Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Creature was Me

When I was seven years old, I saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon on a Friday night Creature Feature late show. The next day my family went to the beach.  
For my brother, that day at the beach was no day
at the beach. Image copyright Teece Aronin. 

I was the youngest child and only girl. I had two brothers, one 10 years my senior, and the other, seven. As a result of the gender ratio and age differences, I got my way - a lot.  

"Ow, my feet! My feet are burning!" I howled as soon as one toe touched the parking lot blacktop.

"Well, put on your sandals," my mother advised. She and my father were busy pulling the picnic basket, cooler, and lawn chairs from the trunk of our sky blue '62 Pontiac Tempest.

"I don't know where they went," I pouted. "I need to be carried."

"Honey," my mother nodded at the oldest of the  siblings, "carry your sister to the sand."

"Ah, but Mom . . . " my brother trailed off, knowing this was the maximum level of protest allowed under Mom's Law.

He shoved some beach towels into the arms of his giggling little brother and scooped me up. Immediately, in my mind I was Kay Lawrence, the bright and beautiful scientist played by the great Julie Adams in last night's movie. Then, my eyes closed, and I went limp. 

My head dropped back as far as my stumpy neck allowed, my short limbs dangling as much like a freshly fainted heroine as possible. This isn't easy when you're 4'2" and fat. Being carried under those circumstances, one's arms point up in a V, squeezing one's head, and the body folds at the waist like a clam snapped shut. It doesn't go all free-flowing and drape-y like Julie Adams' body did. 

My brother had watched Creature Features last night too, and he knew the deal.  

"Mom! She's pretending I'm the Creature from the Black Lagoon!" Then he jammed my upper and lower halves even tighter against each other as if I were an accordion he was mad at. 

My mother gave him the look. "Oh, for Heaven's sake. Just carry her to the sand and put her down. Nobody thinks you're a creature." 

"Nobody except every cool girl on the beach," my other brother whispered.

A few minutes later I was rump-dumped in the sand. I don't remember the creature dropping Julie Adams on her rump. But as far as my brother was concerned, I wasn't Julie Adams, I was the creature.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Hovering Ghost

There are enough seemingly sensible people in the world claiming to have seen a ghost, that I won't worry what will happen to my reputation should I publicly join their ranks. "Oh," you might say, "that's silly. There are no such things as ghosts!" But if I proclaim their existence, you likely won't think less of me, or at least not enough to darken whatever relationship we have.
Image copyright Teece Aronin

So, I once saw a ghost, roughly 50 years ago. There - I've said it. And the way it happened was this:

My brother was engaged to a girl named Mary, and the two sometimes came home from college to spend the weekend at the house where I still lived with my parents and my other brother. I was 10 years younger than one brother and seven years younger than the other, and it was the older of the brothers who had found himself in these happy - or tragic, depending on your view - prenuptial circumstances.

Mary and I shared a room during these visits. The house was built in the 1920's and had, shall we say, quirks, the layout of this room being one of many. As you can see from my poor excuse for a diagram, the beds were placed foot to foot against opposite walls. 

There was an alcove through which one passed upon entering the room. In the far corner, almost diagonal from the door, was a small closet. As one faced the closet, the left side made for a wall against which there was a desk and chair. The desk and chair stood back-to-back with an identical desk set on the opposite wall, and it was in this space that my brothers did homework before the older of them left for college.

It was early morning and I lay awake in bed feeling restless, but guessing it was too early to get up. Something caught my attention at the far end of the room where there was a window between the desks.

Standing there, if you could call it standing, was a ghost. He wasn't a stereotypical-looking ghost as I've represented him in the diagram; instead, he was a small, but full-size man. His feet, clad in work boots, were level with the window sill inches from where he hovered. He was dressed in overalls and a work shirt, looking for all the world as if he'd just swung down from the engine of a ghost train. Hanging there, suspended, he was perfectly still. 

He appeared to be quite old, wore round, wire-rim spectacles, and including his glasses and clothes, was a glowing, snowy white. His eyes, never wavering, were trained on me. Most interesting is that he was smiling at me, a gentle smile, lips closed. Like his gaze, the smile never faltered. I was too perplexed to smile back.

I don't know why, but I wasn't frightened. I suppose it was due to his harmless affect. I also don't know why I didn't wake Mary with an excited shout. Something in my gut said it was alright to speak, but only softly. So I quietly said, "Mary. Mary, wake up." Mary spoke but never opened her eyes.

"What, honey?" she murmured.

"There's a ghost in the window behind your bed."

"Oh, honey, you're dreaming. Now go back to sleep."

"Mary, honest, I'm not dreaming. I'm wide awake."

"Sweetie, you just think you're awake, but I'm sure you're dreaming."

As I tried to convince Mary to open her eyes and look, the ghost never moved, his smile never so much as twitched, and his eyes stayed right on mine. Still though, I wasn't frightened.  

"Mary, please."

"Honey, if I open my eyes, I'll never get back to sleep. Rest now. We'll talk about the ghost later."

So that was it. I watched him, and he watched me. I don't remember how it ended - if he vanished or if I dropped off to sleep. No matter really. 

I never saw him again.

To their credit, my family never mocked my claims of having seen the ghost, in fact it was quite the opposite. Mary said she wished she'd taken me more seriously, and everyone seemed interested in what I had to say. 

The only theory I remember anyone advancing as to the ghost's origins, was that my aunt's neighbor, a Mr. Hill, now deceased, fit my description of the ghost. Mr. Hill had built the garage in our back yard years earlier. It was suggested that he might have returned to spend time near the old structure. My aunt showed me his photo and while the man and the ghost closely resembled one another, I couldn't be sure they were one and the same. 

I feel a bit sad these days thinking how the ghost never reappeared. If he had, and he'd smiled, I would have smiled back.   

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Night of Misery

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it wasn't that bad. It was a warm and balmy night, but it was dark. It was going to be a "girls' night," just my daughter, Syd and me. My son, Jon was at a sleepover party, so we didn't expect to see him until the next day. 
Where it all went down. Image copyright, Teece Aronin

Syd and I had the evening all planned: pizza and a little somethin' somethin' chocolaty spread out on the coffee table and the movie, Misery on Netflix.

I read the Stephen King novel as a young woman, and saw the film version starring Kathy Bates and James Caan when it first came out. Syd at 19, considered both the book and the film ancient pre-Syd history. But she liked Stephen King by reputation and was a fan of Kathy Bates because of American Horror Story.

So far our girls' night was a success. We were immediately engrossed in Misery's plot and were already getting creepy vibes from the seemingly innocent Annie Wilkes who had rescued Paul Sheldon from a car crash and hauled him off to her secluded house.  

Now I have to fill you in on my secluded house. While not secluded exactly, it is in a quiet neighborhood where the streets are lined with old pines, leafy maples and elms. Most of the houses, mine included, are nestled among trees. My bedroom windows are partially obscured by one  gigantic old fir. There aren't a lot of street lights, the houses are set back on their lots, and save for the occasional porch light or a T.V. flickering through the window, they all but disappear after dark. As to passing cars, there must be some kind of car curfew I've yet to hear about, because cars are few and far between after nine p.m.

My front door was in sorry need of the curtain I had yet to get around to hanging. It has 15 panes of glass running in five rows of three with five more windows running vertically adjacent to the door. While pretty, it is a peeper's paradise. The door opens onto a small foyer which empties into the living room. The sofa where Syd and I sat, spellbound by the movie, is visible from the back through the front door. 

The moments just before the film's climax, and the climax itself, are nerve-racking. They include a shotgun blast to the back for one of the film's most likable characters, and an eye-gouging, typewriter-to-the-head brawl between Bates' and Caan's characters.

Just as the fight was getting real ugly, headlight rays invaded the foyer and washed across the living room walls. Syd and I sat bolt upright and gasped. Hope, our anxiety-ridden dog, started barking. 

Syd: Oh my God! Someone's in the driveway!
Me: Did you order more pizza?!?
Syd (pointing at the pizza sprawled all over the coffee table): Why would I do that?!?
Me: I don't know! I'm just trying to think!

We got up and ran from the sofa, away from the foyer, and skidded to a halt within three feet of the front door by way of the kitchen.

Syd (scrambling for the silverware drawer): I'm getting a knife!
Me (slapping her hands off the drawer): You're not getting a knife!

A shadowy figure could be seen on the porch reaching for the door handle. The door was locked, so whoever was outside started rattling the handle. 

Syd and I froze.

"Mom? Syd? It's me, Jon!"

Syd and I stared at each other, then our heads dropped back with relief and we slumped against the counter. Jon didn't have a driver's license yet, and he hadn't called or texted that someone was bringing him home. Eventually, I collected myself enough to let him in.

Me: What are you doing here?

Jon: Gee, thanks, Mom. Jake's parents said he'd invited too many kids and asked for volunteers to go home. I didn't mind going home, so I volunteered.

Lessons learned: 
  • If your front door needs a curtain, buy one. 
  • Never assume a kid's sleepover will actually go over.
  • Always know your kids might return when you least expect it - and that goes for you empty-nesters. 
  • And most important: Hide all the knives before watching Misery on Netflix. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rabbit Ears

When I grew up in the sixties and seventies, we had seven television channels, and switching around in them was a breeze. Today, some TVs are "smart." My TV said right on the box that it was smart, but I attribute this to the fact that smart TVs are often arrogant and boastful. Being complicated, difficult and frustrating doesn't make you smart. 
Bunny Ears, copyright Teece Aronin. 
Available at the phylliswalter store at

At any given moment, my kids and I might be watching Hulu, Netflicks, or YouTube, or using our "streaming stick" to stream shows from other places. Sometimes we need our gamepad to get to what we want to watch. When I was young, the most technically advanced procedure we might have to perform on a TV was adjusting the rabbit ears on top. 

I need my kids in order to watch television because I'm so dumbfounded by all the equipment needed to watch one stupid TV show. In my defense, even my son referred to one of our recent TV tech add-ons as "that cable thing we just got." 

Last night both kids were going to be away so Syd got me all set up to watch HGTV. She was going out the door when I asked how to change channels. Syd said, "I'm sorry, Mom, but I think we'll have to wait until I have more time." 

Then she left me all alone with the TV and all the "stuff" that goes with it. 

The first thing I noticed is that the audio and the video were out of sync and the audio was ahead. My son tells me this is because we have a cheap internet service provider. Eventually the show I was watching shut down altogether and a message appeared on the screen saying: "Due to inactivity, playback was stopped to save bandwidth."

I sat bolt upright, with my bag of chips and yelled, "Whadda ya mean inactive?"

After Syd got home, we wanted to switch to Hulu for Parks and Recreation, and it was another big process just to do that. I watched wistfully as her little fingers danced around all the stuff and like a miracle, Parks and Recreation came on.

"Syd, do you think you can teach me how to watch TV without help?"

"Oh, sure, Mom," she said. But she said it like I'd just asked if I could ever learn to build my own spaceship, and she didn't have the heart to tell me it was hopeless. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Defending Your Young While in Restaurants

When my daughter, Sydney was about a year old, my then-husband and I lived in Maryland. One summer day, he and I showed an out-of-town friend around Annapolis. We capped the day off with dinner at a restaurant where there was a beautiful view of the water and of the grand, white yachts clumped around the docks like unexpected snowbanks. 
Steamed Mama by Teece Aronin. Available at the 
phylliswalter store at

While we adults chatted, Sydney sat at the end of our table, babbling away and laughing at those things only babies can see. Three wealthy-looking couples in their seventies came in and sat at the table next to ours, all obviously drunk. My guess is they'd been drinking on a boat all day and were at the restaurant to scarf down escargot and steaks and drink some more. 

All six roared with laughter, the men pounding the table, slopping their martinis, cursing, and bellowing at their own jokes. Picture three foul-mouthed Thurston Howells the III and three tipsy Loveys just in from their three-hour tour. Then picture them behaving in a way that would have had the censors' heads exploding all over CBS. 

One of the men yelled for a waiter and demanded to know why those people with the baby had been allowed in. He jerked his thumb at Sydney and complained that we should be moved because that baby was making "so much goddamned noise."

True, who doesn't hate a laughing baby?

I turned toward them slowly, like the killer in a slasher movie. 

Slasher movie mother, using her indoor voice: "What did you say?"
Gilligan's Island vote-off: "You heard me!"
Slasher movie mother, still using her indoor voice: "Let me put it to you this way: We've been sitting over here putting up with a lot of immature noise coming from your table, too. At least the baby's acting her age."    

Years later I walked into a restaurant with Sydney and her brother, Jon. Jon was about 11. There was a crane machine just to the left of the vestibule with a rolled-up mat near it. The mat lay in such a way that you couldn't see it until you were on top of it. Jon was focused on the crane and fell over the mat. The manager said something helpful like, "Watch it there, buddy!" He pointed us to a booth where the kids sat down. Then they watched, horrified, as their mother strolled toward the manager like a gunslinger about to make a mess all over the saloon.  

Gunslinger mother: "That mat has no business lying rolled up over there, especially right by that crane."
Ditwad manager, polishing glasses behind the counter: "Yeah, I prolly should get someone over there to move it."
Gunslinger mother: "And I think you should apologize." 
Ditwad manager, still polishing glasses behind the counter: "I'm sorry your kid fell."
Gunslinger mother: "I don't mean apologize to me; I mean apologize to my son. You walk over to that booth now - and apologize - to my son."

To his credit, the manager lost the ditwad adjective when he walked to our table, sincerely apologized to Jon, and came back at the end of our meal to offer him a free dessert. 

When a killer in a slasher movie, or a gunslinger, or a good mother walks into a restaurant with their kids, it's better not to mess with them. A good father can mop the floor up with you too.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How the Trump White House is Like a Children's Song

This was an interesting week for anyone tracking developments out of the White House. 

Ten in the Bed copyright, Teece Aronin
In one of the wildest upsets since Dorothy's house flattened the Wicked Witch of the East, the White House flattened Anthony Scaramucci, its communications director. And he was still as shiny and new as his aviator sunglasses. 

His hiring, just 10 days prior, sparked the resignation of Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who left mumbling something about too many cooks in the kitchen. Spicer didn't get that quite right; it was too many kooks in the White House - or as Trump calls it, the dump. Spicer is either kicking himself now or rolling over in bed at the luxury resort he has probably dreamed about since last January.  

Scaramucci, aka the Mooch, aka the Scar, aka Scary Mucci - but that's in my house - proceeded to threaten people's jobs, tweet and swoon over the view from Air Force One, grant a telephone interview to The New Yorker so vulgar that making sense of the edited quotes was nearly impossible without the use of male, anatomically correct poseable figures. 

When Scaramucchi's fed up wife, who had just filed for divorce, gave birth to their baby, Scaramucci wasn't there. He had scuttled both her and his child to the back burner so he could be with his other soon to-be-estranged love, Donald Trump. The two were in Glen Jean, West Virginia for Trump's disastrous speech before the Boy Scouts. Hind sight is 20-20. 

Reince Preibus, busy hanging on to his job by his fingernails, was sacked by Trump as White House chief-of-staff thanks to Scaramucchi. Priebus was replaced by General John Kelly. Kelly, no idiot, advised Trump to fire Scaramucci, which Trump did. Sadly for Scaramucci, Trump actually listened to someone for once. 

My puppeteer friend, Rob pointed out that there is a character named Scaramouche often seen in Punch and Judy shows. He is usually a thief and is often beheaded by Punch with a slapstick. I'm speechless from all the art imitating life going on in there. And here's an art imitates life prediction: a Netflicks TEN part docudrama starring Rob Lowe. 

I can also picture Scaramucci turning up as a talking head on MSNBC, Fox, or CNN; he wouldn't care which way the network leans politically since he disliked Trump before he liked him before he presumably started disliking him again. Or maybe he'll pitch a show of his own to Sirius.

Remember Mark Fuhrman, the detective suspected of planting evidence implicating O.J. Simpson? Fuhrman, the known racist who perjured himself on the stand? He ended up with his own talk show and has been a frequent contributor to shows on Fox News. Fuhrman gets paid for this while people with journalism degrees can't find jobs.

Of course, social media had a field day over Scaramucci. Someone on Face Book wrote a meme comparing him to a fruit fly for getting hired, becoming a father, getting divorced, then getting fired within ten days. 

All this hiring, firing and resigning reminds me of a children's song I loved when I was little:

There were 10 in the bed and the little one said, "Roll over, roll over!" So they all rolled over and one fell out. After nine verses, the little one sighs, "Alone at last."

This time life imitated art when John Kelly told everybody to roll over and Scaramucci fell out. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

I'm Menopausal, and This is My Friend, Obese

I like WebMD - usually. I write a health and wellness newsletter, and its upbeat, prevention-focused newsletters perk me up when I hit my morning email, even though they arrive by the bedpan-full. 

Menopausal and Obese, copyright, Teece Aronin. 
The articles are informative and life-affirming, like how to get fit playing with your dog; how to compare Paleo, Mediterranean, and DASH; how to cook with spices; how eating your main course off a salad plate makes you feel full faster. 

WebMD also addresses mental health topics with a balance of optimism and realism, and its photographs are vivid, colorful and otherwise eye-catching. 

But WebMD lost its Wellness Motivator of the Year Award when I came across this recent headline in its newsletter:

Exercises that Address Menopausal Weight Gain: About 30% of Women Ages 50-59 Are Obese. Learn How to Keep from Joining Them . . .

Really now. 

I've already established that I'm an avid WebMD reader. What I haven't mentioned is that I fit the demographic of "women ages 50-59," am menopausal, and, while I strive for a sort of va-va-voom quality, I am obese - at least temporarily. 

And true to the demographics, at least 30% of my gal-pals are too. Shouldn't WebMD presume that women like me are readers of its newsletter? I'm thinking it would have been better, dare I say nicer, to say something like this:

Exercises that Control Menopausal Weight Gain

And then just shut up. 

The WebMD  newsletter could have dropped a few pounds just by cutting that subtitle and that would have set a good example for what it seems to consider the 50-plus fatties. 

While its prevention-oriented articles are great in a lot of cases, WebMD is not Prevention magazine; Prevention magazine is Prevention magazine and can get away with that kind of article with a lot more justification, based on the name of the publication. Still, the subtitle is atrocious, and I would hope Prevention would have come up with something else, just as I think WebMD would have - ordinarily. 

Maybe if I write a letter to WebMD, they'll be impressed enough by my keen editorial eye to hire me. Then their articles would kick off more like this:

About 30% of Women Ages 50-59 Are Obese. If this Sounds Like You, Here Are Exercises that Can Help . . .

WebMD . . . shape up!