Friday, June 27, 2014

Taking Mr. Top 40 down

Mimus polyglottos, how I loathe thee!

Oh, computerized chess games may seem relentless. 

The IRS.

Sharks.  They never sleep.  Or at least that’s what their press agents want you to believe.

But on a cool summer’s night, when you have the windows open to a luscious breeze; when you’ve just drifted off with a hint of a smile and begun to float in dreamland.  Just then, just at that perfect moment, there’s nothing quite so ruthless as a mockingbird. 

Like Santa, he knows when you are sleeping.  That’s his cue to take the stage at treetop, just out of reach of your super-soaker.  I imagine he feels glorious up there as he drinks in the moonlit panorama from his vantage point.  And so, he draws a deep birdy breath and begins to “sing.”

An unmated male is the likely culprit.  Figures.  Like a drunken Romeo he prattles on as though he can win the heart of his Juliet with a continuous loop of tunes from around the ‘hood.  Second verse?  Same as the first!

His performance plays like the demo tape of a tribute band.  Nothing original.  Eight bars of everything from warbler to car alarm.  All of it in brass. 

Initially, we put his appearance down to the super moon.  You know, that dazzling full moon that rose on Friday the 13th.  The one that moved wolves to howl and the undead to stir and walk their funky walk.  That one.

We supposed it motivated him too.  Mr. Mocker.  And like Foghorn Leghorn, he reckoned he’d better announce what looked to him like the start of the day.  And announce.  And announce.  And announce.

That morning, after thrashing his way through the night, twisting the sheets and stuffing his pillows into his ears, my husband stood bedside and glared at me with an expression that, try as I might, I cannot unsee.  Eyes bloodshot, hair disheveled, he swayed on his feet, pointing toward me as though I were the one who squawked through the wee morning hours. 

“I’m going to get that bird,” he declared.

I actually have a grudging appreciation for this avian blowhard.  According to Chris Clarke, natural history writer and environmental journalist, male mockingbirds can learn as many as 200 distinct songs.  If only they wouldn’t sing them all!

Having a mockingbird in your yard is somewhat akin to having a batch of teenage girls in the car who know all the words to all the songs.  And you’re driving to Nevada. 

Changing stations won’t solve the problem.  They can pick up in the middle of whatever the airwaves toss out.  With gusto.  Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall…ninety-nine bottles of beer!

My own personal theory is that mockingbirds suffer from low self-esteem.  Why else would they try so hard to sound like some other bird, any other bird, but themselves?  Poor, poor feathered fellows!

Another thing in their favor is that female and male mockingbirds fearlessly defend their nests this time of year, dive-bombing cats and birds of prey, even humans if they’re perceived to be interested in climbing a tree and bringing home a clutch of speckled eggs to scramble up with some Jimmy Dean sausage.

But none of that offsets a sleepless night for my beloved.  No.  He’s tired and cranky and he will have his revenge.

I reminded him that most of the things he is willing to try aren’t worth the jail time:  His potato launcher might be effective, but the ammunition has to come down somewhere on the other end of the arc, where our neighbors live with their beloved pets and small children. 

His Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with the compass in the stock, though technically a toy, is most likely illegal to fire in city limits.  And will, as you certainly know, shoot his eye out.

So I’m surprising him with a plastic owl ‘scare crow,’ some SureFire EP3 Sonic Defender Earplugs and a white noise machine. 

If that doesn’t work, I’ll aim my iPhone at the offender and unleash my iBirdPro app’s recorded screeches of an eagle.  

From there I can go to scaffolding and a pressure washer.

Mr. Top 40 thinks he’s relentless?  He doesn’t know relentless.

Friday, June 20, 2014


I knew it!  I should be napping!

I hope my husband is reading this because he is one of those extremely annoying people who goes all day without even the tiniest flutter of his eyelids.  He just goes and goes and goes.  Wide awake all the live-long day.  Sheesh. 

And you know what he told me?  If he feels tired during the day?  He just sits down at his desk and keeps on working.

Well.  Yeah.  He is employed.  That could be a factor in his persistent awareness.

To be fair, if I think back to my days as a high school principal, I don’t recall getting sleep breaks.  I have to grant him that.  No sleeping on the job! 

Poor guy.  All that enforced alertness.  It must be a real drag.

His company is so 20th Century on this issue – According the National Sleep Foundation, about 34% of U.S. employers now allow napping at work!  Where were they when I needed them?   

And 16% have even designated napping areas!  For example Nike employees can sleep in “quiet rooms.”  It sounds so civilized, doesn’t it?  Not at all like public school where it’s loud all day every day. 

Google’s Mountain View campus includes ‘sleeping pods.’  Absolutely kindergarten-esque! 

Both Continental and British Airways allow pilots to nap during long international flights.  OK.  I get the point.  Just don’t tell me Sully’s sawing logs during in-flight turbulence!

These nap-friendly companies report that permitting rest breaks during the work day boosts revenue, productivity and employee satisfaction.  I’m just sayin’.

So I don’t see how my husband’s compulsory wakefulness justifies the routine ribbing I endure if he should discover that I’ve had a dose of shuteye during the day. 

Therefore, I don’t always include my siesta in my response to “How was your day today?”

Good, Honey.  My day was good.  Due, not in small measure, to my little kip.  Surmise all you want.  I’ve straightened the bedspread and re-plumped the pillows.  Covered my napping tracks, if you will.  My eyes are bright and my lips are sealed.

Really.  If I’ve been at the computer all morning, seeking depth of knowledge and insights to share with you, Dear Reader; and I’ve had my noontime snack; if at that moment, after folding a load of fluffy warm clothes at bedside I begin to circle that self-same bed and find myself wobbling in orbit…well!  What’s a person supposed to do?  Dust?

And besides, it’s confirmed now:  Sleeplessness can kill you! 

That’s right.  In a study called “Sleep or Die,” reports that poor sleep habits can lead to as much as a 12% higher risk of death!

Not sure exactly how that factoid is supposed to help me sleep.  It actually kind of keeps me awake – worrying about dying in my sleep or waking up too early only to die from consciousness.

It’s a conundrum. 

Studies have also shown that insomniacs are 10-times more likely to develop depression and 17-times more likely than their counterparts to have significant anxiety.

So there.

I am neither anxious nor depressed.  I am relaxed and happy, happy, happy!  I sleep the sleep of those unencumbered by guilt, except of course, for the small shame of deceiving my husband regarding my habits of slumber. 

But what’s the definition of a white lie?  It’s an unimportant lie, especially one told to be tactful or polite.  See?  I’m being courteous.  That’s all.  I’m protecting his sensibilities. 

There’s no harm in a tiny prevarication told in the interest of face-saving and spousal bliss. 

Not that he begrudges me my catnaps.  It’s just poor form to rub it in:  “Oh?  And while you were dealing with a terrible human being who holds sway in your work environment, I was snoozing and smiling in my slumber.”  Not nice.

And I am a nice person.  Probably because I am a napper. found that forty winks can elevate a cranky person’s mood and alertness and improve the quality of her interactions.  Translated:  We nappers don’t respond crabbily to those who snicker when they learn we’ve had a lie-down in the daylight.

So get off my back about it, OK? 

Oh!  Sorry to be so snippy.  Must be time for my nap.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Memory: Photo not available

Once, I forgot where I parked my car.  At LAX.

That was a problem.

If you’ve ever seen the parking structures at LAX you understand.  They form a sort of 3-D, M.C. Escher, house-of-mirrors kind of nightmare.

Sure, those configurations are commonplace at airports these days, but at that time I was a girl from Oklahoma who had only lived in Long Beach a few months.  I still couldn’t figure out how the forty-minute drive to the airport on the 405 Freeway north had me heading straight into the setting sun.  It went against the laws of nature. 

That was disconcerting enough, but on that particular day I was doing a favor for a friend.  I was picking up her friend, whom I’d never met.  My friend had an emergency and couldn’t meet her friend at the airport.

So I said sure.  I’ll go. 

Back in those days – Yes!  Tell us Granny Plath!  Tell us how it was back in the olden days!  
OK Dearies – Just imagine – You could walk right into the airport and directly up to the gate to meet your friends and loved ones as they exited their planes! 

No bare feet on cold tile.  No full-body public X-ray with arms in the air.  It was lovely. 

So I had a description of my friend’s friend.  She had a description of me.  We found each other and introduced ourselves and negotiated baggage claim and headed out to the parking garage.

Remember?  This is a story about finding one’s car in the maze of a concrete Overlook Hotel. 

And my memory failed me. 

Suffice it to say that it took a good long while to find the correct level in that labyrinth – H!  I’ve never forgotten it since.  And the right section – 8!  Appropriate somehow.   

And that was before wheels on luggage.  Before it was cool to travel light. 

By the time we found the car, I don’t think my friend’s friend liked me very much.

I haven’t seen her since.  The honest truth is, I don’t even remember who I was helping out that day!  Her name is a vapor.  I can’t call her face to mind at all. 

But I will never forget H-8 and the mortification.  That is the lasting memory lo! these many years later.

Memory experts say that if you attach emotion to a memory, or action to an image, it’s much more likely to stay with you.   

Which brings me to some recent mind games:

Each year I sit on an interview panel at my old school.  It’s a privilege to spend time with staff members whom I loved and respected during my tenure there.  So when the day is over, I send each one a little note of appreciation.

With note cards in hand, I began recreating my experience and writing, first to the teacher who sat on my right.  Then to the one on my left. 

Next I wrote to the Career Center Coordinator who sat across from me.  And finally, I prepared to write to the person next to her.

Who was a woman.  Pretty sure.  Past that, I had nothing.

OK.  Dark hair?

It’s not that I saw her face but didn’t remember her name.  Nope.  All I could see was a gray silhouette on white background like someone on LinkedIn who didn’t provide a profile picture.

Not to worry, I told myself.  It’ll come to me. 

I busied myself with the minutia of the day:  dishes, dusting – no memory.  Writing, walking – no idea who the heck I worked with for seven years and sat across the table from for three hours YESTERDAY! 

Retracing my steps in the aisles of my mind, pulling out the drawers of the card catalog…I’ve got to update this system!  How can I express my gratitude?!  Who was that?? 

No matter how hard I squinted my eyes, or how many Zen strategies I employed, she always came back:  Photo not available.

Finally, in a panic, I called the Career Center Coordinator.  “Who WAS that person sitting next to you?” I shrieked.  “Who was she?  Who was she??!”

“Oh!  Of course,” I said, regaining my composure.  “I remember now.  Thanks.”

That’s the kind of emotion that solidifies a memory.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Look sharp!

So I was mining the tailings of my electronic inbox the other day, sifting through subject lines – “Battling Saggy Skin;” “Cultivating the Art of Spontaneity.”  (Really?  How can one cultivate the extemporaneous?)  – When I came across a gem:

No, not “6 Things the Most Productive People Do Daily;” though I did save that one to read another day.

Nor did I dwell on a TED Talk entitled “Why People Need Poetry.”  (Spoiler alert:  We need it, according to poetry critic Stephen Burt, because "we're all going to die -- and poems can help us live with that."  Thank you so much.)

No, Dear Reader, I wouldn’t trouble you with such esoteric diversions.  On your behalf I am ever watchful for the pragmatic, life-changing pearls that you and I can apply post haste.  And so, for our edification: 

“10 Lazy Ways to Appear Smarter.” 

See?!!  Who loves ya?

This article has potential right away because age-old wisdom tells us that laziness paves a sure-fire path to knowledge, success, and, and…well, I don’t know.  Let’s skim the article and see what we can see!

That’s right.  I said ‘skim’ the article.  What else would a truly gifted, yet slothful person do?  You wouldn’t expect me to read the whole thing, would you?  Word for word?  You so crazy!

Here we go.  The gist.  For your indolent self.  According to Psychologist Dr. Jeremy Dean, the founder and author of the website ‘PsyBlog,’ appearing smarter is much easier than actually being smarter.  All you have to do is:

1.      Speak with expression.  Try to EMPHASIZE important WORDS.

OK, that’s stupid.  We’re not deaf.  We’re dumb and lazy, remember?

Let’s jump right past that one on to something more useful.  Here we go:

2.      Cover up.  Smart people don’t show a lot of skin. 

I tried telling this to the misguided cleavage-heavy young women at the school where I was principal.  Turns out they weren’t interested in looking smart.  Sigh.

Dr. Dean cites a study showing that when people see exposed flesh, it makes them think about your body, rather than your mind.  Ipso facto, you come across like a booby.

Bonus!  There’s a lazy means to accomplish this effect – wear the blanket off your bed!  Easy peasy!  I’m feeling smarter already.  And it leads us directly to –    

3. Sleep later! 


One study cited in the article found that those who are more intelligent go to bed later and get up later.  The ‘very dull’ went to bed at an average of 11:41PM and woke up at 7:20AM.  In contrast, the ‘very bright’ went to bed at 12:29AM and got up at 7:52AM.

Throw in Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and it all makes perfect sense.

4. Make more eye contact

Apparently, if you train yourself not to blink, you win the fake intelligence test, since Westerners see those who make more eye contact as confident, strong leaders, who are more intellectual.  There you go!

5. Worry, a lot.

The key here is that you don’t really have to worry.  Thank God.  That just wears me out. 

We just want to look more intelligent, right?  And, people of high intelligence are more prone to anxiety than those of moderate intelligence, according to this clever-looking blog author, who wears glasses and everything. 

Therefore, the appearance of worry is sufficient to add the perception of brain power.  


6. Smile.

When you’re not looking worried that is.

7. Power pose.

Your mother was right:  Stand up straight.  Upright posture has been shown to increase how powerful, confident and brainy you appear.   

8. Change your name.  Especially if it’s Ima Doof.

9. Use a middle initial.

Or simply emphasize your middle initial.  Scientific studies confirm the use of initials conveys greater status and intellectual might.  Which scientists?  Why, W. A. P. van Tilburg & E. R. Igou, who else?

And finally –

10. Just believe it.

Yes, studies show that believing you can get smarter is enough to make you smarter.  The good Doctor cajoles us not to be held back by stereotypes, limiting beliefs or other mental obstacles.

Don’t be stupid, in other words.  At least try to look smart.