Sunday, December 31, 2017

Feeding the Christmas Beast

I've had an epiphany: Christmas is a bit too commercialized, and some of us spend a bit too much.
Christmas Beast, copyright, Teece Aronin
Every January I start budgeting to feed the Christmas beast, the tinseled, bulbed behemoth already lurking at the end of the year. Christmas, for a lot of us, has become akin to a fluffy white snowball rolling toward us down a mountain, getting bigger and bigger and badder and badder, until it rolls right over us and stops. Then we're expected to dig ourselves out and start pushing it back up the mountain again.  

But the good news? Every Christmas you have the next 364 days to do it - if you start right away. It's like a pinball game automatically resetting and demanding $700 from you for the privilege of losing again.

Then there's online shopping which is great in a lot of ways, but not so great in others. For instance, it's still surprisingly hard work. Nothing tightens up those shoulder muscles like opening an email from Amazon alerting you to the fact that your order of 47 items was cancelled because your "payment method" has expired, and you try to straighten things out on a glitchy cell phone while waiting in line at UPS and pushing two 40-pound boxes along with your feet. 

I don't think this is how Christ would want us to celebrate his birth.

Another thing I doubt is that he'd want us giving children hundreds of dollars worth of presents they'll be too polite to say they hate, but you can tell they do anyway. This sad circumstance sets us up to discover vast Christmas gift graveyards that sprawl under kids' beds and bone piles of unwanted toys that lie heaped in their closets. What a waste. 

As my kids got older (my son is 17 and my daughter 19), it all changed, but not for the better. Instead of telling me what they wanted, or handing me a list, they would text me links to things, mostly tech products with purposes I didn't understand, things that Oppenheimer would've asked his mother for if he'd been a Millennial. And I don't blame my kids; it was a natural outgrowth of what we'd come to as they got older and more tech-savvy and I shopped more often online. Having them do that actually made my shopping a lot easier. Easier, but somehow colder.  

Today I'm pledging to kill the Christmas beast by refusing to feed it. I'm not alone, by the way. Lots of people are cutting way back on the amounts of gifts they buy - even for their kids. And some people have stopped buying their kids any gifts. If an article I read recently is true, Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are two of them. Many parents now opt for gifts requiring more time and imagination than money, like  buying a kid art supplies and then committing an afternoon to making art with said kid. 

Also according to that article, some kids, and even some adults, have gotten pretty testy during the adjustment/withdrawal phase, but a lot of families feel their lives are on a healthier track now that they're doing things differently.

When I told my son what I was thinking, he said he could really get behind it. When I mentioned it to my daughter, she said, "I think that's a good idea, but can I think about it?"

I said, "Nope, you're already handling it a lot better than some people, so I'm taking your answer as a yes."

Besides, it's not as though I plan to go all Kutcher-Kunis on them. What I'm thinking is $100 each in presents plus treats and surprises spread throughout the year, like an afternoon playing my son's computer games with him then dinner at his favorite restaurant.

The idea is to give more from your heart than from your wallet and to give your kid a memory because those can't get lost under a bed.

Then again, if you saw my kids' rooms . . .

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Giving Christmas the Old Heave-Ho-Ho-Ho

Those of us who celebrate Christmas are coming down to the final turn with just eight days left until the big day. Or the big show. Or the “really big shoe” as Ed Sullivan used to say. More appropos might be “the really big stocking.” At this point, however, many of us are ready to give Christmas “the really big boot.”

Until December 26, a lot of us will be losing it a little, and some of us have been losing it for quite a while already. About a week ago I looked down at my hands and realized that when I removed my nail polish the night before, I had overlooked my right thumb. Its nail coated in chipped “Santa Suit Red,” the thumb gazed balefully at me, pleading, “Don’t leave me this way.”

I wondered: Do other women fail to take the polish off some of their nails? The next morning, a coworker flashed the backs of her hands at me. Seven nails had the polish removed and three did not. Most definitely an observer of Christmas, I thought.

On Christmas Eve, years ago, one of my gal pals was coping with her first Christmas as the single mother of a toddler. Blowing her bangs out of her eyes, nose dusted with flour, she was baking cookies, wrapping gifts, screwing toy ovens together and bathing her child - all simultaneously thanks to the six temporary arms single mothers grow during the holidays. When a friend phoned to invite her to a Christmas Eve church service, my friend exclaimed, “I just don’t have time for Jesus tonight!” If Mary had said that on the first Christmas Eve, Christmas, as we know it, would have even more baked goods in it.

Maybe it’s because my children are older now, but I am much calmer these days at Christmastime. Gone is the pressure from telling a four-year-old that I was sorry, but the present he wanted was too expensive, only to have him say, “Don’t worry, Mama - Santa can get it for me.” Long past is the night I rocked my daughter in my arms, both of us in tears because I failed to understand that she didn't "really want the truth about Santa."

Today, my children are nearly grown, so if they suggest I make cheesecake this year, they won't be too disappointed when I lovingly point them to the kitchen, and if I do happen to be a little frazzled, text them the link to a fudge recipe.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Never Take "Bedadryl" Before Proofreading

Last week I wrote a blogpost, then proofread, and proofread, and proofread it again. When it “rinsed clear,” which is how I think of proofreading to the point of spotting no errors, I saved it as a draft and proofed it in preview mode which displays it as it will look look once published. Then I pushed the publish button to send the essay hurtling into the blogosphere.

I know that even if something rinses clear, immediately publishing it is unwise if you can avoid it. It's best to wait a few days and then look at your work again, when you're fresher and not as emotionally attached. But that was the problem: I was too emotionally attached to wait and no longer fresh. Such conditions can only lead to premature e-publication. 

After I pushed the publish button, I read the piece on my actual webpage. I always do this because I find that proofing something that way can reveal more errors. I'm not sure why that is since the preview is essentially the same thing, but still, it just seems true for me. Then I quickly make what are usually minor fixes by this point, hit the update button, and the revised version instantly becomes what readers see. The problem is that spotting any error makes me think there might be others, so I proof it from my webpage one more time. Every time I fix something new, I go back and read again. When I proofed last week’s piece from the website, everything seemed fine. It rinsed clear. 

Now it was time for bed, but I’m a chronic insomniac, and the light exposure from my computer monitor plus the tension from all that proofing, would probably jam up my sleep. So I swallowed a couple of well-known over-the-counter allergy meds. I won’t name the brand, but when my daughter was little, she used to call them BED-adryl. Then, to kill time until I felt sleepy, I read the post in bed from my phone - and spotted this:

Within days, our carpet was so buried under dried out henna-hued needles that it looked like the floor  of Donald Trump's barber.

Is it as obvious to you as it is to me - the extra space between floor and of? Oh, the humanity!

I sat bolt upright in bed and logged in to the Blogger app on my phone. Logging in took three tries because the "Bedadryl" was taking effect. I finally got in, closed up the space, then accidentally eliminated two spaces instead of one and had to put one back in. Then I fat-fingered while trying to tweak something else, which ironically was fine as it was, but could have been better and then mutilated a word which had to be tapped back in twice before my fogged-out brain cried, "Close enough!"

This is where OCD stepped up and said, "Whoa there, writer friend! Best to go back to square one and proof everything all over again because if you missed that extra space, God only knows what other horrific errors and typo blunders are waiting to blind your readers! Actually, you can look that up! Get on that!"

Even my OCD had brain fog. It didn't mean that I could see how many people had been blinded by my errors; it just meant that I could see how many people had read the post: 205 so far. That many? It was after midnight, so maybe I appealed to other insomniacs, those who wished they hadn't thrown out their phone books. Or maybe they were reading me in Copenhagen where it was about 6 a.m. and time to kick off yet another happy day. Denmark ranked third in 2017 among the world's happiest countries. But who cared? What mattered was that things had to be made right - immediately. 

Propped up in bed, I started proofreading again, but kept dozing off, fumbling the phone, and making more typos. Then I tried sitting on the edge of the bed, nodded off, and was rudely awakened when the phone clattered on the hardwood floor. I thought standing might help, but all my concentration went toward not swaying. 

Then it occurred to me that this was a great time for cake. The refined sugar would perk me up long enough to finish my proofing. But I'd have to hop to after that because a crash would follow the rush, and then there'd be no fixing my essay until about 10 a.m., and that would be 4 p.m. in Copenhagen, where it would be dark and time for their afternoon bonfire. Those Danes would be warming their hands around the fire and discussing me: “That woman in the States writes error-laden essays. Best to avoid her work from now on."

So I ate some cake, sacrificing for my art, whizzed through the proofing and by 1:30 a.m. felt confident about the blog post. But I was wide awake and buzzing in my bed until almost lunchtime. 

But it wasn’t really all that late - I meant lunchtime in Copenhagen.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas Trees Aren't as Innocent as They Look

Getting a Christmas tree up gets many of us down. It’s enough to make even the most placid souls ditch cutting down a tree in favor of cutting up an elf.
Image copyright, Teece Aronin
My father suffered the agonies of the damned every time we put up a tree. It was as if the tree had it in for him and had taken it upon itself to avenge every Christmas tree everywhere, along with a couple of poorly maintained topiaries. My father tried to show the tree who was boss, swearing at it in curse words more colorful than a birthday bash for Katy Perry. Then my mother would say things like, “Honestly, Kenneth, the kids." And my father would say things like, “Well, by God, it’s time they grew up!”

Faster than Gloria Allred can sue you for slipping on your sidewalk, I was a single parent, and the only thing standing between my kids and their Christmas tree. Even before my divorce, I was more or less on my own Christmas tree-wise. My ex-husband is Jewish and has cerebral palsy so he might as well have been exempted twice. He would giggle, salute, and say, “It’s your holiday, not mine.” Then he'd be off to wherever it is Jewish husbands go when they don't want to help shikza wives put up Christmas trees. Those were the times the Universe handed me an elf on a platter, but I couldn’t take advantage of it and cut up the elf without ruining the kids’ holidays. 

Another complication with which many of us cope when putting up, and keeping up, a Christmas tree, are pets. Pets have been known to make or break a Christmas tree. They make them by lying peacefully beneath the trees, like contented lambs or break them by - well - breaking them. I'm in a few cat-lover groups on Facebuook and am amazed by the number of photos I've seen of cats nestled among the boughs of their humans' Christmas trees. 

When I was about 13, the tree my father put up taunted him by leaning, no matter how many times he re-screwed it into its base. As a last resort, he secured the tree with twine tied to a picture hook in the wall. In the middle of the night, our dog took off after our cat and both dashed behind the tree. The tree-trunk, weakened by all the screwing and re-screwing, snapped, along with the twine, and the tree landed in the middle of the sofa bed where my brother was sleeping with his wife.

One year, my kids and I had a tree that started falling apart as soon as I got it up. Within days, our carpet was so buried under dried out henna-hued needles that it looked like the floor of Donald Trump's barber. It took weeks after we got rid of the tree to truly get rid of the tree

By the following year, the kids were old enough, yet naive enough, that I could stick them with most of the work. Now that they're in their late teens, I pretty much sit back and supervise. But I'm noticing something interesting, that every year as they put up the tree, they curse just a little bit more. 

But in a way, I don't mind; it makes me feel closer to my dad, rest his soul. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

I See Where You're Coming From

She said her name was An, and somewhere during the course of my stay, she mentioned that she was Vietnamese. She kept hesitating, swallowing, and saying "um," as she struggled with her English, and I think she thought she was harder to understand than she was. She was being too hard on herself. 
Hand Mirror, copyright, Teece Aronin
She was about to cut my hair at a chain haircut place where they don’t do much more than just that. I had a style book in my hands. My hair was very short and the style in the book medium-long. I climbed into the chair and pointed to the photograph. I explained that I wanted to grow my hair out until it could be styled like the one in the book, but in the meantime, I wanted it cut in a way that wouldn’t ruin my goal. 

She misunderstood and froze on the spot.  She thought I wanted her to make me look like that right then. No doubt adding to her horror was the fact that the model in the picture was thirty-something and I was nearly three decades passed that. 

She glanced from my bewildered image in the mirror to the photo in the book and back to my bewildered image. She looked stricken, as though wondering how she was going to break the truth to me and not get in trouble. I explained again, more slowly, and this time she exhaled, saying very quickly, and as though it were one word, “OhthankGod.”

There seemed to be a big personality and a dry sense of humor tucked inside her bright, attractive noggin that she was too self-conscious to unfurl. But again, her English was much better than she seemed to think - her spoken English, anyway; I can’t know what her comprehension was except that she seemed to understand me just fine as soon as I slowed down. 

Once we established that I didn't expect her to turn back my clock or to extract a longer hairstyle through my very roots, she smiled, calmed down a bit and chatted more. It was mostly about the haircut, little about herself and little about me personally. When she was finished with her work, she passed me a hand mirror and swiveled the chair so I could see my aging but vastly improved outer head from all angles. And her shaky nerves seemed to return.

"I love it," I said, and smiled at her. "It's perfect." 

She exhaled another long breath, her palm moving to cover her heart. "You sure?"

"I'm sure." 

"I worry that I not understand what you want."

I turned to look up at her, the flesh and blood her, not just the reflection over the work station. 

"An, I could never do what you did. I could never go to another country where the language was so different from mine and earn a living. I don't think I could ever find my way. Your English isn't bad at all. I have great respect for you."

Then she smiled, a broad smile built from complete understanding and immense relief and with no need for scraped-up words. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

To New Heights

It's not every day you see your ex-husband on the big screen. And it's not every day you make a scene in front of hundreds of tourists at Chicago's Willis Tower. I did both in the same day. 
Michael with a larger-than-life image of 
alter ego, Morgan, his role in Special Unit
Photo courtesy Michael Aronin.

My ex-husband, Michael, father of my teenagers, Sydney and Jon, is a professional stand-up comic. As the result of a birth accident, Michael has cerebral palsy which affects his speech, gait and motor skills. Despite the obstacles, by age seven he was engineering bridges between his world and the world of the so-called mainstream, and he was doing it through humor. After hundreds of bridges joining him with thousands of people, he was ready to perform stand-up for the first time when his junior high school held a talent show. 

When Michael grew up, he became a stand-up comic for real, appearing in clubs all over the East Coast, including the famous Caroline's in New York. Over time he was traveling farther and branching into motivational speaking. We were even on the Howard Stern Show together - Michael was scheduled; I was dragged in from the green room. 

As for me - I grew up loving movies. Comedies, horror films, silent films, early sound, German expressionist horror films, B-flicks, it didn't matter; I was crazy about them. I've loved Cinerama, cinema verité, film noir, shorts, and documentaries. My fondest dream at age 10 was to be a film historian some day. In high school I participated in something called the Youth Film Forum, and in college I majored in theater thinking I might eventually transfer to the California Institute of the Arts to study film-making. 

I spent two summers in L.A. working for Forrest J (no period) Ackerman, editor of the magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Forry always insisted that it was he who coined the term sci fi, and I never had reason to doubt him. Writer, Harlan Ellison so hated the term that he is said to have described it as "the sound of two crickets screwing."

Because of Ackerman, I met Darlynne O'Brien, widow of Willis O'Brien, who gave the world the original King Kong and the process of stop motion animation. Through Darlynne I met Ray Harryhausen and was a guest for the weekend in the home he shared with his wife, Diana. I got to hold the Oscar Willis O'Brien won for Mighty Joe Young, an Oscar his widow had dressed in a tiny matador outfit.

I say all that to say this: If God were to choose between Michael and me which of us should be in a movie, I think it should be me. So, anyhow . . . Michael's starring in a movie. 

It all started sometime around 2,002 when he opened for comedian Christopher Titus and they became friends. One day, Titus had an epiphany and started work on a script about a crooked L.A. cop who cheeses off the mayor. As payback, he is ordered to train a squad of police cadets with disabilities, but the script is very pro-disability community, and the cadets prove themselves more capable than the police or City Hall expect. Michael was one of the first people Titus thought of when dreaming up the plot and cast. The title of the script: Special Unit

A few weeks ago, Michael and I were on the phone making plans for the kids and me to join him and his wife, Mia in Chicago where Special Unit was an entry in a film festival. 

“You know,” I said, “I’m the one with the life-long dream of being in a movie. I’m the one who studied film history. I’m the one who studied acting. I’m the one who rubbed elbows in Hollywood.”

“Well, baby,” said the bridge-builder, “there’s always porn, so chin up. And down. And up.”

Mi-chael . . . “

“And down.”

A few days later, Michael called and said that while we were in Chicago, we should take the kids to Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower. At 110 stories, Willis Tower is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It has an area called the Skydeck with two things called the Ledges. The Ledges are glass boxes extending about four feet from one side of the building. For the price of a ticket, visitors can step onto a Ledge where they will have just three glass walls and a glass floor between them and a messy landing in eternity. 

Michael emailed me a link to pictures of the Ledges with a note saying, “You and Mia can play rock, paper, scissors to decide which one of you gets to cut the glass out from under me. Choose wisely.”

I wrote back, “If Mia and I play rock, paper, scissors to see who gets to cut the glass out from under you, there is no need for a wise decision, dumb-dumb.” Michael called me later to tell me that was just mean.

The following Friday the kids and I packed the car and headed to Chicago. When we arrived, Michael, who had insisted on paying for the hotel, had us booked into adjoining rooms. That evening we all had dinner together, and Michael gave each of the kids and me an engraved thank you gift for coming. We talked about going to Willis Tower the next day. 

“You pay for the Uber going out, and I’ll pay for the Uber coming back,” Michael suggested.  He calculated that there would be plenty of time when we returned from the Tower to get ready for the film festival. My college friend, Marc would meet us at the theater with his family. The plan had a faint Rube Goldberg tinge to it, but Michael was confident it would all work out. 

The next morning Mia called us into their room looking concerned. Michael was lying on the bed and had thrown out his back while putting on his socks. I looked at the cloth culprits covering his feet. They were orange, teal, and white-striped and looked like they'd been made for either a child with big feet, or a clown with small ones. Paradoxically, for the socks, it had turned out both ways.  

Michael was rejecting Mia's advice that he not go to Willis Tower. He insisted that with a cane and/or wheelchair, he'd be fine. When it became clear that even sitting up caused searing pain, he agreed to stay put and rest. Mia would go out and buy a cane and arrange for a wheelchair while I took the kids to Willis Tower. 

"Maybe we can all go to Willis tomorrow," I suggested, but Michael said their flight was at 5 a.m. 

"Well, maybe I should still take the kids tomorrow. What if we get tied up downtown and can't get back in time for the movie?"

"It's not even noon," said the sage. "You have plenty of time." 

The kids and I took an Uber to Willis Tower and walked past a line of people stringing out of the building, down the sidewalk, and around the corner. We walked into the lobby where a severe-looking young man in a dark blazer stopped us.

"If you're here for the Skydeck, the line is over there." 

It was the same line we'd passed coming in.

"And it's an approximate two hour wait from here," he continued, helpfully.

Who knew? Standing in line, I tried to calculate whether we should stay or immediately call another Uber and head back. But I was carrying this little cheapskate around in the overpriced matchbox-sized handbag I'd bought so I wouldn't have to lug a bulky purse around Chicago, and he almost threw up in there at the thought of spending that much money without getting to do anything. 

The line had jumped forward every 10 minutes or so, and eventually we passed through a security check. Later we came to an open space where there was a green-screen with a floor mat in front of it. Standing between us and that open space was another stern-looking young man in a dark blazer, this one ushering people to the green-screen. About 10 feet in front of the green-screen was a smiling woman with a camera. Her job: photograph your party so that before you exit, someone else could sell you a fake picture of yourselves standing on one of the Ledges. Why people would buy such a picture after taking real pictures of themselves on a Ledge was beyond me. My daughter, Sydney is shy and told me she didn't want to have her picture taken.

"No problem," I said. "We'll just tell them we don't want it."

When it was our turn to step in front of the green-screen, I told the usher that we didn't want our picture taken and would just mosey on through. He seemed very serious about his work and a little menacing when it came to carrying it out.  

Usher: "Ma'am, please move with your party onto the mat."

Me: "As I said, we don't want to, but thanks. We'll just pass through and that will speed things up a little."

Usher: "But we do it for everybody."

Me: "But my daughter's uncomfortable with it, so we'll pass."

Usher: "But we do it for everybody."

Me: "But we don't want it."

Usher: "But we do it for everybody."

Me: "But we don't want it!"

It occurred to me that this was hardly speeding things up, and I was surprised nobody behind us in line had yelled at us. It seemed wiser to just get onto the mat and get it over with. 

"Okay, come on, kids," I said, stepping onto the mat. "Let's get our pictures taken." Then I turned my back to the camera. 

The photographer, no longer smiling, threw up her hands and yelled at the usher. "Oh, they can just go!" 

It took Syd at least five minutes to coax her face out from behind her hands. She said she couldn't believe I'd done that. Jon, on the other hand, was in awe. I explained to Syd that I'd done it for her because they were making her uncomfortable.

"Well, I'm more uncomfortable now!" she moaned. 

An hour later we stepped onto one of the Ledges. I wasn't sure until the last second that I'd  do it, but as a friend who'd survived it told me, you are so high up that the height almost becomes abstract and not as frightening. That's how I experienced it too. But it was a little unnerving that cars appeared to be a quarter the size of my pinkie fingernail. 

When we got back to street level there was no time to stop at the hotel and change clothes, so we Ubered straight to the movie theater. Syd had tossed on a sunny yellow tank top that morning and would have felt self-conscious at a film festival in November and in Chicago, so my friend brought a little shirt with him that fit her perfectly.

We all converged on the theater lobby within minutes of one another and sat together in two rows. It was a little weird seeing Michael's dimpled puss on a movie screen, and I smiled thinking how far he had come since his first performance in junior high. Then I thought of all the actors and film-makers I know of who started in stand-up: Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Jim Carrey, Whoopi Goldberg; the list goes on.

And now I have to admit that while I had the love, Michael had the passion, and while I had the knowledge, Michael had the talent. So if God had to choose between Michael and me which of us should be in a movie, I know it should be Michael. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Two Tabbies and a Motherly Mutt

Poor Kitt. 

Kitt is a gray tabby, and she was our only pet until the kids and I adopted Hope, a high-strung, black and white mutt with low self-esteem and an intense desire to people-please. Since Kitt wasn't a people, Hope's concern didn't extend very far in her direction. So Kitt galumphed around the house, looking disgusted and put out. Still, over time, a certain partnership developed between them.

When Kitt and Hope were each about five years-old, another interloper moved in, an orange tabby kitten we named Silas. Hope, in her inscrutable wisdom, saw fit to mother Silas and would groom him, shepherd him, and watch over him as he suckled from a blanket amidst those stilts she calls legs. Hope was so busy with Silas that she pretty much forgot about Kitt.

Silas loved Hope and really did seem to think he'd been blessed with a new mother, which in a way, he had, although I'm not sure blessed is the right word. Hope could be overprotective and a tough disciplinarian. If I scolded Silas, Hope would spring to attention, cuff his ears, and herd him away. It was as if no one was going to discipline her child for long before she'd be back in charge, taking matters into her own paws. Still, Silas was thrilled so that was nice.

Hope let Silas climb on her, and chew on her, and pounce unexpectedly on her, while Kitt sat across the room, watching in that I-don't-care-but-you-know-I-really-do kind of way that only cats can. Sometimes even Hope, who is an energetic dog, looked worn out, as all mothers do at times.

Poor Hope.

When Silas did try to befriend Kitt, he didn't know how to do it in a way acceptable to her. Sometimes he would join her on my bed and the two would doze peacefully together - four feet apart.

But most of the time, Silas would chase Kitt and jump on her until Kitt took off for higher ground as if Silas were a flood. 

Sometimes I'd catch Kitt looking out the window and wondered if she was planning to leave. 

Then something happened that neither Hope nor Kitt, and certainly not Silas could have foreseen. Silas began to grow up. He got bigger and acted more like a cat than a kitten. He wasn't as dependent on Hope anymore, though they still enjoyed each other's company, and more often, he was content just to be by himself. 

Silas also began enjoying the doings of us humans. He wanted to be nearby for our baths and our naps and especially our dinnertimes. He liked working on his big guy swagger so he could seem like an even more grownup cat.

Eventually, Silas was so grown up that he was just as likely to be the one looking at Hope like she was the crazy kid instead of the other way around like it used to be. 

Then one day I caught Silas looking out the window as though he wanted to leave. 

Poor Silas.

But Silas was willing to watch and wait just as Kitt had done, and maybe he'd learned his patience from her. Over time, the three of them found their way and settled in like their own little family, even though Kitt still looks more put out than the other two. 

Frankly, I think Kitt is happier than she looks. One day, not long ago while Silas napped, I glanced over and saw this. 
                                                                                                   Lucky Hope and Kitt.

All photos by Teece Aronin. Copyright protected. Some photos available for sale at

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A String of Saliva and a Nose Full of Nickels

Since the departure of Sweet John, a man I met online and dated for almost a year, I've been wondering: Am I willing, much less ready, to return to online dating, to pull on the wet swimsuit of ridiculous usernames and perfunctory communications with men who for all I know are 20-year-old women calling themselves Roger and plotting to swindle me? Or worse, 40-something men actually named Roger and plotting to kill me?

I have always had mixed feelings about online dating, part of it stemming from being born toward the end of the Baby Boom. It set me up to embrace much of what the Information Age has brought but be baffled by the rest. And I'm ambivalent about online dating. Through it, I have crossed paths with some very weird people and credit gut instinct, a modicum of smarts, and an army of angels for the fact that nothing seriously harmful has happened to me. Then again, online dating is the reason I have some of my closest male friends, because that's what becomes of love interests when you don't become a couple but the next best thing happens.   

I had a knee-jerk reaction after Sweet John, resulting in a message to some man on whose hobbies included trumpet-playing. What he'd written about himself was neither intriguing to me nor off-putting. Judging from his picture, he wasn't handsome but seemed likable.

Oh, why not?  I thought, and typed:

Hello, TootingMan:

I enjoyed reading your profile. If you'd like to communicate further, please let me know. 

Hoping to hear from you -


The next day there was a message from TootingMan saying that sure, he’d be happy to become better acquainted. He included his name (real, I assume) and a phone number in case I’d like to chat, which at that point I would not. I messaged back, ignoring the chat part, and we shared a brief, dull exchange of about four messages ending, by some weirdo miracle, in a date for coffee that next Wednesday. 

Wednesday found me pondering what business I had using an online dating site. I really should take a break from it until I've adjusted to the new me. You see, life has just plopped me at a scary and confusing crossroads. About to turn sixty, I have changed so radically and so recently that my head spins from it. Not long ago, I let my gray hair grow in, a decision for which I have no regrets. But to borrow from Leonard Cohen, suddenly "I ache in the places where I used to play." I'm finding that weight gain lurks in the bushes ready to jump me if I eat so much as a candy bar, and will cling to my wobbling frame unless I work out for five hours a day over the course of the next three weeks while eating only kale. Overnight my feet became drier than the BBC News Hour

That, of course, is not true; nothing could be drier than the BBC News Hour. 

As the date loomed, I found myself willing to go, but lacking the happy little jump in my stomach I've often felt when meeting someone new. I checked my messages at noon, saw that he was canceling because a trumpet gig had come along and was surprised by how relieved I felt.  

Then I looked at his picture again. In it he was laughing, and a string of saliva stretched from the roof of his mouth to his tongue. The string was obvious, so why didn't I notice it before? And his nose was huge; it was splayed across his face, resembling the underside of a shovel. 

I thought of the W.C. Fields movie The Bank Dick where a little boy looks at Fields then asks his mother, "Mommy, doesn't that man have a funny nose?" The mother replies, "You mustn't make fun of the gentleman, Clifford. You'd like to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn't you?" 

Please understand, I don't put a lot of stock in "attractiveness," whatever that is. But what made me look at that picture, read a profile that wasn't interesting to me, share four messages that did nothing to spark my interest, and arrive at the conclusion that I should reach out? 

Maybe subconsciously I wanted someplace warm to keep my nickels.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Stand Still, Bright Eyes

The docent met my daughter, my friend, and me at the back door where a sign instructed visitors to ring the bell. She showed us through the old home and told us of the family who had lived there when it was new. 
A Victorian couple pose on either side of
their deceased daughter. Notice the 
parents' images are slightly blurred.This 
happened due to long exposure times 
required by cameras of that era and was 
caused when a subject moved even slightly. 
Notice also that the image of the deceased 
is much clearer. Boo.
Now the house, a beautiful orange brick Victorian, serves as a museum and wedding venue. It was decorated for Halloween with orange lights winding up the banister in the main hall and mannequins clad in vintage-style masks and gauzy or satin-y period costumes.

The docent pointed out a photograph of what we took to be two parents and their daughter (see photo at right). The daughter, seated between her parents, appeared to be in her early twenties, and her posture and facial expression struck me as a little apathetic. Then the docent explained. The girl was dead, sitting up, eyes wide open.

There were similar photos planted around the room, and I failed to grasp why photographing dead family members like this made sense, which, it turns out, it does. 

So the first thing out of my mouth was, "Why would people do this?"

Shockingly, it was my daughter who piped up:

"It's called Victorian era postmortem photography," she explained. "Back then, photography was new, and people couldn't always afford to have pictures taken unless there was a good reason. And because the exposure time needed to take a photograph was so long, people looked blurry if someone tried to take their picture goofing around in the yard or something. Even if they moved just a little, they'd look blurry. That's why so many of the photos from that time period were portraits. And if someone died, a postmortem photo might be a family's only picture of them."

I stared at her. She's 19 for Heaven's sake. "How do you know all that?" 

She shrugged. "I read."  

I know that deceased family members are often photographed. We have such photos in my own family. But what I didn't understand was why Victorians propped them up with their eyes open. Then again, as Syd explained, Victorians held a unique position in time, when photography was there, but not really there. If they wanted a photo of their dead loved one in something resembling a living state, this was often the only way to go. 

Later, I did some Googling and found more photos, purportedly of dead Victoreans, and these upset me for days because these subjects were standing with the aid of a special device, the base of which was visible near their feet. Then I did some more research and learned that it's unlikely these subjects were dead. According to Wikipedia, thank God,  ". . . it is untrue that metal stands and other devices were used to pose the dead as though they were living. The use by photographers of a stand or arm rest (sometimes referred to as a Brady stand) which aided living persons to remain still long enough for the camera's lengthy exposure time, has given rise to this myth. While 19th-century people may have wished their loved ones to look their best in a memorial photograph, evidence of a metal stand should be understood as proof that the subject was a living person."

All of the photos below were said to be postmortem photos. That's why I was so glad I'd read that Wikipedia entry when I found this: 

and this:

And especially, this. The only grief these kids' parents would have to deal with based on this picture, was having to pay for it.

If you happen to do your own research on the topic of Victorian era postmortem photography, be warned, it can be unsettling, and there's a lot of hoo-hah about living people being corpses and a lot of photos of perfectly healthy kids that someone will try to convince you are tragically dead. 

Even this photo (immediate right) which an eagle-eyed reader pointed out is not of the Victorian era, noting the woman's dress and visible knee, I'll leave here to prove some points. First, as with the claim that Victorians sometimes had their dead photographed "standing," you can't believe everything you read on the Internet, like me falling for someone's claim that this photo was of a Victorian family.

Second, whoever posted the photo wrote that the baby was dead and that his eyes had been painted onto the photograph. Let's say the photo were Victorian, doesn't it make more sense that the baby is alive but with no clue what that contraption is some stranger is pointing at him? And if you'd never seen a camera flash before, wouldn't your face would look like that too? And in those days, as with the photo above of the girl with the lolling head, sometimes people had to settle for less than the ideal photo. 

So anyway, the next time you find yourself on a paintball field, cursing that paintball that really, really stung, be grateful that some Victorian photographer wasn't aiming at you.