonia had gone undetected and untreated for five months, what was once a simple illness was now something much more serious.  Our Princess had pleurisy and abscesses on her lungs.

I swoon at the writing of these words.

When it came time for the Princess to present herself at the hospital for admittance, she was asked the question all new patients are asked—What is your religion?  The Princess thought long and hard about her answer.  If you recall, the Princess dwelt in a remote part of the forest and there was only one clergyman of her particular faith available for pastoral calls.  The Princess knew him well and was not especially enamored of him.  ‘Decline to state’ was not an option.

So the Princess said simply, ‘I am a Druid.’

The hospital admitting office, being in a remote part of the forest, had no idea what that meant.  Being clerks, they had to check off every entry on the form and asked the Princess what religious practice was this?  She replied, ‘We worship trees, we paint ourselves blue and we believe in human sacrifice’ at which point, she made the fiercest of fierce faces as if she had fangs with blood dripping from them.

The admitting office clerk wrote ‘None’ in the box under Religious Preference.

The Princess had a peaceful hospital stay, uninterrupted by pastoral visits from over solicitous clergy.

Yes, I’ve always been this way.

Posted by: Catadromy | April 26, 2011

Going Home

I was raised in an atmosphere of wealth and privilege.  Not that I even knew it at that time; but as I see it now, through the prism of experience.  Material wealth, surely.  But also the intangible kind of riches–the kind of wealth that cannot be counted.  Freedom to run loose on a fine summer’s day; to ride my bicycle through the neighborhood, heedless of the sidewalks or any property boundaries.  Freedom to do nothing at all, if that was my choice.  If I wanted to run in the woods across from my parents’ house and collect bugs in a killing jar for a school project, I did.  If I wanted to scavenge the neighborhood for leaves from all the different trees that grew there, I did.  If I wanted nothing more than to lie on the freshly mown lawn and stare at the clouds until my eyes began to water, I did that as well.

Surely the big houses situated on vast swaths of green lawn, studded with tall, leafy trees speaks to the quiet accumulation of material things.  These family men, home from the conflicts in Europe and the Far East, wanted to (and did) prove themselves as able to provide material things for their families as they fought so hard keep their nation free.

Going home is always problematic for one whose life’s focus was always on escaping the tedium and censure of a small town.  A place where everyone not only knew your name, they knew the names of your parents, brothers and sisters and precisely how much your father earned.  Now, of course, I see things differently.  There is security in small towns, in the awareness of neighbors.  As children, we were never out of sight of home, no matter how far away we might have gone.  There were always watchful eyes on us, ready to take over when needed.

Going home this time was an opportunity to re-experience my childhood through the eyes of my own child.  As we walked up the street on which my parents still live, I was able to relate to her the stories of each family that lived on my block, for, indeed, I knew them all.  The house where tragedy struck in my freshman year, when the boy who lived there was killed in an automobile accident (the first of several during that time and the most traumatic).  The house that once belonged to my friend Claire, who spent one entire year in a full body cast.  The house where one of my best friends lived, and where we had Girl Scout meetings and played a highly-imaginative game involving Pharaoh and ancient Egypt.  The house where the neighborhood gossip ruled from her front porch, complete with phone, to report to all the comings and goings of everyone on the block.  And then, at the top of the block, the elementary school that I attended for five years.  A school no longer, it has morphed in several incarnations, the latest of which is an office building.

As we turned the corner and continued on our walks, we passed other houses whose inhabitants I once knew.  After all this time, there is no one left that I remember living in these houses.  Although from the outside they are the same, they are only shells of memory.  If I listened closely, I could hear mothers calling the names of their children.  But the mothers and their children are long gone.  Small towns offer security to the young and only memories and loss to the old. All seek to escape once they understand that contradiction.

As we made our way up to the shopping center (not a mall, but literally a cluster of shops and small businesses) for our daily lunch, I was able to recall for her the businesses that once were and mourn their loss.  Where the five-and-dime was and where you could buy live baby chicks, dyed purple for Easter (and where I bought my first lipstick–Tangee) is now a liquor store.  Where the bank was is now an accountant’s office.  The beauty salon is now a pizza place, the pizza place is now a laundromat and the library is now a beauty salon.  The Dairy Queen is unchanged and the bowling alley remains.  The super market is gone entirely, replaced by gravel and weeds.

As we walked back to my parent’s home, we passed the very first house we lived in when we first moved to this town.  Red bricked and small, it loomed so large in my recollection.  The rose bushes clustered in the side yard, which were a rich source of iridescent Japanese beetles, still remain.  In a case of things coming full circle in life, our very first neighbors eventually bought the house next to where my parents moved (and still live) many years later.

I was able to show my daughter where I caught tadpoles and where I went to junior high and where my friends and I would hang out after school ended.  I lived just short of the boundary that would have made me eligible to ride the bus.  Most days, I would walk to school and then home again.  This gave me the freedom to go at my own pace and timing.  I was able to show her the synagogue where I passed through the rituals of my youth–Hebrew school, Bat Mitzvah, Sunday school, confirmation.

We had dinners at the country club; a place, which my family and many others viewed as Moses saw the Promised Land.  A place that we could see but could never enter.  Only as the population began to shrink, did they admit Jews.  I wonder if they regret that decision now that there is once more a waiting list.  My father enjoys playing golf there, the course stretching like a green, grassy river below the windows of the formal dining room.  At the country club, I hear echoes of the past.  I see the college-age waiters and waitresses in their uniforms of khaki shorts and dark green polo shirts.  I see the faces of the Establishment, with their Northern European ancestry writ clearly on them.  What do they think, these fresh-faced people with their lives in front of them, of the passing parade?  My father greets his golfing buddies, men with names like Crichton and Hall.  Tall men, with white hair and blue eyes and a birthright of entitlement.  Men who once ‘ran things’ and have settled into their old age with quiet dignity, still maintaining their sense of purpose.

Not that we didn’t have our own country club.  We did, of course.  Not a championship-level course, but one that was good enough.  There was a pool where my friends and I used to baste ourselves with a mixture of baby oil and iodine and broil in the hot summer sun, constantly turning over, like chickens on a spit.  The Swiss-born manager, in a fit of pique, torched the clubhouse.  Maybe we weren’t good enough for him.  No matter, the clubhouse was rebuilt, better than before, although all the rustic charm it once had was totally lost in the restoration.  The club never really recovered from losing the clubhouse, even temporarily.  The members either died off or deserted the club and it was eventually sold to the Elks.  My father, who would do anything to play golf in those days, joined the Elks so that he could continue to play.  Then the town itself began to shrink and he joined the club he goes to now.  He took me downstairs to show me the card room where he plays twice a week.  It was once a bowling alley, now there are tables whose tops are the last remnants of the lanes.  My twenty-fifth high school reunion was held there, at Sunnehanna.  I half-expected the walls to crumble when I walked up the main staircase.  Everything is all so changed now.  And everything is still the same.

We ate out every night.  Some nights at the club, some at restaurants.  One thing about small towns, you may rely on seeing someone you know everywhere you go.  Most of my parents’ friends are gone, having either died or moved away.  Yet, there are still enough of them there so that I was on display, along with my child.  I almost think of these people as contemporaries.  And it comes as a shock to realize that I babysat their children.  Those children who now have children of their own, some older than my daughter.

Small towns are paradoxical.  They pull you in and push you away at the same time.  The draw exerted on me is strong.  The opposite is true, as well.  I slip back into routine and familiarity and struggle to get free at the same moment.  Like from an elderly aunt whose welcoming embrace is followed by a pinch on the cheek.

Posted by: Catadromy | April 25, 2011

You Blinged Out Your Yaris? Seriously?

So I’m driving along Coldwater Canyon one day (for those of you who don’t know, I live in El Lay) and I spot a car in front of me, waiting to make the left turn onto the freeway.  It’s a Yaris.  A white Yaris.  So far, so good.  But what do I see, sparkling in the sunshine?  Bling!  Lots and lots of bling.  Bling on the logo.  Bling around the license plate.  Bling on the hubcaps.  On a Yaris.

Which leads me to wonder about the type of person who does such a thing?  Is this his first car and he’s really proud of it and he wants to show it off to everyone he drives past?  I’ve seen Escalades done up like this and that’s a whole other thing—but a Yaris?  Is this a hipster making a cool statement of irony, as in, ‘I know this is an econo-box of a car, but I’m going to bling it out and make out as if it were an Escalade’.  Or is he a Junior-Pimp-In-Training, with car to match his current level of, um, stable?

As Yul Brynner was known to say (as the King of Siam), ‘Tis a puzzlement’.

Posted by: Catadromy | February 6, 2011

In Loving Memory

I read the paid obituaries in the New York Times every day.  I fell into this habit a few years ago when one of my cousins died and, due to her philanthropic work—which was quite extensive and covered many, many organizations—she merited a large number of these, spread out over several days.

I’ve grown to love these life stories in miniature and look forward to reading them.    Some of them are placed by co-workers, law firms, medical facilities, schools and the like.  Some of them are mundane tales of ordinary people, whose families loved them, miss them, want to hold onto their memories and create a patch of immortality for them, no matter how small, for a brief moment.

When my mother died, I asked my father if he’d like to place one for her in the Times and he declined.  However, when Dad died, I did place one for him.  It was my way of paying public tribute to his memory and securing for him that momentary patch of immortality.

Most of these obits are stories of people who have lived long, full lives and died well into their eighties, nineties or even past the century mark.  Some of them died when they were my age or younger, eliciting a wince from me as my own mortality flashes by.  A few of them have died shockingly young, sending me to my computer, seeking further details on the circumstances of their deaths and those are indeed tragic.

Sometimes, these tales are unintentionally hilarious.  Names somewhat altered out of respect.

What to make of Peter Cambridge, who ‘was never happier than in a hotel suite where he could smoke his cigars and eat his favorite  “junk” food (typically hot dogs with lashings of mustard and vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce).’

Oh, Peter Cambridge!  No wonder you’re gone at the age of 72.  Your favorite food was hot dogs a la mode.

And you, Henry Lippincott, who has listed among his survivors, his four horses.  By name, no less.  His human survivors didn’t get that level of attention, though.  I doubt that the horses wrote the obit (or paid for it), so the onus for this one doesn’t fall on the horses.

Kudos to Gertrude Prescott, who died at the age of 94 while on vacation in Greece.  She obviously lived her life to the fullest and seized every moment.

Here’s to you, Linda Elinora Mainbaugh, whose obit aside from her family members, includes pets, current and deceased—by name—thereby earning each one of them an obituary in the Times.

Honorable mention goes to Horace Linton 82, who died peacefully at the kitchen table, surrounded by his wife, children and sisters.  This leads me to ask the question–did he plop face first into the mashed potatoes?  Was the family playing a rousing game of Scrabble when Horace decided to take his Final Pass rather than play out his tiles?

Posted by: Catadromy | February 6, 2011

My Momma Done Tol’ Me (with apologies to Johnny Mercer)

My mother said a lot of things to me, most of it untrue, provincial or just plain annoying.  But she also gave me a lot of rather sage advice.  She’s been gone over three years and I miss her every day.

Herewith, some of my mother’s words to live by:

You should only speak good of the dead.  He’s dead.  Good.

Don’t spend other people’s money.  Meaning—don’t question what someone else does with their money or how they prioritize their spending.  If they’re not asking you for your money, then their spending is not your concern.

Just because someone asks you a question, doesn’t mean you owe them an answer.

Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

Why do you care what other people think?  Do they care what you think?  If you’re a good person, kind and considerate of others, that should be enough.

Vaseline cures everything.  Sore spot inside your nose?  Vaseline.  Chapped lips?  Vaseline.  Little bit of flaky skin on your arm?  Vaseline.  Minor burn?  Vaseline.  (One would think she owned stock in the company that makes it.  One would be wrong.)

Sweatpants are not appropriate to be worn outside of the house.  Ever.  Wearing sweatpants outside shows that you have completely given up.  You should especially not wear sweatpants if you are so fat that all of your rolls of fat will be accentuated and visible.

Posted by: Catadromy | January 13, 2011

Jews For Jesus

Recently, I was at a major sports event (OK, it was the Rose Bowl).  Events like these tend to attract all sorts of crazies and this was no exception.  As we were walking around the Rose Bowl toward the tunnel to our seats, we passed a youngish person who was handing out pamphlets, encouraging people to find out about Jews For Jesus.  Not only wouldn’t I take one of his pamphlets, I called out ‘Loser’ as we passed him.

The principle tenet, the core belief, of Judaism is that the Messiah has yet to come.  Jews For Jesus believe that the Messiah has already come in the form of Jesus Christ.  Well, you can’t be a Jew and also believe that the Messiah has come.  What these people are, are evangelical Christians, disguised as Jews, talking the language of Jews, in an effort to woo Jews away from Judaism.  And only Jews.  They don’t try this garbage with Christians.

And that’s another thing.  Jews are forbidden from proselytizing.  So this cult is committing two sins, two rather grievous sins.

While I’m discussing Things That Aren’t What They Appear To Be…

I was at Michael’s a while ago, looking for table glitter for a party I was having.  I found what I needed and went up front to the cashier to pay.  There was a line—there always is, especially at Christmas—and there was a person ahead of me.  At the moment, I had a rear view.  From the top down, she was wearing earmuffs made from hot pink bunny fur over long, tangled, curly ash-blonde hair; a black, fur-edged, hooded shearling jacket; an embroidered lace mini-skirt, patterned tights and zebra-striped Uggs.  She was small and thin and looked to be about 14 or 15.  She was certainly dressed as if she was.  I tapped her shoulder and asked if she was on line to check out.

She turned around and it was all I could do to not drop my basket.  She must’ve been at least 70 and she looked ever day of it.  I know that I kept my shock and surprise out of my voice.  I wish I could say the same about my face.

Remember how people used to describe the mullet as ‘business in the front, party in the back’?

How would people describe this person?

I can’t even.

Posted by: Catadromy | December 16, 2010

Things Not To Do Yourself

Cut your own hair.

No matter how bored you are.  No matter that the scissors are right there, mocking you, in the top drawer of your vanity.  No matter that you’ve seen your stylist do it dozens of times.

Do not cut your own hair.

Maybe a bang trim.

But you’ve seen those cute little piece-y cuts on some celeb that you’ve admired and you thought you might be able to pull it off?  Well, you can’t.  Trust me.  You will wind up looking like a mental patient.

Don’t ask me how I know this.

I just do.

Posted by: Catadromy | December 7, 2010

I Just Want to Say: Nora Ephron

I’ve never met her, but I feel as if I know her.  I’ve seen her movies (When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Julie & Julia, Heartburn, Sleepless In Seattle), I’ve seen her play—Love, Loss and What I Wore and I’ve read her books—I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing.  I want to be her, I want to have her life and most importantly, I want to write as well as she does.

We were coming back from taking the Darling Child on her third and final College Tour—we made three trips in all and toured some 16 schools.  One trip to Chicago, which covered from the University of Wisconsin in the north to the University of Illinois in the south.  A second trip to Boston, in which we made a big circle that encompassed Massachusetts and Connecticut and a third trip to Washington, D.C. which also covered Maryland and Virginia.  In August.  Ah, the delights of Washington, D.C. in August.  I downed bottle after bottle of water, but mysteriously, never needed to pee because I sweat it all out.

But I digress.  The tales of the College Tour are for another post.

We were finished with our tour of The George Washington University and I needed something to read on the plane ride home, so we went into the bookstore.  There it was, on sale—I Feel Bad About My Neck.  I hadn’t heard very much about it, but as I love Nora Ephron, I bought it.

I started to read it on the plane home and began laughing.  And laughing.  And laughing.  Laughing so loudly and so much that I was cackling.  And embarrassing my family.  Which is what I live for, honestly.  They never sit with me, anyway.  We generally sit in aisle seats, facing or in rows behind each other.  If they could have put me out on the wing of the plane for the duration, they would have.

I’m now reading her newest book—I Remember Nothing.  It’s not true, of course.  She remembers Everything.  But now, I read on my Kindle, late at night when it’s just me and the Husband.  So I can’t laugh or cackle.  The latest book isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the other one; it’s sadder and more poignant, as it deals more with aging.  But it’s still funny.  I just laugh more quietly and to myself.

Shh.  I Just Want to Say: Nora Ephron—keep on.  Keep On.

Posted by: Catadromy | November 28, 2010

Whatever Happened to Class?

There’s a great number in the musical Chicago where two of the characters bemoan the lack of class.  I’ve been hearing this song a lot in my head lately.  It’s been really crowded in there of late.  Inside my head, I mean.  Song fragments, to do lists, grocery lists, recipes I want to try, books I want to buy for my Kindle, the usual.  I am an awesome writer of lists, mostly because I love crossing off the things once they’re done.  Terrific feeling of accomplishment.  Something which is sorely lacking in my life of late.  Sigh.

Sort of a segue.  At one point in my career I worked for a person who was an absolute failure as a human being—still is, actually.  Let’s refer to this person as Bome (Bane Of My Existence).   Bome was a total hostage to personal demons and insecurities of all types.  I honestly don’t know how Bome managed to get through the day.  And some days, Bome just didn’t.  There were long stretches when Bome wouldn’t show up at work for weeks at a time.  When it was time for the annual performance review, the professional trait of mine that Bome was most critical of was that my standards were too high.   Seriously?  That’s the worst thing you can find to say about me?  My standards are too high?  How long and how hard did you have to look for that one?  I never asked anything of anyone that I didn’t ask of myself, but whatever.  At least I had standards.

Which brings me back to Chicago and class.  The opening verse of the song is:

“Whatever happened to fair dealing?
And pure ethics?
And nice manners?
Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass?
Whatever happened to class?”

Manners were created for a purpose.  They’re mutable and adapt with the times and enable us to interact with each other in expected ways.  What’s so wrong with that?  And what’s so wrong with having ethics?  If people had ethics, we wouldn’t have the mortgage crisis, no Bernie Madoff, no Wall Street banker mess, no Goldman Sacks, no AIG and no Tea Party.

Now that’s a world I could live in.

Posted by: Catadromy | November 24, 2010

Shopping Carts

I have come to the conclusion that some people have been raised by wolves.  They look the same as the rest of us—no fur, fangs, claws, yellow eyes—and they walk among us.  But…and this is important…they have no manners!

Yes, I’m referring to the Bane of the Rogue Shopping Cart.  You’ve all seen them, sitting there in the market parking lot, rolled up against the planter or taking up a valuable space; in Costco’s lot, propped up with the front wheels in the trees or just left in a parking space; or just rolling around helter skelter in any old parking lot, looking for a car (like mine) to roll into and dent.

Seriously.  How hard is it to roll the cart back to the car corral at the end of the row and put the cart there?  I was in the Costco lot not long ago and I was wheeling my cart to my car and I passed this guy off-loading into his car.  He was parked right next to the cart corral.  I mean, Right. Next. To. It.  Me, being me, I stopped by this car with my own cartful and asked if he was planning on placing his cart in the conveniently-located cart corral.  He said he would.  I thanked him and told him that stray carts were a huge pet peeve of mine.  He nodded in agreement.  As it turns out, what he was agreeing with was that I was a pain in the ass, because he left his cart in his parking space.

Another time, I was at the Post Office (side note, I love the Postal Service—so much better than FedEx, which suffers from a seeming inability to find my house.  I had to give the driver instructions from Google Maps to in order to have a package delivered.  The dispatcher even asked me if my house had moved.  I mean, I live in California, so the house does move from time to time, but it’s basically been in the same general location since 1953.) which shares a parking lot with a number of other stores, one of which is a Smart & Final, with shopping carts.  This parking lot is not in the best shape and is full of depressions and uneven spots.  I pulled in, nose to nose with another car whose driver was loading up the back with lots of stuff from a cart.  She pulled the cart around to the front of her car and put some stuff in the passenger area.  I got out of my car and asked her if she would please put her cart in the cart corral, which was directly behind her.  She said “Sure.’’  And got in her car and drove off, leaving her cart to roll into the front of my car.  So, I had to take her cart and put it in the cart corral so that it wouldn’t do any further damage to my car.

And I wasn’t even going into Smart & Final.  I was going to the Post Office.  Where they don’t use shopping carts.

Do I look like the shopping cart police?

Do I look like yo’ mama?

I’m tired of picking up after you.

Don’t make me come over there.

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