Friday, May 25, 2012

You Can't Make Me Frolic!

The month of May is “Older Americans Month!”  Hooray!  

And the theme for Older Americans Month?  A theme, you ask?  Yes!  And it’s probably set to music and we may be compelled to dance. 

“Never Too Old to Play!”  That’s it!  Never too old to play… 

I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but having our own month and carries pressure.  Pressure is stressful. 

Reminds me of Charlie Brown and Snoopy at the park.  Representing Older Americans in my analogy, Snoopy dashes to and fro with a frantic expression on his furry face.  When Lucy appears and asks what’s going on, Charlie Brown says, “I brought him to the park to frolic, and by golly, he’s going to frolic!” 

First of all, I don’t subscribe to being an Older American, though this group is ever so delicately defined by our state legislature as people born before 1963, and I was.  They’re quick to point out that this group includes oldsters like 53-year-old Madonna, and 58-year-old Pierce Brosnan, thus making it clear that it’s cool to be an Older American, especially if you have an airbrush.   

I’m well aware of the less desirable alternative to surrendering to the pandering.  It’s just that the identification and expectations strain my good humor.  It feels a bit like getting a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.  Next thing you know, people expect clean floors. 

One of our assemblypersons, no doubt with the most benevolent intentions, not only declared the month our month, he went on to explain it for us:  This month encourages Older Americans to stay engaged, active, and involved in their own lives and in their communities.”  Without this declaration and definition, we wouldn’t know what to do! 

So for our benefit, he included a list of fun things in the event we Older Americans are non-plused at the prospect of identifying engaging activities and then engaging in them.  

First, we’re invited to an area theater for the premiere of an award-winning documentary “Age of Champions!” wherein we’ll be inspired by the stories of athletes who “sprint, leap, and swim for gold” in the National Senior Olympics.  We'll meet a 100-year-old tennis champion, 86-year-old pole-vaulter, and a group of “rough-and-tumble basketball grandmothers as they discover the resilience of the human spirit and triumph over the limitations of age.”  

It’s true, I haven’t sprinted, leapt, or even swam (swum?) for gold in the longest time.  But I’m not sure this film will inspire me.  Frankly, the prospect of all that flapping flesh is a turn off.  But gosh!  I’ve always wanted to be rough and tumble.  I’ve only ever been awkward and irritating.  And I never could dribble - though perhaps that’s coming soon. 

I’m thinking younger Americans might be a better target for this film.  Sometimes they’re the ones who need inspiration. 

Next comes "Grandma It's Me," a seminar offered to teach older adults how to recognize and avoid becoming the victims of fraud including the phone scam for which it is named.  I guess that like our children, our grandchildren will turn on us and dupe us out of our car keys. 

I know, I know.  I know these things are useful.  Some of us need protection and supervision.  But is it “Older Americans” born before 1963, or is it the really, really old Americans.  You know, the ones older than I am.   

Finally, we get to use “AskMabel,” the brand new type of search engine that tailors results for “older internet users, helping them find ‘suitable’ answers to their queries.”  Have we been waiting for this!  All this time we’ve had to use Google just like everyone else!  That’s just wrong.  Our own special search engine will make us feel, well, special.  I hope it speaks to us!  Loudly and slowly please.  Can we get big buttons too?   

OK.  I guess I am a mite testy.  But really.   

What irks me is the cheerful nature of this proposal.  Its author must be some sun-shiny do-gooder born between 1964 and yesterday.  Mind your own business you middle-aged American!  I’m going to declare a month for you!  Let’s see…June!  June is Middle-Aged American Month.  Now, what shall we tell middle-aged Americans to do?

I’ve got it!  Let’s take them to the park and watch them frolic!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Too Much Sunshine Makes a Desert

I need a neuralizer. 

I need an FDA-approved neuralizer, like the one agents “J” and “K” used in “Men in Black.”  For official use whenever a citizen had an inconvenient memory of an alien encounter, J and K broke out their flashy thingy and rewrote recent history.  A burst of light.  A pause.  An unsuspecting citizen suspended in time.  A monologue creating new “memories” to replace the problematic particulars of a sticky situation. 

Will Smith, “J,” Man-in-Black-in-training, first observed the power of the neuralizer when he saw his mentor, “K,” played by Tommy Lee Jones, freeze a woman in her funky farm house, and tell her that despite what she just saw, her husband hadn’t been transformed into a giant cockroach.  No extraterrestrial invasion occurred.  It was swamp gas.  She was going to wake up husbandless and happy. 

I could use a gadget like that.   

No, I’m not saying I want to wake up without my husband! 

I’m saying I wouldn't mind eradicating a few embarrassing episodes from the serial sit-com of my life.  You see, I’m a blurter.  Blurters mean well, but live with regrets.  Sometimes stuff just pops out and survives with the stamina of a Galapagos turtle.  We’d like to expunge that stuff from our permanent records. 

That’s why I paid particular attention to a recent breakthrough in medical technology.  Scientific American reports the development of a new drug that can erase toxic memories.  An honest-to-goodness, real life, medical miracle.  Because it creates a spotless mind, a mind unencumbered by the debilitating and ugly, they’ve dubbed it “Eternal Sunshine.”   

In a more mundane application, for the socially inept, it could be our neuralizer.  It could free us blurters from awkward circumstances of our own creation.  Oh yes.  If we can’t have an MIB neuralizer, blurters will pay for Eternal Sunshine.  

Not that I have big bouts of blurting and its concomitant remorse.  I haven’t blurted anything in quite a while.  Not since I went shopping with my good friend and her friend whom I’d only just met.  I let it slip that the belted wrap-around sweater the newly met was about to spend $100 on looked like a bathrobe.  A blurt.  It just floated in the fitting room!   

I know.  I shouldn’t have said it.  She was smiling and twirling in the three-way mirror.  She loved that thing.  I think its color was “Purina.”  

She felt good even though all she needed to complete the ambiance was red lipstick, pink spongy curlers, and a cigarette.   

You could argue I did her a favor.  I jolted her back to reality.  But it was my reality.  That’s the trouble with blurters.  We speak our own truths.  She could afford the sweater, and it made her happy.  But after my blurt, she put it back on the rack.  I ruined it for her.  

I wish I could take back that blurt.  If only I could erase that uncomfortable moment from her mind.  She’d wear that chenille shroud with pride, and all would be well with the world. 

If only I could get my hands on a few doses of Eternal Sunshine!  All my blurty wise cracks could be obliterated from the minds of the people I truly love, who no doubt shake their heads and speculate about my upbringing. 

But of course, Eternal Sunshine will never be available over-the-counter.  Even prescriptions would likely be single dose.  Blurters couldn’t be trusted with a bottle full.  We’d go around wiping out all our gaffes and helping others to positive opinions of ourselves.  We’d station sunny memories in the minds of all those whom we’ve annoyed.  Some of us might pick a pocket just to see the victim smile and say, “Thank you.” 

Blurters’ demand for Eternal Sunshine could fuel a large-scale black market.  Criminals would rub out the consciousness of their crimes from the hounds of law enforcement.  Teenagers would remove the indiscretions of their Facebook pages from their parents’ recollection.  Recreational use of the conscience cleaner could spur another sexual revolution. 

The guilt-laden would self-diagnose and self-medicate.  Moms would eradicate their own perceived parenting faux pas.  Eighth graders would no longer suffer the painful memory of being picked last for kick ball. 

You might say, “Hooray!  We’ll be so innocent and happy!”  But blurters beware.  

All things in moderation, the saying goes.  Too much sunshine makes a desert.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wall Street and the Hoodie; or, How to Shake Up a Stuffed Shirt by Being Yourself

So a room full of Romneys are miffed that Mark Zuckerberg wore his hoodie to a meeting.

He didn't honor them and their uniforms by suiting up. 

Wall Street mogols are heavy into the harrumph.  They're startled.  They're upset.  They're clicking their tongues and shaking their heads. 

Don't kids today know what it takes to succeed in the business world?  When will they learn to dress for success?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Job Opportunity ~ Second Career: AKA~ Cashing in on the Foibles of Others

Just like teenagers, retirees grub for subsistence.  Young people chase odd jobs and easy money.  So do we. 

Unfortunately, no one will pay us to clean our rooms or take out the trash.  Darn. 

As in nature, creatures seeking the same prey must stake out their territory and defend it against interlopers.  Therefore, fair warning to adolescents sniffing out the latest prospect for cashing in on the foibles of others:  Don’t underestimate the grit of your grandma.  We will seize this opportunity. 

Teens refer to it as babysitting, but those of us in the post-retirement plunge know this potentially promising prospect as chaperoning!  Secret Service chaperoning, that is.  

You’ve seen the headlines.  Our little guys need supervision on the ethical side of the street.  

As a retired high school principal, I am uniquely qualified for this task.  In fact, I may face the conundrum of being too qualified.  I’ve thwarted the trickiest of tricksters:  Teenagers. 

That’s right.  After years of on-the-job training and active duty on the front lines of public schools, I can monitor expense accounts, cover cleavage (no doubt key in leading agents astray), locate and confiscate all manner of contraband (to remain unnamed in a family newspaper), intercept surreptitious cell phone communications, patrol perimeters, and safeguard sidelines.  With years of throwing wet blankets and drizzling on parades, I feel certain I can keep a short leash on even the wildest hormonal antics of a few advance team operatives. 

And don’t forget, I’m a mother.  That intersection of skill sets, between mom and principal, may be unequaled in the undercover world of ferreting out the fishy and putting a kybosh on clandestine capers.  My preoccupation with "Case Crackers" will pay off, too.  I knew it would come in handy someday. 

Of course a person must weigh the risks and remuneration of any career adjustment. 

Other options do exist for a person in the fullness of her life:  I could don latex gloves and a hairnet.  Oh yes!  Slicing and serving Costco pulled pork has its appeal.  Free food for one.  And meeting the needs of all those starving scavengers who converge at the corners of the concrete aisles hoping to snag a thimbleful of mac and cheese?  It doesn’t get more rewarding than that. 

Alternatively, I’ve long been drawn to the profession of greeting.  You know it’s not just in Wal-Mart anymore.  Greeters now man the portals of Kohl’s and 7 Eleven, among others.  Who knows?  Maybe someday soon someone will look up when I’m trying to spend money in Best Buy. 

Not to be scoffed at, professional greeting requires finesse.  It’s not easy to create a welcoming atmosphere while simultaneously calculating the criminality of the incoming customer.   

You see, greeters provide an unseen service:  Robbery prevention.  That’s right.  Research shows that patrons who are met with eye contact and a verbal salutation when entering commercial establishments are less likely to rob the cashier.  I applied this concept at my school, stationed on the sidewalk, waving and calling out to parents and students each morning as they arrived on campus.  We were never robbed.  That one kid did give me the finger though. 

I could be that girl who sprays you with a cloud of Jay-Z’s musk when you wander into Macy’s, unprepared to take evasive action.  But I haven’t been a girl since I made a graceful transition to young woman in 1966; and I’m morally opposed to ambush. 

So yeah.  I’m thinking Secret Service chaperone.  You know it pays better than public school employee, and Cartagena outstrips a Homecoming Dance for cache`.  The players have changed, but the job description remains the same:   

·         Keep a jaded eye.  Even the sweetest operative can be the most conniving and creative in evading detection.

·         Be wary of Eddie Haskell.  You remember two-faced Eddie.  He’s present whenever turpitude is in the air.  He’ll shine you on while slipping working girls around the back.

·         Don’t dance with your supervisees.  No matter how young you feel, cell phone video doesn’t lie.

And of course,

·         Bring your breathalyzer.  Don’t leave customs without it. 

I hope I haven’t given too much away.  Positions are sure to be limited and competition intense, even among us oldsters.  But as I say, I have an edge. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Who's Calling Who "Creepy"?

My cats are creeping me out. 

Twice now, when my husband was out of town, I’ve awakened to the sound of running water.

OK, it didn’t wake me up.  I got up for another reason and heard the water running.  Or, maybe I heard the water running in my sleep, which in turn made me want to get up for that other reason…but never mind!   

The point is, it’s creepy to be alone in the house, hear a sound you can’t quite identify, follow it down the stairs and into the bathroom on the first floor in your bare feet just like in scary movies, doing everything as though it had an ominous soundtrack, to find the water running full force in the tub!  Not funny!  Creepy. 

In their weird nocturnal shenanigans the cats must have mistaken the hot and cold levers for a spider or a bug, jumped up and pulled them down, turning on the water.  That probably was pretty funny before the creepy part about the water running in an empty house in the middle of the night with the bare feet and all. 

And the kitties?  Where were they?  Not to be found.  Far away from the scene of the crime, coiled together, sleeping sweetly.  The only evidence of their involvement, tiny paw prints and tufts of feline fur, could have been left any time.  Not enough for a court of law or peace of mind. 

I know.  They’re just kittens, less than a year old.  But I had a long stretch of civilized life with a mature, dignified, well-mannered, sedentary cat: Susan, my gentle companion.   

Last July, at 21 years old, she passed on to that sunny window seat in the sky.  New kittens made the perfect salve for my broken heart.  I took my own advice and got two.  They’ll keep each other company, I always said.  

No…they’ll split up and out flank you. 

I’m like a grandmother raising her own grandchildren.  They are way smarter and much more nimble than I am.  I underestimated the focus and determination of the kitty mind.   

To wit:  They flipped the faucet again in the middle of the night!  This time in the kitchen sink.  You have to investigate, right?  You can’t just wake up and say, ‘Oh, that sounds like running water again,’ and go back to sleep.  It’s dumb to get dressed at 2am just to go downstairs; so there you are again, barefoot in your nighty.  A most vulnerable feeling.  And when I turned to go back to bed, there they stood, eyes wide, saying nothing.   


Susan hadn’t fought me for a drumstick in a couple of decades.  Now Jesse lurches at me with the single-mindedness of that alien creature in… “Alien.”  Make no mistake: He will have chicken.  Uma, his sidekick, gazes pointedly with amber eyes.  It’s unnerving.  She commands a sense of fairness.  If he gets chicken, so will she.   

So, now I’m obliged to steal into the kitchen for my lunch.  I just want a few bites of my chicken sandwich without having to keep moving and throw elbows.  Like a ridiculous loser, an alcoholic surreptitiously sneaking a drink, I chose the moment to make my move.   

If there were music to this scene, it would be plucking on the strings of a harp.  Tink, tink.  Tink, tink, tink.  Maybe those are piano keys at the extreme right end of the keyboard.  Tippy toeing through the hallway, past the door where the cats sleep.  Did they raise their heads?  Turn an ear?  No.  I’m safe.  

Down the stairs.  A breath.  OK.  Straighten up.  More confident now, to the refrigerator.  Tug on the handle and it opens with that sucking sound, the sound of a galosh (single for galoshes) being freed from mucky muck. 

Pause.  What was that?  A thump?   

Oh no.   

A jingle.  Trotting.  Their turn to tink – needle-pointed claws on the hardwood of the staircase. 

I scan the kitchen frantically.  With only seconds to spare, I bolt into the pantry.  Yes!  I’m standing in the pantry, eating my sandwich, clutching the milk carton, and staring at my cats through the leaded glass door.   

They stand and stare back, oh-so-mature, wide-eyed, shocked at my subterfuge.  All this to avoid sharing?  An adult in the pantry…!  Really. 

“Now that,” they seemed to be saying, “is creepy.”

Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop?...We'll see.

Honestly, I went to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop expecting a let down.

As a Movie Lover (note the caps), I recognize the downside of hype.  I've even given it a name: the "Hugo" syndrome.  (Back in the day, I called it the "Sound of Music" syndrome, but I had to update it to remain cool.) 

The dynamics are the same:  A new movie is coming!  It's on the horizon!  It's SO great!  You won't believe it!  It'll change your life!  It's story is incredible!  OMG you HAVE to see this movie!!

Expectations are set in the stratosphere.  Even a good movie cannot match the trajectory.  Outcome:  viewer letdown.

EBWW leapt onto my screen with some hefty hype, most notably:  Mark your calendar!  Registration opens soon!  Sign up early!  This workshop  sells out in the first few days!

Feeling dubious, I checked my dance card, bought a corsage, and signed up.

One of the benchmarks I use for classifying a movie as noteworthy is whether or not it stays with me. Do I wake up the next morning with one of its characters on my mind? Am I pondering a day or so later what I might have done if faced with the same dilemma its plot presented? Am I repeating the punch lines?

Now 11 days removed from the University of Dayton, I assure you EBWW met and exceeded the "noteworthy" criteria.

Am I still thinking of the characters?!  Yes!  And the cast list is dazzling ~ with keynote speakers like Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Connie Schultz and Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, to faculty and presenters including such notables as Laura Pulfer, Anna Lefler, Suzette Standring, and Craig Wilson, I felt enriched at every turn, and a little star-struck.   

Would I / could I do what they have done?  I don't know, but I'm going to try!  This superlative faculty told me I could.  I took away enough encouragement and practical advice from these highly accomplished and down-to-earth real people to carry me back to the computer screen with feet off the ground for a good long while.

Am I repeating the punch lines?  With Erma's family reading their favorites of her columns, and humor writers populating every table, every breakout session, and every shuttle ride, laughter ruled each day.  Heck, I may muster the guts to sign up for Sarah Maizes Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp next time.

That's right ~ next time.  It's incredible!  You've gotta go to this workshop!