Saturday, December 24, 2016

Swimming Toward the Christmas Lights

I'm writing this on Christmas Eve at the end of one of the most challenging years I can remember. 
I've found swimming during the 
holidays can be challenging; I almost 
drowned trying to keep my Santa hat on 
while doing the breast stroke.
Image, copyright, Teece Aronin
My mother passed away in February, a friend took his life in September, another died the night before Thanksgiving, an old schoolmate lost her baby grand-daughter to a rare genetic disorder, and another friend lost one sister only to have another nearly die in a car accident just weeks later.

And that wasn't all of it. There were other serious illnesses and even deaths among those close to me this year. 

Then, like wolves, arthritis took me down. These days I use a cane - on bad days, not all days, thank God.

Christmas has a way of stroking our cheeks with the faux fur of holiday stockings, then snapping our bare backsides with Santa's big belt. We find joy in how children wonder over Christmas and then grieve over our own memories of it and just about everything else - the sad, the sweet, the bittersweet. Those memories crystallize into something needle-like and pierce straight into us like thorns on mistletoe. 

A very wise woman once told me that something positive comes from everything that happens to us, no matter how tragic. After some introspection, I'm thinking she's right.

I challenge you to find at least one good thing to come from any memory haunting you this Christmas. Whether it's a lesson learned, a more compassionate self, a ripple effect that's touched others in positive ways, I believe you can find at least that one thing and maybe more. 

Take me and my arthritis. I don't know how this'll all go down in the long run, but for now, I'm taking it as a scary, painful wake-up call to lose weight, eat better, and move more. I've joined my local Y and am reaping the benefits of swimming, including less pain, more flexibility and a bit more muscle definition in my back. And I'm learning that there are lots of treatment options available to me and that remission is a real possibility. 

I'm also looking at my cane with new eyes and finding that it adds a certain coziness to the entryway. It leans against a table that holds candles and family photos. I think of my Aunt Izzy who suffered not only from arthritis but a severe hand tremor. But those things didn't stop her from cooking and baking and lighting our lives with laughter and wit and fun well into her nineties. She's the one who smiled at her nieces and nephews just before her passing and told them she was having "such a wonderful death."

I'm choosing - and some days it's hard - to believe that having arthritis might ultimately boost my quality of life as well as my longevity because it's forcing me to make better choices regarding my health. 

And you? What light has come to you because of the dark? 

Whatever it is, may it guide you to a better Christmas - this year and for all the years to come. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Even When He's Not Here, He's Here

You remember the ex, right? Michael? The one who visited last weekend and dressed up like a pimp? The one from whose visit I'm still recovering? 
Virtual ex-husband, Michael waving hello and calling me 
a dum- dum, probably from my own virtual window. 

Now, it seems he's discovered an app called Bitmoji which allows him to create an avatar of himself to place in a variety of memes and messages - or, in Michael's case, to annoy former spouses. Pictured here is the one he sent me last night. 

Notice that Michael's avatar is either leaning in through or out of a window. I'm not an expert on window construction so while I'm sure he could be leaning in, I'm not as sure he could be leaning out. 

If he's leaning out the window, it could be that Michael is inside a place where he's actually allowed (although there are damned few of those these days) and is calling out that charming greeting.

If, on the other hand, he is leaning in through the window, it's likely the window is mine, and with no sense of propriety, boundaries, or personal space, Michael is barging in with his big shaved head to wave and call me a dum-dum. 

I was aghast to learn "dum-dum" is an acceptable alternate spelling of "dumb-dumb." At first I thought it was because too many people were too dumb to spell dumb-dumb. Then I learned that it might have come into use thanks to candy company sales manager, I.C. Bahr. 

In 1924 Bahr worked for the Akron Candy Company and named its new lollipops Dum-Dums, figuring dum-dums was a word "any child could say," but he, apparently, could not spell. The correlation to Michael and a whole lot of bad jokes is just too easy, so I'll let it go. But get this: Even "hiya" can be written correctly as one word. Iaskya, what is the world coming to?

But I digress . . .

I doubt that whoever dreamed up Bitmoji - by which Michael will be enthralled until the next new thing comes along - thought the app would be used to shove a user's virtual head through his ex-wife's virtual window, but Michael always was creative in that way . . . 

. . . for a dumb-dumb. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Ex was Back in Town!

My ex-husband, Michael blew (I mean flew) in from Maryland on Friday and Michigan hasn't been the same since. Even the snowstorm currently hammering much of the region can't hold a Christmas candle to the aftermath of Michael, the Human Storm of 2016. 
Michael Aronin, father of my children,
can get pixelated without even drinking, 
as you can see from his shirt..
Photo, copyright: Teece Aronin

Preparations for the storm's arrival started Thursday night when I texted him from the grocery store:

Me: "Coke or Pepsi?"

Michael: "Pepsi please."

"That's just so she'll know what to sneak the poison into," his friend, Jeff warned him. 

The next morning he called me at work:

Michael: "Are the roads really icy?"

Me: "Oh, I hope so." 

Actually Michael and I get along very well almost all the time and with the weather predicted to be dicey we decided his visit would be a low-key weekend with him free to spend time at the house. That way he and the kids wouldn't be on the roads as much and they could enjoy time with him somewhere other than hotel rooms and restaurants. 

Due to a birth accident, Michael has cerebral palsy and his mobility is extremely limited, so the next thing I said I really meant.

"Listen, I'm parking on the street, so when you get here, pull up as close to the house as you can; this morning the driveway was icy. Let us know before you get out of the car and we'll come help you in."

"Okay, no problem," he said. This was "Michael code" for "There's no way I'm calling you first so I can get help walking on the ice, but thank you anyway." Then he quipped: 

"As long as you have good homeowner's insurance, I'm not worried. Besides, I probably won't fall."

"Yes, but anyone can take a tumble on ice - if they're pushed hard enough," I said.

He pulled up in front of the house later that afternoon and without letting us help, got out of the car with a huge grin on his face and his arms loaded with flowers and Christmas packages. There is no railing on my porch steps.

"Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!" I hissed as our son, Jon and I scrambled down to help and even on ice and steps with no railing, he really didn't need our help. Within minutes he was in the house safe and sound where the only things that could hurt him were hardwood floors or an accidental smack in the head with a broom handle.  

He posed with the kids and our dog in front of the fireplace, a robust fire crackling behind them. Then he uploaded the shots to Facebook. A friend, Bruce posted a comment that read, "Kids, your dad needs to be turned over; he's done on that side."

Michael went back to his hotel later that night, but not before posing for his picture wearing our daughter's coat and carrying my cane while trying to look like a pimp. This is hard for someone who's more pimple than pimp. 

Of course I have a Facebook account too so I posted the picture. This is some of the exchange that followed:

Friend One: "Well, he does seem to have a nice smile . . . But he's an EX for a reason!"

Friend Two: "Good luck . . ."

Friend Three: "The humor abounds!"

Friend Four: "Had my husband's ex spend 17 days with us in a tiny apartment. There are no words."

Me (in reply to Friend Four): "There are saints who've accomplished less than that."

Friend Four (in reply to me): "And she is . . . interesting in an omgwtf kind of way."

Friend Five: "Ohhhhhhhh boy!"

Friend Six: "Don't you have locks on your doors?"

Me (in reply to Friend Six): "He slithers under doors."

Friend Seven: "No words . . . "

The plan was that Michael would stay until noon Sunday but with the weather getting worse and the airport almost two hours away, he decided he would take us all to dinner then head out and get a room near the airport. Before we left, Michael made a call-ahead to the restaurant to cut down on our wait. We took his rental and my car so he could head straight out from the restaurant. 

The restaurant was packed and the rental car didn't have a handicap plate so Michael parked in a handicap space and hoped for the best. He was starting to get tired so he gave in and let Jon help him into the restaurant. 

I stepped up to the hostess and told her of the call-ahead. She said the wait would be about 20 minutes. Then Michael asked if he needed to be concerned about the handicap space and explained that all the other spaces were too far for him to walk. Three restaurant staff, including the manager, stared back at him. One of them finally said, "I'm not saying anything. I don't know what to tell you."

Michael turned back to me. "It'll probably be okay."

"I can go move the car and then pull it up to the door after dinner," I offered.

"No, that's okay," but he sounded hesitant.

"Really, I don't mind. Give me the key and I'll be right back." 

He had backed into the parking space so when I got into the car, although the design of the gear shift struck me as a little odd, with no PRNDL on it anywhere, I pulled out with no problem. The closest parking space was on the far side of the restaurant, way in the back. 

As I started to pull into the space, I tried to back up to adjust my position and that's when it occurred to me that I'd forgotten the order of the gears; I couldn't remember PRNDL. Every time I tried to put the car in reverse it slipped closer to the parked car in front of it until I was afraid to keep trying for fear I'd tap the other car.  

I got out of the rental car and looked. It was worse than I thought: the cars were touching. Neither of our kids drives yet so I called Michael and told him he had to come move the car. I felt awful knowing he was tired. Five minutes later he came bustling with Jon around the corner of the restaurant, actually outpacing our son, and trying not to look stressed; Michael always stresses out over rental cars. 

"What went wrong?" he asked with a nervous laugh, and so I explained. "Okay, no problem. I can see how something like this could happen. Everything's going to be fine!" He was talking like a man whose ex-wife had just backed his rental car into Donald Trump's limo and was trying to believe everyone would pleasantly exchange insurance information.     

He backed the car up then shifted into drive and pulled into the space. 

"It's a good think I love you," he said. "And I really do, pal." 

"I love you, too," I smiled. 

We walked back into the restaurant where our daughter Syd was still waiting with the little vibrate-y light-up thing that goes off when your table's ready. But even in all the time her brother, her father and I had been cavorting in the parking lot, we still had no table. Michael stepped up to the hostess to ask what the wait time was now. 

"About another 20 minutes," she told him. I looked around and all the benches were filled with people waiting for their tables. Not a soul appeared willing to make room for Michael whose disability is perfectly obvious. I got angry. I walked back to the hostess, stuck my nose in her face, and five minutes later we were comfortably seated in a nice, roomy corner booth. 

I remembered how when we were married I was always getting mad about something he was having to deal with, mostly because it was stupid. 

One night not long ago he, his wife, and stepson were eating dinner in a restaurant and overheard a man telling his table-mates about a coworker he said had CP. The man was making fun of his coworker's slow speech, another common characteristic of cerebral palsy. 

When Michael and his family got up to leave, Michael approached the man's table, delighted at what he later described as the man's "Oh, fuck . . . " expression. Michael said, "It's okay. When we're alone, we make fun of you guys too." 

Thinking about that story made me remember something else: Michael rarely needed help from me when we were married and he didn't much need it now.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sam Spayed, Dog Detective

It was a dark and stormy night in a city of secrets and lies. I hovered over my desk - a hot stove with nothing cooking - and prayed for a scream in the dark, a wailing siren, a ringing telephone - anything, anything to end the boredom, the uneasy sense of uselessness from sitting around doing nothing. Who am I, you ask?
The murderer always returns to 
 the scene of the crime. 
Photograph copyright Teece Aronin

I'm Sam Spayed, dog defective - I mean detective.

I'm a mutt with a nose for crime and no case of mine has ever gone unsolved. But right then I didn't even have a case. And I needed a case. I needed a case like an unscrupulous dame needs an unsuspecting dupe. Yeah, I needed a case that bad.

Just when I thought I couldn't stand it anymore, the phone rang, its jagged brrrriiiinnng-brrrriiiinnng beating out a hellish tattoo in the dim and dingy office.

I snatched up that phone on the third brrrriiiinnng.

"Spayed here."

The call was from a dame, and a hysterical one at that. It seemed that the cunning jewel thief known simply as the Cat Burglar had struck again - this time in the vicinity of Dogwood and 34th. But unlike the Cat Burglar's other conquests, this was a murder too. I dove into my trench coat, grabbed my faithful fedora and disappeared into the night.

I reappeared ten minutes later at the posh and pricey penthouse doghouse of one Kitty Marmaduke. I was met at the door by the dame who'd called me, the cute little chickie who'd been doing all that yelling. Her name was Furniece Marmaduke and she was Kitty Marmaduke's daughter. 

I'd never met Furniece, but I recognized her from the society pages. She knew me by reputation. I expressed my condolences and we got down to business. She led me across the foyer to the darkened study where her mother was stretched out on the floor, one ankle daintily crossing the other. Dawn was beginning to break and there was enough light in the room to see that on the floor near Kitty's head was a collar, a collar with a diamond-shaped tag engraved with the initials, C.B. 

Hmm . . . Cat Burglar? 

One look at Kitty proved she wasn't posing for a spread in Dog Fancy Magazine; in fact, she was a little long in the tooth to be posing naked, and besides, she wasn't naked. But she did look to be one dead dog, and none of her diamond-studded collars and her lifetime membership to the American Kennel Club could help her now.

"Miss Marmaduke, have you touched anything in here?" I asked.

"No," Mr. Spayed. "I remembered I wasn't supposed to. The lamp was off, too. I haven't touched that either. Oh Mr. Spayed," Furniece cried, all breathy and fragile-sounding, "Why did he have to murder Mumsy? She would have handed over her jewels without a fight."

"He murdered Mumsy - I mean your mother - because he knew she could identify him," I said, my eyes skirting the room for evidence. Loose pearls littered the floor and the chaise. Maybe the Cat Burglar had yanked the pearls right off Kitty Marmaduke's neck. Or maybe Furniece was wrong and her mother had put up a fight.

Suddenly someone growled and Furniece's wide brown eyes locked with mine. 

"Hey, don't look at me," I told her. 

"Well it certainly wasn't me," Furniece snipped. 

That growl was followed by another and Furniece and I turned to see Kitty Marmaduke's ankles uncross. Furniece's eyes were bigger than milk saucers, and she gasped as her mother moved again. 

"Mumsy!" she yelled, high-tailing it to where her mother lay. It seemed that reports of Kitty Marmaduke's death had been greatly exaggerated.

"Oh, my head," Mrs. Marmaduke muttered, slowly sitting up. "Someone hit me on the back of my head."

"That was the Cat Burglar," Furniece explained. Then sobbing into her mother's neck: "Oh, Mumsy, thank goodness you're alright!"

"Oh, Furniece, for heaven's sake, get your paws off me!" barked Kitty Marmaduke. Furniece looked wounded and came back to huddle against me. 

It seemed that Kitty Marmaduke also knew me by reputation because she snarled: "Get away from my daughter, Mr. Spayed." Then she shot me another order: "And come over here and help me up!"

"Yes, ma'am," I said, strolling to her in my own sweet time. No broad like Kitty Marmaduke was going to order me around. I started wondering how a doll like Furniece could have a mother who was such a b . . . well, you know. 

I helped Mrs. Marmaduke into a chair. Furniece was at her side again in a flash.

"So, ladies," I said, "You've both had quite a night. Whatta ya make of this?"

Furniece Marmaduke looked at me while dabbing her eyes with a hankie. She appeared innocent and vulnerable. Kitty Marmaduke looked at me while rubbing the back of her head. She appeared disgusted and insulted.                

"I would think, Mr. Spayed, that you're the one who should be making something of all this," she snapped. I had the feeling that staying clear of Kitty Marmaduke's teeth was a very good idea.                    
"Sorry, ma'am, and you're right," I said. "And I think I have an idea. But it means staying put, the three of us, right here. Nobody goes anywhere. Nothing personal, Miss Marmaduke," I said to Furniece, "but you're a little upset, and I can't risk you saying or doing anything that might spook the Cat Burglar. He'll likely be watching for you." 

Something I'd said had all the color draining from Furniece's spots. Would I have been that nervous in Furniece's place, thrown into a plot to trap a jewel thief? I wondered. Her mother, on the other paw, didn't bat an eye. 

"Miss Marmaduke, have you talked to the police?"

"No, Mr. Spayed. I was frightened, had heard about you and just phoned. I'm not sure why I didn't call the police."

"That's alright," I reassured her. The police and I don't often agree on methods and since there was no real murder here, I think we can work around them for now. You know what I'm thinking?"

"Of course we don't know what you're thinking," snapped Kitty Marmaduke. "Suppose you tell us?"

Her barb stung a little but I let it go.

"I'm thinking that the Cat Burglar will be missing that collar, the one with C.B. engraved on the tag. I also think he'll be desperate to get it back in his possession. So we're just going to hunker down for the night and wait him out. 

Hearing these words, Furniece was one scared puppy - even more than before - but Mrs. Marmaduke was one ticked off old dog. And the tick who'd had the misfortune of annoying her at that moment hit the Aubusson rug after a quick but merciless death. 

"What? On the butler's night off? I should think not, Mr. Spayed! The very idea is preposterous! Kitty and I would have to fend for ourselves under very stressful circumstances! Why I never!" 

"You did at least once, ma'am," I smirked, my eyes cutting toward Furniece. I enjoyed having Mrs. Marmaduke by the short hairs. "And besides, if you want me to catch the Cat Burglar, it's best you play along."

I hustled Furniece, who was simpering about the butler, into an adjacent room. Of course, the pup doesn't fall far from the pooch, so I had to bring her a bottle of Purrier on ice before I could shut her in. If marrying rich meant busting my tail for a dame as spoiled as she was, I'd rather stay single and poor. 

After I got Furniece settled, I rejoined Mrs. Marmaduke in the study and turned the lights back off. There was nothing for either of us to do but wait. Before I knew it, there came the distinctive clicking sounds of someone picking a lock. I then had the pleasure of shoving Mrs. Marmaduke to the floor where I quickly re-positioned her the way the Cat Burglar had left her. Then I slipped behind a curtain and froze. 

It was darker in that room than the inside of a doberman's heart. I held my breath and imagined the Cat Burglar pussy-footing across the floor. Then I sprang from behind the curtain counting on the element of surprise. 

It worked. The Cat Burglar let out a hiss and then a yowl as I grabbed him and took him down. We struggled for a minute, but cats aren't as strong as dogs, so it was only a matter of time before I had him cuffed. Then I tied his hind legs together to keep him from running. 

When I turned on the light, there he was, a panting, raging little pussycat with his hair standing on end. Then I opened the door to the room where I'd stashed Furniece and hauled her out of there. To be on the safe side, I took my heat out and pointed the gun's muzzle straight at her.

The Cat Burglar took one look at Furniece and hissed, "It's her fault! She's the one who's behind all this!" 

"Just as I suspected," I said.

"What are you talking about?" demanded Furniece.

"Well, sugar," I said, "the first nail in your coffin came when you said you 'remembered' that you weren't supposed to touch anything. 'course that's not proof of anything, but it did get me wondering if someone might have coached you on a few things. Then you nearly fainted when I said we'd all be playing it cozy for the night and waiting for a visit from Puss-In-Boots over there. It wasn't much of a deduction to figure out the rest."

"But why, Furniece?" asked Kitty Marmaduke, and I have to admit, I felt sorry for her - but only for a second.

"Oh, please!" shouted Furniece. "You and I both know that I'm not even your daughter; I'm your niece! My father ran with that horrible pack and one day he just never came home. Then my mother found out she was expecting me, and you undermined her confidence until I was born and she begged you to adopt me. You even named me Furniece as a constant reminder that you would never see me as your own daughter. I hate you! 

"Then, when we argued one night and you threatened to cut me off without a cent, I put feelers out through the criminal grapevine that I wanted to talk to the Cat Burglar. When he got in touch, we made our plan and part of that plan was that I'd give him one third of my inheritance plus whatever jewelry he could nab if he killed you during the break-in. I hate you!" 

Furniece threw that second I hate you in there just in case her mother or her aunt or whoever Kitty was, had missed the first one.

Still, there was something I hadn't figured out yet. "But doll-face, why did you call me in?" I asked.

"It was a calculated risk," Furniece explained. "Calling you in made me look more innocent. And it did, didn't it, Mr. Spayed? You have to admit that it did. What doomed me came later when I gave myself away."

"And you, pussnick," I said, gesturing toward the cat. "I'm guessing you came back for your tag. Does C.B. stand for Cat Burglar?"

"No - my name - Cecil Butterbottom," the cat muttered, too embarrassed to look me in the eye. 

He had reason to be. I burst out laughing then picked up the phone. I tucked the receiver between my shoulder and ear so that I could call the police with one hand and hold the gun on Furniece with the other. I had to admit, it was pretty sweet knowing I'd bagged two criminals with one trap. 

I guess you could say I'd collared them. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving Quirky

I'm writing this on the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2016 and reflecting on how the day went.
My flower child daughter 
this Thanksgiving.
Image copyright, Teece Aronin

The kids and I were with family and just like previous years, I was told not to bring anything but ourselves because "we know how busy you are." 

It's true, I am busy. But how can I be busier than the others who show up lugging bowls big enough to host nationally-televised football games and baking dishes you could fill with water for small children to bathe in - oh and small children; some people were were lugging those too. 

It might be that I get off so easy because historically not the best things in life have come from that dark, shadowy, cobwebby room in my house I call the kitchen. 

But I'm happy anyway because my family honestly does wave me away lovingly and because they do genuinely care about how much I have to do these days. 

But you'd think they'd at least let me bring the cider provided I buy it somewhere and not try to make it from scratch by pulverizing my own apples which with my track record would turn out to be wormy and rotten.  

So what I do instead of cooking is to bring a nice hostess gift. This year I scored a deal on a huge holiday wreath and that was my contribution to the day.  

Also with us this year were a man who might have been alone otherwise and several other people who didn't start out as "family" but are now that they've been with us at these gatherings for years. 

This Thanksgiving was the one many people felt trepidation over due to the political storm still stalled over the U.S. after the recent presidential race and election. In case you're reading this in the year 3062 and our country has just now managed to forget, a lot of Thanksgiving hosts and hostesses were nervous about the potential for fights at the table and the crescent-roll-turned-weaponry-style battles that might break out during dinner. 

I'd made it through three forkfuls of turkey before some rabble-rouser brought up the election. It turned out to be my own daughter. But one thing to be thankful for was how one swift kick to the ankle made her instantly a-political and un-opinionated. And I was one proud mother to think I still had that much influence over her behavior. 

Then one of the ladies at the table asked my son what grade he was in and when he said "Tenth," the lady exclaimed, "Oh, tenth grade was the best year of my life!" Someone else at the table quietly inquired, "Why - you got pregnant?"

Of course we all laughed and laughed. Actually, we really did. 

After dinner, my daughter let her baby cousins give her a makeover from which she emerged looking like a 1960s flower child and my son posed for pictures placid and dignified in his two-year-old cousin's tiny pink sunglasses.  

And I . . . I thought how thankful I was for everyone there and how delicious dinner had been - partly because everyone insisted I not cook.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Aging into Beauty

My son Jon and I were at a mall food court eating sushi one day. A man looked over at us and said to Jon, "You look an awful lot like your mother, son."
My parents young and old and their daughter (top left and middle right) 
young and aging fast. Image copyright, Teece Aronin
Jon and I smiled and I said thank you. Then the man said to Jon, "Someday you'll age into her beauty." Then the man was gone.

Jon and I looked at each other and I said, "So, which of us should feel more insulted?" Jon wasn't sure so we finished our sushi and went home.

Looking back, I see how I missed the point in a huge way. Worse, my question to Jon fueled all kinds of stereotypes and outmoded thinking. What the man said substantiates the fact that one can be male and beautiful, and older and beautiful. 

As a liberal-leaning woman of an adolescent son, I want his ideas of beauty, aging, and masculinity to be as inclusive as possible, but is that how I acted? No. I said (insert Mortimer Snerd voice here): "So which of us should feel more insulted?"

Jon should have thrown a salmon roll at his mother's head. 

By the way, I'm not talking about sixty-something Hollywood celebs with stables-full of plastic surgeons being accepted by the rest of us as beautiful; I'm talking about the beauty in real people - older, male, female, whomever.

And why not push the envelope a bit and assert that one can be flat out old and still beautiful? The older I get, the more convinced I am that it's true. Then again, I'm getting old, so I suppose I have a dog in this race - an old dog - a beautiful old dog.

Now that I can temper experience with wisdom I will list some examples of the old but crazy-beautiful:

- The translucent skin of my mother's 91 year-old hands
- The gratitude on my father's face when I'd visit him in hospice
- My aunt, sick and weak in a nursing home, laughing herself to tears as Jon ran over my foot with her wheelchair
- Another aunt, dying and deeply religious, who smiled at the nieces and nephews bustling around her room and said, "Oh, I'm having the most wonderful death!"
- The late singer, songwriter, and poet Leonard Cohen, who stayed sexy as all get-out even in his eighties

When Cohen was in his fifties he wrote a very funny, very sexy song titled, I'm Your Man. A snippet of the lyrics went like this:

Ah but a man never got a woman back
Not by begging on his knees
Or I'd crawl to you baby and I'd fall at your feet
And I'd howl at your beauty like a dog in heat
And I'd claw at your heart and I'd tear at your sheet
I'd say please
I'm your man

The older Cohen got, the sexier he got. 

As another interesting sidebar on Cohen and beauty, I once read that the lover he references in Chelsea Hotel was Janice Joplin. Now, consider these lyrics:

You told me again, you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception
And clenching your fist for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind
We are ugly but we have the music."

Beauty is covered in crosshatch designs and marked up with scribbled arrows pointing every which way, and you learn eventually that looks, age and attraction seldom have much to do with each other. It's character, experience, a grasp of what's sensual, and who has the music that counts.

Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, "Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art."

At the rate I've been aging lately, I'll be a Monet in no time. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Maybe Baby - Hope in the Current Political Climate

This past week I felt older than I have ever felt and not because I'm older than I've ever been. I know I'm older than I've ever been. That much math I can do. 

Graphic, copyright Teece Aronin
I felt older, in part, because so many of the people who share the U.S. with me are coming undone. Too many hate each other. Too many are afraid. Too many had great expectations and now are  caught like cattle in the crossfire. 

And when it comes to politics, everyone is cattle either all the time or part of the time; we just don't all know it. 

Cattle, for our purposes, are the innocents, the voiceless, the held back, the poor, the easy to manipulate, the under-educated, and the powerful. The word is not necessarily a slam. 

Being cattle has nothing to do with gender. A steer or a bull could be a woman and a cow could be a man. And the key difference between a bull and a steer is that the steer has been castrated. Hang in there; it'll make sense in a minute.  

Some cattle are calves. During the Obama administration, calves stepped, cautious and blinking, into the light, thinking their world might be safer. They are the undocumented fleeing treacherous homelands. They are the LGBTQ community. They are the working poor. They are a lot of other people. Calves are anyone who is unsafe or unfairly vulnerable. 

More on the steers: Steers can be naive or easily led and while most don't fully understand their part in the current political climate, many are convinced they know it all. Steers can hail from any party. When they are castrated they lose their voices and the critical thinking skills they might have developed. They can bellow but they can't articulate. Steers have only wet coal in their bellies where there should have been fire. 

Bulls are anyone with power, be it educational, financial, political, whatever it is that can get or keep them ahead. 

Cows are most women, most minorities, and in the case of the poor, they sometimes overlap with the calves. The over-simplified reason most women among the cows have been held back is because that's what happens when unscrupulous bulls are in charge. Minorities have been pushed down, too, for reasons too complex and numerous to get into here, but you probably know the basic history behind that.

Since the election, Donald Trump has expressed a willingness to use Obamacare as a framework for a restructured healthcare system, but many of the cows and calves haven't heard this news that might have given them a modicum of hope. 

That slow news drip down to the cows and calves is what makes developments such as Trump's more welcoming stance on Obamacare a bit like trickle-down economics. And it doesn't matter if the news is good or bad or vitally important - because the cows and the calves are too often engaged in mad scrambles for survival and can't hear it. They don't sit down to read The Wall Street Journal on smart phones over a sushi lunch because they can't afford a smart phone, can't afford sushi, or can't afford lunch.  

Singer, songwriter, and poet Leonard Cohen died Thursday at age 82 right smack in the midst of all this hoohah. His song, Everybody Knows summed up the bitterness so many feel about failing systems, including our political one. It would fit no matter who won last week. 

Everybody knows the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

How dare Cohen die leaving us in this mess when he was clearly so savvy about what caused it? The answer I think was to pursue his muse, Marianne who died just three months prior. But that's another sad story for another sad essay and another sad day. Today, we are focused on hope.

To those of you who say of Trump, "My God, why all the stress? He hasn't even done anything yet," please understand that you are probably a Trump supporter waiting with anticipation to see what Trump does next. You can't possibly understand every fear of every cow and calf. Speaking as one of the cows, even I can't.  

If you are LGBTQ, undocumented, have a green card but don't know in what country you'll feel safe in a couple of years, are a working poor person or one of any number of groups feeling upended, your roots fragile tendrils waving in the air, take heart: 

We really don't know exactly what a Trump presidency will look like. Try not to worry; instead think constructively. Seek knowledge of the rights you do have. Look for loopholes. Find strength in the like-minded but respect those who oppose you if they do so respectfully. As Fred Rogers said following 9-11 (to which I am not likening this situation), "Look for the helpers."

Also, be a helper. Do everything you can to help others.  

Besides, who knows what the next four years will bring?

No candidate delivers on every promise or threat made during a campaign. Trump might prove himself more even-keeled than the persona he invoked to win the White House.

Maybe his beltway outsider status and business experience will give him an edge in fixing what politicians haven't. 

If you give him a chance and he still performs poorly, hope for as little collateral damage as possible.

If like Bill, you're still married to Hillary, maybe she'll get another shot. 

Maybe Michelle Obama will run for President. Thanks to the ground Clinton paved, she wouldn't be the first former First Lady to seek the Oval Office. 

There are lots of reasons to hope. Here's another: 

Trump is rolling back much of the angry rhetoric. In addition to claiming he will use Obamacare as a framework for remodeling our healthcare system, Trump met with President Obama for what was expected to be about 10 minutes and proved to be roughly 90. Unless President Obama had Trump tied to a chair, there likely was a meaningful dialog. What both sides said afterward made it seem that there was, and when Trump promised to call on President Obama for future counsel, my heart soared. Will it happen? I don't know, but the fact that Trump said it at all gives me hope. 

The fact that we're all cattle isn't as bad as it sounds since cattle are often the finest of creatures. Being human as well gives us the capability of infusing the bovine parts of our natures with the higher intelligence, gumption and purposeful kindness that comes with our humanity. 

In the mean time, let's try not to kill each other.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Freaky Tuesday - What if Election Day Went Like This?

I've been swinging a lot lately. Not that kind of swinging. I've been swinging between presidential election exhaustion and the terror that comes when I think what could happen after Tuesday if the worst of what we've seen or suspected from either candidate proves true.
Image copyright, Teece Aronin

So far the race has been uglier than termites on Pinocchio's nose. And it's such a close race that no one knows with anything close to certainty what will happen. Campaign promises aside, you have all the muddying-up from Clinton's private email server; the Clinton Foundation mystery meetings; Trump's possible ties to Russia; his mocking of a reporter with physical disabilities and; his live mic misogynistic gab fest with Billy Bush. 

In the midst of all that you'll find Clinton fanatics, Trump fanatics, and the massive, collective, throbbing angst of a nation fearing for its future - again, no matter which candidate is elected. 

Then I heard on the radio that poll numbers showing Clinton as slightly ahead or neck-and-neck with Trump could be skewed by voters favoring Trump but unwilling to admit it to pollsters. Anonymous polling showed the race as extremely tight however, so all that might have been a non-issue.  

Then, last night I had the weirdest dream (actually, I didn't really, but I need this for the post to be even remotely plausible). The dream went like this: 

It's election day. Clinton and Trump secretly think the other would be less awful for our country. Unfortunately there's no turning back now. Except maybe . . . Clinton decides she will vote for Trump and Trump decides he will vote for Clinton. Neither suspects anything of the other's plan. 

Knowing that casting their votes will be a huge media event, the candidates go through the motions of showing up as assigned and wave and smile and make snide comments about the other. Then, in the privacy of the voting booth, they hunker down, hold their noses, and vote. 

Back home, Hillary finds Bill weeping with guilt - again. This time it's not a woman, it's a man, because Bill has also voted for Trump. Donald finds that he has a nasty woman of his own in Melania who has voted for Hillary. Next, Hillary learns that even Chelsea has voted for Trump, and Trump learns that Donald, Jr., Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany have voted for Hillary and ten year-old Barron voted for her in a mock election at school. Worse, Barron's vote was cast on a piece of construction paper cut in the shape of a heart.  

Each concludes that disloyalty to themselves is one thing, but betrayal by family is too much. They make plans to mitigate their pain by sneaking in votes for themselves. Each creeps back into line at the polls, disguised and carrying fake I.D.s. 

Clinton is discovered when voters become suspicious of the uptight woman in the Anthony Wiener mask. Trump is betrayed by the tufts sticking out from under his stovepipe hat and from behind his sunglasses. The color of the tufts looks to be derived by a combination of red and yellow dyes numbers three and five respectively. Someone in the crowd thinks "Cheetos!" and the jig is up.  

While Clinton and Trump are booked for voter fraud, Bernie Sanders pulls up in front of the White House with a moving trailer hitched to a Lada Granta.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Worldwide Schadenfreude

With the advent of social media, mean people seized an unfair advantage over the rest of us. And if the mean were content to stop at mean, it would be bad enough, but they aren't. They aim high when it comes to being low and shoot straight up the mean-o-meter all the way to cruel. And really, to what end? What dark, empty need is satisfied through this behavior?
Image, Teece Aronin

Another aspect of the problem it's that it's not just the scum-of-the-earth-need-to-be-scraped-from-the-bottoms-of-our-boots slingers of garbage, it's those of us who slurp it up, licking every morsel off our cell phone screens and computer monitors. Shamefully I admit that at times I am among the slurping scum.

Lately though, I fight the urge to leap down the rabbit hole of celebrities who once owned dogs and are now ugly, celebrities who once posed for Playboy and are now ugly, celebrities who were once heroine-addicted flight attendants and are now ugly, and celebrities whose mothers were once llamas and were always ugly because they resemble their mothers.

I never walk away from reading this trash better informed; I just walk away - and into the shower, hoping that hot water kills cooties.

One day I read a punch aimed at the gut of some celebrity who might have had a little too much "work" done. The article described her as a "knifed-up bimbo." Here's how stupid I am: not only had I never heard of the woman, but it would never have occurred to me to call her a knifed-up bimbo. And what makes me real stupid is that I didn't think anybody said bimbo anymore.

Whenever NBC airs live performances of Broadway classics such as The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, Twitter's bird-brains light up Tweetville with ridiculously mean commentary that wings its way everywhere. It's Mystery Science Theater 3000 not just run amok, but run amok on a global scale. 

I tried to enjoy NBC's Peter Pan because I have fond memories of watching the Mary Martin production when I was little. I wanted my children to have a similar experience. But enjoying it was hard because of the questions that kept firing off in my head. Actually, it was just one question with multiple variations: What are they going to say about that costume or that dance number or that vocal performance?

I can't imagine the guts it must take to perform live on national television, and I wonder how skilled the bullies of social media would be if they tried to do it.

Truly, it all makes me a little sick and I wish we could evolve beyond it. In the spirit of turnabout as fair play, it might be nice to see what celebrities would say about their attackers if they had the same amount of dead time on their hands. Then again, that would be sinking to a lower level and we don't need more of that. We're too close to sunk as it is.

This bad behavior isn't new; it's been going on ever since adventurous people developed the drive to put themselves out there in a public way. So no, not new, just different.

And don't get me started on this year's political situation!

Another phenomenon in social media meanness is those living by the sword dying by the sword. Some have suffered blow-back from their remarks in the forms of character assassination, job terminations and the wrecking of their family lives.

And that blow-back is so public, so accessible for piling on, that it makes you wonder why anyone would be so careless, dare I say stupid (wait - that was mean) when flinging poorly planned or hurtful words via social media. I say this fully aware that I wrote some not-so-nice things about Donald Trump recently. At least I can say that poking people in the puss is rare for me, and that is more than the Donald can say.  

Here's an example of what blow-back can do: Justine Sacco, a director of corporate communications at the time, tweeted something she says she assumed her 170 followers would know she meant satirically. Within hours the comment was Twitter's number one topic - worldwide. She was fired, hated and berated, and people were taking some pretty sick pleasure in what was happening to her. 

There's a German word, schadenfreude which in essence, sums up the pleasure we humans often take in the misfortune of others. That's what people were engaging in during the Justine Sacco incident: pure, unadulterated schadenfreude.  

Google Justine Sacco if you want to know more about what happened to her and what it was that she tweeted. 

Justine would have done well to remember what most of us have heard all our lives - that if we don't have anything nice to say, we shouldn't say anything at all.

Then there's the alternative version which is said to have been embroidered on a pillow in the sitting room of Alice Roosevelt Longworth: 

If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me.