Wednesday, September 21, 2016

You can run, but...

A perverse force in the universe works this way:  You become the very thing you strive to avoid.  The thing you eschew, follows you, sneaks up on you, finds its way into your bathroom and hides behind the mirror over the sink.  Then, one morning, before you’ve even had your coffee, you splash water on your face and rise up to look into said mirror, and there, staring back with wide-eyed mock innocence – you are become the very thing you thought you had so deftly eluded. 

Here’s an example:  As a child I loved and admired my grandmother.  She was iconic in her ways.  Sunday mornings, she donned a floral dress, densely knit nylon support hose, and clunky heels.  She wrapped herself in a mink stole, or maybe her fox stole that still had the fox’s head with its mouth made into a clamp that bit its own tail to hold it in place.  She had a mink hat too.  Just a ring of mink really, with a net attached that served a purpose still unknown to me.  But let’s understand – she left no detail unattended.  Some might argue that she thought of details that might better have been left unthunk. 

Even then I knew she was a bit overpowering, but it didn’t matter.  I was proud to walk into the 1st Baptist Church with her and sit in a pew a couple of rows from the front and sing – well you know – to high heaven.

Grandma was a screecher, actually.  But not unlike Florence Foster Jenkins, she loved to sing and – even though her high notes drew startled looks, beaconed dogs, and made me squint and turn my face ever so slightly away – I loved to sing with her:  Onward Christian soldiers!

When it came time to pass the collection plate and make your donations to the church and to Lottie Moon, the church’s missionary far, far away, Grandma would hoist her handbag onto her lap and begin to plumb its substantial and well-packed contents.  What caught my eye each time was the bundle of papers.

It appeared to be comprised of important documents that arrived by post.  Window envelopes with torn flaps, contents removed, perused and returned to their sleeve, only now with the addressee obscured and snippets of their messages in view: “…you for your busi…”  “to us in the enclose…”

The bundle was fully 4” thick and secured with a rubber band stretched to screaming.  I wondered what critical pieces of household business she might have to attend to.  Bills to be paid.  Solicitations.  Medical reminders?  Letters from her sister in Burbank?  Grocery lists, measurements for the fabric for her new kitchen curtains.   

This she would hand to me so that she could bring up her billfold and pull out a dollar bill for the plate.  Then, she’d retrieve her black leather snap-close coin purse and produce a dime for me to seal into the special envelop for Lottie Moon.

And here’s the thing:  I forgot all about it.  I grew up and Grandma passed away.  I moved to another state and had a life and moved back and lived some more.  I sang in the church choir sometimes and other times sang along with the radio, as loud as I wanted to sing.

Then, one day, a little girl came to my door selling candy for the Camp Fire Girls, so I went to retrieve my oversized mailbag style purse.  To my astonishment, in order to get to my billfold, I had to pull out a bundle of envelops. 

It wasn’t as big as Grandma’s bundle – not by a long shot.  I had only four or five letters of various sizes with their flaps torn open.  It was barely a quarter of an inch thick. But I had bound it together with a green rubber band. 

Oh. My. Gosh!  When did this happen!?  How could I not know?  I had a grandma mail-hoarder starter kit!

I snapped the rubber band immediately.  That afternoon I bought a file cabinet and manila folders for sorting and storing documents.  I am not fated to this eccentricity!

Whew!  Disaster averted.  That was close!  I’ll just finish my housework while I sing:  Onward Christian soldiers…!

Will Rogers never met this guy

Not sure if it was Machiavelli or Michael Corleone who originated the phrase, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” but it’s been on my mind.

The concept came in handy in – of all places – public school!  When I was working as a high school principal, I needed to have my ear to the ground.  The tone of a campus can shift quickly and you don’t want to be caught flatfooted.  So, while I did not consider any young person at my school an enemy, there were a few who, without a doubt, had agendas that did not coincide with mine. 

School order, for example, did not top their to-do lists.  For those few, a perverse sense of fun rolled around their heads like marbles in a maze.  If pulling a fire alarm would provide the necessary disruption to an exam they hadn’t studied for, well, whoopee!  Let’s do this thing!

Happily, kids talk.  And to my delight, a fair number talked to me.  Maybe it was because they understood that I found it easy to see through their anger and their bluster, their need to prove themselves or to save face.  The kid inside, the human being who sought approval and recognition always shone through.

With their help I could almost always stay ahead of the shenanigans.  Almost.  With a nod or a wink from a ne’er-do-well I’d kept close to me, who might even have been a double-agent in league with the culprits, it was easy enough to find the firecrackers before the commotion, or head off an altercation before it came to blows. 

But these days, we are playing for much greater stakes than an afternoon’s instruction or hi-jinx on the quad.  We have an enemy among us who seems to have achieved the American dream yet threatens to destroy it.  For the American dream is nothing if not open-faced and optimistic.  But this playground bully is of an uncommon breed.

Mean-spirited and selfish; quick-tempered and without insight or empathy, he is out to win whether steam-rolling his way through any ‘conversation,’ or seeking to tear down and destroy any who might venture a dissenting opinion.

Legions of his cohorts have called him out.  Stalwarts in his clan have held their noses at great length, trying to maintain the party line, but even they must come up for air.  And so they do, sometimes singly, sometimes in clusters, and declare that they just can’t hang with him.  He’s too much even for those who have lock-stepped their way through decades of partisan group-think.

People I know and love say they are with him.  It makes me sad.  I can only imagine that they somehow know, in their deepest selves, that the old ways of hatred and distrust, of isolation and division, of knee-jerk retaliation and destruction are failed.  He represents the last gasp, the refusal to let go a distorted and damned state of mind.  They are desperate to feel strong, but a pinprick will explode this buffoon.

And so this enemy is close enough.  Too close.  And despite my history of finding the good, I am hard-pressed to find it there.  I can see only self-serving calculation.

We cannot deny that he’s taught us some things.  He has opened our eyes.  And he has strengthened our resolve to crush him.

I believe he will be routed.  My hope is that we have a landslide.  Maybe not all 50 states.  Maybe not my beloved home state.  But we will relegate him to the realm of nastiness and conspiracy theorists where he ever may thrive. 

Good bye and good riddance DT.  November can’t come soon enough.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

This guy

We women know the guy.  Maybe he’s a longtime friend of your dad’s, so you have to make nice even though he smells like booze.  His comments to you are laden with sexual innuendo and just on the edge of vulgar, but for dad’s sake, you bite your tongue and excuse yourself as soon as is respectful – to your dad.

This guy could be your uncle, but his eyes don’t find yours, instead they linger on your breasts or your legs and he asks you to turn around so he ‘can look at you.’   Always sizing you up.  Measuring.

When he arrives for the bar-b-que, or it’s time to go, his hugs are creepy uncomfortable, so you’ve learned to grasp his forearms to keep him and his hands at a distance.

On top of it all, he’s of that generation just before we learned to keep our ignorant biases to ourselves.  His lasciviousness wears no veil.   You make allowances for your grandpa, but this guy…

I saw him on national TV recently and recognized him immediately when his wife held him at bay. The spotlight was on them and he wanted to embrace her, give her a kiss for show, but she took his hands instead,  flexed her arms and pushed ever so slightly, protecting her space without revealing too much.  People were watching after all.  And she was repulsed!

Just like the rest of us.

This guy, Donald Trump, is a swollen caricature with money and power and now throngs of people egging on his stunning display of misogyny.

If it’s a woman who questions his knee-jerk, conflicting statements, he responds with tasteless references to her menstrual cycle revealing inch-deep reasoning and a perverse desire to humiliate.

If a woman exercises her right to abortion,  he says she should be punished!

His latest exhibition of anti-woman sentiment came when he was asked about the consequences of  a woman being  harassed in the workplace:  She should get another job.

But this is different.  Donald Trump is not our dad’s old high school buddy.  He’s not our fading grandpa and he’s not the embarrassment that we tolerate because he’s family.

He’s not harmless and he cannot be ignored.  We cannot excuse him.  But more importantly, we cannot excuse ourselves and simply go wash the bad taste out of our mouths.

A flutter of disapproval is not sufficient.  We need too make a noise like Kazir Khan.

Speak out!  Speak out daily!  Don’t let a flutter of complaints be enough.  It’s not enough that ‘somebody said something’ in response to this guy’s blitzkrieg against women.  Keep posting every day, multiple times a day.

We can sway the election.   Let’s run this guy out of town on a rail.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Miss Scarlett & her champagne

Last time I drank champagne in the afternoon, I wound up with my hands resting peacefully in the thick sugary frosting on a slice of wedding cake.

Things like this happen when I make an internal observation that I’m ever-so-cool.  That’s when I am brought face-to-face with a more humbling reality: I’m really not that cool at all. 

Those moments – the ones where I cannot ignore the truth of my awkward-idity – arrive with such impeccable timing that they cannot be denied. 

And they’re abetted by champagne.

So – I went to two weddings in one day, back in the day.  Two cousins.  Across town from each other and across a wide gulf in style. 

The first, a lovely morning, mimosa brunch affair set in the Rose Gardens atthe Philbrook Mansion, timed to side-step the Oklahoma heat.  The bride’s dainty flower girl wore a halo of baby’s breath.  The pristine, tiered white cake had strawberries around the perimeter.  The champagne flutes were frosted with sugar.  And the Mumm was ice-cold.

I drank two.

As I replay the events of that day, it seems plain that I most likely arrived at the second soiree with a bit of that sugar glaze on the corners of my mouth.  I hadn’t felt a thing.  Imagine.

The mid-afternoon timing of this second cousin’s nuptials was an accommodation of the NASCAR schedule.  She and her groom would catch a honeymoon flight to the Pocono race track where they would whoop it up as husband and wife.

Her vows were exchanged in the chilly confines of the Southside Baptist Church’s basement rec room.  The ping pong tables were covered with white plastic sheets and the words “Patsy and James Together Forever,” stenciled in glitter and attached to 10lb. test weight fishing line were strung up between the Fire Marshall’s mandated utility windows.

The Korbel was iced down in a galvanized trough, brand new for the day but to be turned out to the farm for watering the cattle after.  Linoleum tile and folding chairs completed the ambience.

Am I starting to sound snooty?  Well.  There you have it. 

I had begun to feel my Scarlett O’Hara, perhaps the effect of a couple more – or was it three? – plastic cups overflowing with the bubbly.

I looked good for one thing, or so I thought, compared to my cousin’s country friends.  I had the best hair.  The best dress.  The sexiest shoes.

It was in this superior state of mind that I took my Styrofoam plate with a big chunk of Sam’s Club wedding cake and a plastic fork and found myself a seat. 

Rather than digging in right away though – how crass! – I sat and smiled serenely at my male cousins and their buddies who clearly had an eye for me. 

I crossed my ankles, just so.

Oh, here comes Terry with his friend Junior.  They certainly do have goofy grins. 

“Hey Carolyn!”

“Hi Terry!  Can’t believe Patsy’s tying the knot!”  I admit it – champagne brings out my tendency toward the inane.

“Hey Carolyn!”  This was Junior, giggling.  Not the brightest bulb in the pack.

“Hey Junior.”

“You gonna eat that cake?”  Now why, oh why would he ask that?  And that infernal giggle.  Honestly.

There was plenty of cake for everyone.  But OK.  I don’t want more cake today.  He can have mine.

But when I went to hand him my serving, I found that the back of my left hand had eased onto the icing ever so gently and rested there like a goose settled onto a clutch of eggs.  The weight of it had pushed that whipped confection out into fat bulges on each side. 

My right hand, set palm-to-palm with my left, just as Miss Manners prescribes, allowed those down-turned digits to dip into the frosting also, giving them perfect sugary-white gooey fingertip caps.

That’s when those big corn-fed country boys burst out laughing and pointing to smarty-pants me. 

I cannot recall the rest.  I only hope the commotion didn’t draw too much attention away from the bride.

So you can see why it is with some trepidation that I prepare to attend a champagne ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon. 

I don’t know if I can be trusted.  What if they serve Moet & Chandon?  Whatever will I do?

Therefore, I have a plan:  Mr. Plath will accompany me.  His instructions are to spirit me away immediately following the toast.

Fiddle dee dee!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Buddha and the haircut

A friend of mine is going to Chang Mai to get her hair cut.

OK.  She’s going for bigger better reasons than that.  She already went once all by herself, to study Buddhism.  For a year!  By.  Her.  Self.


I’m working hard to think of anything I have ever done in my lifetime that can be held up alongside that.  I got nuttin’.

Oh, once I went to Cuernavaca for a two week language immersion school.  By myself. 

All my fair weather language learner wannabe friends punked out on me as the trip got closer.  One by one they fizzled on our red hot idea to submerge ourselves in the culture and come out fluent. As each one became wan and apologetic I held my head up knowing that the next one would go.

Until finally, I had to actually go – by myself.  I had to do what I’d talked so big about – or shut up and slink away, credibility tattered.  Never talk about it again.  And let’s face it, shutting up is not in my nature.

So I signed up for classes and booked a flight.

But I was terrified.  I stood on the curb at San Francisco International Airport and cried after my husband dropped me off.

At the other end of the flight, I got in a shiny red car with the smiling man who held a placard with my name on it and had visions of his being a kidnapper who would spirit me away into the labyrinth of Mexico City instead of delivering me to the doorstep of the family who did everything for me except run my bath. 

And I was so homesick my stomach hurt! 

Then, when it came time to come home, I cried again for leaving such lovely people.  Muchas gracias por todo mis amigos. 

Now we’re Facebook friends.  

So I suppose I can claim to be a person of conviction.  I don’t spout off about a value-driven life and then go on about my merry business without a value-driven bone. 

But dang.

How’d I get to be her friend anyway?  She has that Buddhist patience thing you hear so much about.  She doesn’t butt in when you talk or anything. 

I hope I don’t prattle on.  She looks serene no matter.

This trip must be a refresher course.  Five weeks.  A touch up you might call it.  Maybe Buddhism’s like a haircut – gets a little shaggy after so much growth.  Needs to be shaped up.  Add some highlights.  Cover up the roots.

So it makes sense she will get her hair cut while she’s there.  She said she is looking forward with happy anticipation to sitting down again with Vera, the stylist who managed her minimalist coif when she was there before.  Vera, she says, understands Western hair.

Wow.  That’s deep.

I wish I understood Western hair.  And Buddhism, for that matter.  

My training in the Southern Baptist tradition did not take, much to my grandma’s dismay.  I let go of all that hell’s fire back before I cut my own hair from sit-on-it to shoulder length.  Truthfully, it was harder to give up my hair than it was to turn away from all that judgmental-ism. 

I love to sing those hymns, though. 

Do Buddhists sing?  Oh I know they chant.  And hum.  You know – resonate – with the Om.  But that is not the same as a good old Bette Midler belt.   Cathartic!

But I digress.      

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          When a person finds a hairdresser who understands her hair, who can make her hair perform – her hair whisperer – well, desire for worldly things falls away.  It’s a Buddhist thing – like the 3rd Noble Truth. 

A person will go to extremes – even to Chang Mai – to be in the presence of such a Master.  Because after all, a bad hair day creates anguish for the wearer which may be projected outward onto the unfortunate world she encounters. 

And, it follows, the converse is also true:  Good hair = good thoughts.  A noble path to true happiness.

It’s a Buddhist thing.

If you have the courage of your convictions, you get on the plane and go.


Friday, October 16, 2015

You may be aging awkwardly

If you know a formula for getting older with any kind of style, please send it my way.  I don’t think it’s too late for me; but at the same time, I’m not sure I can trust my own judgment.

There are days when I just want to get me to the plastic surgeon and stretch my jowls up over my ears.  Hearing is overrated anyway.

My search for steps to follow, a manual of some sort, anything that could point the way to doing this thing without looking like a fool has produced limited results.

I feel as though the vanishing cream has kicked in – a loss of pigment – from technicolor to sepia to 1950’s black and white, right on down to chalky charcoal daguerreotype.  This is psychological, of course, except that my hairdresser now dyes my eyebrows along with my roots. 

In the meanwhile, Dear Reader, from astute observation and painful self-recognition, I have begun collecting guideposts.  I offer excerpts here from my Notes to Self: 

#1 – Keeping up

Dear Carolyn,

If you’re on Facebook trying to convince Millennials and Gen-Xers that Boomers are the coolest – because we had muscle cars and Mick Jagger – you may be aging awkwardly. 

Furthermore, even if you tweet and tumble and podcast your guts out, you have to admit that you are a tourist in the technological world.  You’re quick witted, but you’re learning that stuff like a second language.  Younger people were born into it:  They’re natives. 

So make jokes about it.  Put up that picture of a telephone booth with the caption, “When I was a kid this was my mobile phone!”  But, when you post pictures telling people they’re awesome because they remember VHS cassettes, or roller skate keys – you might be aging awkwardly.

#2 – Holding onto your looks

And, if you’re shopping online for “plus size high-waisted skinny jeans,” you could be aging awkwardly. 

AARP offers “11 Ways to Look 10 Years Younger”:  Among them – wear V-necks and exfoliate.  Gosh, thanks. 

Oh and by the way, I’m sick of Christy Brinkley and Jane Seymour.  Why don’t they just stay home?  All those grinning celebrities on AARP covers are air-brushed and photo-shopped daily – just like I would be if I could be.  But I'm not bitter!

Yeah, I want someone to skirt around me at all times holding one of those giant light-reflecting umbrellas for the photographer and making sure I always turn my good side, the youthful side – the other side – the one I remember from my 35th birthday party.

Do I sound angry?  Oh pshaw!  (It’s a family blog – I’m tempering my epithets.)  Pshaw, I say! 

#3 – Winning

You can’t win by ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ the post that says, “I graduated high school without Google or Wikipedia.”  Or, “I’m old school:  I was raised to respect my elders and have good manners.” It just makes you sound like an old you-kids-get-off-my-lawn sourpuss.  And, you are aging awkwardly. 

So, play a different game.  Be nice. 

That is all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Advice to the lovelorn Benicia Herald contributor

Never pursue a distancer.

This is a cardinal rule in love.  Because neediness is not sexy.  Begging never pays.

So, if the man of your dreams takes a step back, you take one too.  Or, at the very least, stand your ground.

If you advance toward a distancer, you will most likely set in motion a fruitless and embarrassing series of desperate actions that will leave you feeling foolish at best.

That’s how it seems these days with the Benicia Herald. 

We had a sweet little love affair.  Is it over?

Oh, maybe some would say it was one-sided.  Contributors contributed.  The Herald accepted.  It might seem that the paper got the better end of the deal.  Who wouldn’t want to sit back and receive what he required without effort or acknowledgement?

The Herald needed us, or so we thought.  We filled the pages.  Why, without us, the character – and characters – of our town are absent.  Our small town paper’s charm is diminished.  

In his farewell, the out-going editor said we made up an important thread in the fabric of the community.  Our contributions, he said, made our little hometown paper “a gem.”  We’re left with dry reports of impersonal city government, the generic community calendar and another full-page map of First Street merchants.

The paper has stepped away from us.  Or more accurately, Publisher David Payne has.

From one person’s limited viewpoint, Mr. Payne keeps the Herald like a step-child – neglected and listless for want of support and appreciation.  His talented editorial staff and reporters, forced to accept that he finds their needs a nuisance, decided not to pursue their relationship with him.  They left him for cleaner, shinier shores where they will likely be treated well and paid better.

Reliable sources say Mr. Payne hired one promising candidate, but apparently she took a closer look and excused herself.  Scuttlebutt has it that interviews continue, but Mr. Payne “hasn’t found anyone he likes.”  That works both ways, of course.

Why doesn’t the Herald report its own story?  The only mention of the shake up comprised a one sentence “pardon our construction” disclaimer below the date and weather report two weeks ago.

And now, contributors cannot get a return phone call or email.  Articles submitted garner no response, no ink.  What are we to think in a case like this?

Should we pursue the Herald?  Plead with it to accept our work?  Take us back!  Please take us back!

Advice to the lovelorn says ‘no.’

We can, at best, stand our ground.  Wait to see if the new Herald will be the same Herald – the one we loved and that loved us.  The one that seemed to value our work even if we weren’t paid for it. 

And here I am – writing again.  For what?  Page 4 goes to the Chamber of Commerce.