Friday, July 26, 2013

Helmet Head at the Bates Motel

I don’t want to wind up looking like Norman Bates’s mother.

You remember that scene.  The one in “Psycho” where Vera Miles has found her way into the basement of the house on the hill behind the Bates Motel.  Vera sees Mrs. Bates sitting there with her back to the door. 

“Mrs. Bates?” says Vera tentatively, thinking she’s looking at the back of just about anyone’s mom – at least anyone’s mom who hangs out in a fruit cellar, facing the corner in a rocking chair, and who doesn't turn around at the sound of someone coming into the room. 

No answer.  So Vera reaches for her.  Just to get her attention.  You remember. 

Then, when the chair swivels, shrieking music and horror of horrors!  Mrs. Bates has lost her youthful glow!

That’s kind of what happened to a person I admire – Connie Schultz.  She’s a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and cool person.  She wrote recently about racing through the airport not realizing a young man was trying to catch up to her.  When he finally did reach for her, she turned to meet his startled expression.

“Oh!” he said.  “I thought you were someone else.  You look younger from behind.”

OK.  Less dramatic than the revelation in “Psycho,” but profound nonetheless.

Connie wrote about it in her blog in which she was musing about turning 56 and choosing not to cut her hair.  She said even though she’s middle aged (planning to live to 112, I guess) she didn’t get the “helmet head” memo.

Now gosh darn it that hurt my feelings!  Especially coming from someone whom, in my happiest flights of fancy, I emulate.

It wouldn't have bothered me a month ago, when my hair was still long, as it had been for years and decades. 

But now I've cut it.  Really short!  OMG.  Do I have helmet head?

I've always had “good hair.”  Thick and healthy.  Shiny.  In fact, I was kind of known for my hair.  I’m sure I was invested in it.  If all else failed, I could trump you with my hair.  In some ways, I sort of was my hair.

But I had to acknowledge the incongruity between my hair and my face was becoming more and more pronounced.  I had the sense a couple of times that I was in the midst of a Connie Schultz moment.  But when I swiveled in my rocker, the young man standing there, whose eyes met mine with a question and a wary realization, was at least courteous enough to keep his trap shut.

Still, there’s no denying it.  Once you have read the “you’re getting older” memo, you cannot unread it.

Oh you can walk around oblivious to its arrival like the clueless ones who exit public restrooms trailing stretches of telltale TP. 

Or maybe you can frown and squint at the envelop front and back – this can’t be for me!? 

Some of us walk around like Cher with big hair and big lips, in a sort of “age-related anorexia,” only recognizing the lipstick, and not the pig we have smeared it on.

True, I can’t say I got the memo and cheerily skipped off to the salon for a snip. 

No.  I stewed and stressed and anguished over who I’d be and how I’d look so many times over the years that I could easily have been mistaken for immature, if not young.

Then, right in the middle of the throes of the contortions of the pangs of the anxiety and indecision, I saw a post on that great dispenser of wisdom: Facebook.  It said, “Quit over-thinking, Carolyn.  It ruins everything.” 

All right, Facebook didn't really use my name, but I felt like it was directed at me, a grown woman thrashing around like an infant over a HAIRCUT!

So I did it.  I took the pixie plunge.

And I must say, I look good.  Maybe even better.  Instant face lift.  Grown up, and kind of glam. 

I danced the happy dance in front of the mirror as I made my adjustment to the transformation.  Oh yeah!  I’m rockin’ the short hair.  I’m Sharon Stone.  I’m Helen Mirren at the Oscars.  I’m… a helmet head!? 

I could be deflated.  But no ~ at least I’m not Norman Bates’s mother. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cat v. human psychology

I’m starving my cats.

Not to kill them, you understand.  I’m just making a point.

Sometimes you have to hang tough with the kitties.  If you let them rule the roost, well then, there you are with the chickens.

Pardon my barnyard logic but I’ve pretty well had it with these two telling me when to go the store and what to buy.  I am the adult human here!  I will assert my authority.

It all began when they were tiny, fuzzy babies.  I went through an extensive process to find the perfect wet food for my precious, but persnickety companions.  It involved sampling, observation, label saving, note taking and cataloging all the brands and varieties they rejected out of paw. 

I had begun to despair when, at last!  “I (Heart) My Cat!”  – Yes, that’s the real name – met their high epicurean standards.  We had a winner. 

I relaxed and bought it by the case.  These fine felines snarfed it up and life was very good indeed.

But one day, one fateful day, my male kitty, I’ll call him “Frick,” left some tidbits in his dish.  Then he hovered over it and worked carefully around the edges, scraping the floor as though to cover it.  Ignorant, I laughed. 

Oh look, I said to my unsuspecting self, Frick is hiding his leftovers from the hyenas and jackals.  Hahaha!  These kitties are so much fun!  I just love watching them behave like miniature versions of big cats in the wild!

Next day, his buddy, little Frack, did the same thing, methodically scraping imaginary brush over the carcass of I (Heart) My Cat shredded chicken morsels. 

Within a few days, Frick and Frack were asking for lunch then turning from their bowls after a quick sniff, as though repulsed by the high-end meal I’d laid out for them.

Ack!  I thought.  Oh no!  Whatever will I do? 

At mealtime, my beloved Flotsam and Jetsam wound themselves around my ankles, particularly on the staircase, ostensibly showing affection, but not-so-subtly reminding me that they would commit the perfect crime if I didn’t find the perfect food for them, again, soon.

My husband was unmoved.  He reminded me of how he quit climbing trees, after the first two, to save little Jetsam from the heights.  “She’ll come down eventually,” he said.  “You never see cat skeletons up in trees, do you?”

“Put their food down.  When they’re hungry, they’ll eat!”

It reminded me of the time our son was about ten.  He’d persuaded us to add a pet rat to our menagerie, which at the time consisted of only a dog, two cats, a turtle and 10 goldfish.
All the adages about kids learning responsibility with pets swam in the murk with the turtle and the fish.  It was on me, of course, to tend to them all.  To my surprise, I even learned to love the rat.

And that rat lived a long, long time.  A long time.  He grew to be an elderly rat.  Splinter. 

Then one evening, finding Splinter hungry and unfed again, I told the kid he also would have to go without dinner. 

Not to kill him.  Just to make a point.

It didn’t work with him either, though we got a chuckle that evening on hearing our only son moaning behind his bedroom door, identifying with Splinter at last, “Just one little crumb…!”

But my furry Leopold and Loeb are unmoved by psychology.  They have a serenity about them.  A certain calm that comes from the confidence of knowing they’ve already won.  “Only he who struggles, loses,” they seem to be saying with their clear gaze.  “We can wait.”

It’s unnerving.  I don’t think I can take much more of it.  The passivity.  The nonchalance.  Aren’t they hungry, for God’s sake?!?

Of course they are.  I found myself scanning the documentation of our first foray into the realm of kitty cuisine.  What had they spurned and what was left to explore?    

Now at the pet food store, seeking samples whose labels they wouldn’t recognize.  Two of each in case the first taste extends to a second helping.

Arms laden, I head home, anxious, hopeful. 

Here kitties!  Mmmm!  Try this!  Here you go! 

At least I made my point.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Living simply

I don’t hoard. 

I retain items of personal value, that’s all.  Cards and letters.  Files.  Kitchen utensils.  Dishes.  Linens. 

It’s all orderly, you understand. 

There’s just a lot of it. 

I admit it.  We could have more closet space if it weren’t for my work clothes, for example.  Yes, that’s the collection of professional suits with matching blouses, scarves, purses and shoes that I wore to build the image of high school principal back in the days when I was one.

Sometimes I hanker just a tiny bit for those halcyon days – the days when my propensity for knowing it all carried some cache.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t sent those suits on to a deserving young woman trying to break into a noble profession like education. 

I don’t wear them around the house when I’m here alone.  Really I don’t.  I don’t put on that sweet corn-silk yellow one with the delicate embroidery at the lapel and go around glancing in the mirror knowingly, or wagging my finger or folding my arms with a wry smile. Ah, well…

A couple of times, I’ve pulled a couple of those suits off their hangers and put them in the Goodwill staging area, mostly to show my husband that I mean business.  I’m going to clean this closet out!

But then, in the moonlight, when he’s snoring that sweet gurgling sort of endearing kind of snore, I sneak them back into their color-coordinated slots. 

I mean it’s not like the closet is stuffed.  There’s room!  There’s plenty of room for me to take my time about letting go of those suits!  What’s the rush, for Pete’s sake?!  I’ve only been retired three years!

Occasionally, the resolve to sift and sort and simplify swells up.  Like this morning when the Today show had a segment on the treasures in our attics and they started talking about your grandma’s costume jewelry and how it’s wildly valuable now, especially if you have the history to go with the piece. 

Well, let me tell you, my grandma put herself together for any occasion that took her out of the house.  Not that 1950’s Oklahoma was high society.  For her, most outings involved Eastern Star events at the Masonic Temple or Wednesday nights at the West Side Baptist Church. 

No matter.  She decked herself out.

She donned the voile dresses and the open-toed shoes.  And hats!  Feather and fabric, netted and beaded.  Why she had a mink hat!  And a stole with multiple pelts complete with heads, beady eyes and feet, the kind with an alligator clamp in the critter’s mouth so he bit his own tail to secure his place on her shoulders.  She even had a full-length, full-on sort of gangsta-pimp mink with shoulder pads out to here. 

She looked good!  Always.  No detail escaped her keen eye.

Her closet was a fantasyland for me.  And her jewelry chest!  Every necklace had a matching brooch set with coordinating clip-on earrings.   She had finger rings in every size and color with a full array of glittering stones or beads or combinations thereof.

She didn’t want me in there unsupervised.  So, I had to be very quiet.

Once, when she hadn’t seen or heard me in a while, her suspicions were aroused.  She didn’t get up, but called out to me, “Carolyn?”

“Wha-at?”  I answered most innocently.  She triangulated and knew my transgression. 

“What are you getting into in there?”

“Nothing,” I lied. 

“Well, get out of it!”

Is that what they mean by knowing the history of an item?  Is that what makes my grandma’s glass beads and brooch collection hot on the market? 

Yes, it is.  And that’s what makes it priceless. 

Now my business suits could tell some tales too, as you can imagine.  It was public school, after all. 

Yes – I remember directing traffic in the parking lot on a hot day in June while wearing this classic herringbone ensemble.  And this crisp navy number evokes the day it was my turn to be pooped on by the ubiquitous sea gulls during lunchtime on the quad. 

Those were the days!   

OK.  Doesn’t pluck the nostalgia strings like Grandma’s jewelry.  But for now, no sale.

Monday, July 8, 2013

On research, etiquette and meaningful work

I don’t need George Preti to tell me I stink.

Who does he think he is, anyway?  A “smell researcher”?

Oh.  He is actually – a smell researcher.

I didn’t know there was such a thing. 

His mother must be very proud.  Actually, I’m guessing she imagined something more for her son, a higher calling.  Surely she taught him better manners.

I know, I know – there’s no shame in honest work. 

But…a smell researcher?!

I just can’t help wondering how that profession developed.  Did an aimless George invent his own specialty?  Maybe he was in the noble, uniquely American quest to remove or mask from our experience every trace of natural human scent. 
But what drew George to the olfactory?  A childhood preoccupation with his proboscis?  Did he grow up lifting his nose to the wafting aroma of fresh pecan pies coming out of the oven at a nearby Bama Pie plant?  Or, conversely, perhaps the Preti homestead sat downwind of the funky fumes of a Foster Farms chicken ranch?

Somehow, some way, George started sniffing.  And a predilection emerged for the odiferous.  He must have been a charming child.

From there it appears he just climbed up onto Mr. Clean, his germ-free high horse and started handing down edicts.  I found them on MSN’s Healthy Living site in an article titled, “Surprising things that make you stink.”

Spoiler alert:  There are no surprises.  Except maybe that a low-carb diet can give you bad breath, unless you brush, floss and eat your chlorophyll-laden vegetables.

Maybe I sound a little touchy, but George seems bent on creating self-consciousness.  Not only that, he comes across as a complainer:  He doesn’t offer solutions, only odious problems. 

“You stink because of all that garlic you eat!”

Wow, George.  You know your stuff!  I mean, who would’ve thunk it?!  Garlic, of all things.

“Lay off the curry and cumin!” he prattles on. 

Thank you very much, oh Prophet of the Pungent.  

I can just imagine George at Thanksgiving.  Here we are at the holiday dinner table with cousin George who, like a petulant teenager, reviews the meal and tells us if we eat it, we’re all going to have b.o.

“Dairy makes you gassy!”  Yes, yes.

“OMG, don’t eat the asparagus!”

I’m sure he means well.  Of course. 

But I had to know who encouraged this guy.  Who’s the “Monell” in the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia where he works?  Someone’s laying out a lot of lettuce to study stench!  Clearly, our George found kindred spirits! 

A visit to their website tells us “the Monell Chemical Senses Center is a not-for-profit research institute which studies taste, smell, and sensory perception.”

Curiously, they never say why.  Could it be that they don’t want us to know?  Maybe it gives them a sense of power.  Maybe they keep their specialized knowledge of halitosis to themselves so they can trot it out in triumph if a bully gets the best of them. 

I can picture it.

And look!  They have opportunities for public participation in their research!  “A STUDY FOR MEN ~ Volunteers needed to participate in a study on human earwax and body odors.”

Well, there you go.

Monell is recruiting healthy non-smoking males between the ages of 21–40 with plans to collect “sweat secretions from underarm areas and earwax samples.”

I would have gone with teenage boys and their gym clothes, but that’s just me. 

In preparation for the aforementioned collection, subjects must wash their upper bodies and hair with a fragrance-free liquid soap for 10 days prior to testing.  They cannot use any colognes, deodorants, antiperspirants or lotions.

Oh boy.

Then, and here’s the meat of it, following their preparation, subjects wear padded cotton T-shirts under their clothing for 3-5 consecutive days to collect the, uh, samples.

Finally, they visit George at the Monell Smell Center lab to hand in their “homework” and to have their earwax harvested.  

It pays a hundred bucks.

Where it goes from there, one wonders.  What are they going to do with all that…stuff?  Actually, I don’t need to know.  It’s good they’re keeping a secret.

I’ll just take pleasure in Little Georgie Preti making his way in the world.  Contributing.  Social skills notwithstanding.