Eat Your Letters

We stopped getting the daily paper sometime last year shortly after we figured out that, if we didn’t cut expenses, we’d be using newspapers for fuel thanks to the rising cost of oil. Now, I buy one when the mood strikes me as it did yesterday. I’ve always read most of the paper, but now that I only get one once in a while, I find myself reading all of the paper, right down to the legal notices and police blotter. (But not, of course, The Phantom cartoon strip. Why is the racist thing still in the paper? But, I digress.)

Yesterday, there were two things that struck me. In the police blotter, there was a paragraph about a young man who had held up a grocery store with a bloody syringe. Horrifying enough, but what the paragraph seemed to dwell on the most was the fact that he was also charged with “committing robbery while concealing his face from the victims.”

I don’t know what they tack on to your prison sentence for that charge, but to me it smacks of penalizing someone for being intelligent. What? Is there a rule book somewhere that you can look up the rules of robbery in and see if it’s “cheating” to hide your face? To me, it’s right up there with “the rules of war” and “giving deer a sporting chance” by not using bait to toll them in.

I guess I’m just a simple soul, because it seems obvious to me that it’s part and parcel of being a miscreant to hide your face, just like it’s inherent with cats to sneak up on their prey, which we call sneaky, rather than rushing up with a lot of noise, which cats call starvation. When humans feel that they have to resort to war, the rules of human interaction have already broken down and the two sides should just get it over as soon as possible.

Making rules for killing people is ridiculous, except for the one that they used to have back in the good old days before guns, when armies met away from civilians and fought it out with each other. A better rule for war would be that the people who want the wars (and Homeland Security will no doubt be calling me on this one), such as the Neo-con chickenhawks in Washington, should fight the wars. They could bring their friends and the talk-show hosts who urged people to vote for them.

The other interesting item I saw in the paper – you remember the paper? – was a Notice of A Request For Permission To Enlarge a Suit. I mean this anti-obesity campaign is all very well and good, but really! Turns out it wasn’t what I thought at all but rather a bank trying to get more time to notify someone about a foreclosure. (I wonder if they’ve checked the homeless shelters?)

However, it did tie in with something I saw in a magazine. I believe it was Woman’s World, this week’s issue. It’s the “S” diet and it’s taking the weight-loss world by storm. Apparently, it’s so simple that a tubby child could do it. You simply eat 3 meals a day with no seconds, snacks or sweets – except on days that start with s. That would be Saturday and Sunday, so you can pig out on weekends.

I was on a similar diet this winter, only it was the “Y” diet. I could eat what I wanted, but only on days that end in y. For some reason, I didn’t lose an ounce, but rather gained about 15 pounds. I figured it was water weight, so I went on that diet where you drink a gallon of water every day. You know, the “P” diet, but that didn’t work either, although I drank water with every meal and snack. Must have been six or eight times a day and even with my midnight snack.

So then I figured I’d try another letter. I overheard someone talking about the “W” diet which I followed faithfully for almost two weeks, until I googled it and realized that the diet was for skinny folks and guaranteed to “double you” in a year. Geez, that would explain why I needed a whole new wardrobe – including socks!

I’m no quitter though (especially when it comes to finishing dessert) so I continued to look for ways to cut down on the calories. I was overjoyed when I found “The Knitting Diet”, because I’m an avid knitter. The theory was that no one could knit and eat at the same time, so keeping your hands busy with knitting projects would just automatically cut out 250 calories a day. It’s a nice theory, but it doesn’t explain how I ended up ten pounds heavier with 12 pairs of socks, all with large chocolate stains on them.

Nope, I’m afraid I’m going to have to go on the only weight-loss plan that’s ever worked for me. I’m going to have to eat sensibly and move around more. I don’t know what the letter is for that – maybe the S and M diet? Anyhow, I’ve started using my gazelle exercise machine in the morning,  and planning what I’m going to eat for the day instead of just randomly grabbing whatever looks good and doesn’t take long to prepare

I figure inside of six months, I’ll be down ten pounds and maybe we can just let the last five pounds slide. I guess I’d better get going with the ol’ diet. I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to get me Permission to Enlarge Anything.

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Going With the Flow

My ever helpful friend emailed me to tell me that she spotted several mistakes in one of my recent articles. I told her that I hadn’t proofread the article too thoroughly and had written it all in one piece.

“But what were you thinking?” she asked. “To mispell three words in one paragraph?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” I replied, “I was just writing.”

I won’t sully your ears with her response to that or what I said after I hung up the phone. I realize that what I said sounds pretty dim, but I stand by it. Sometimes, when I’m writing, I don’t have to put any effort into thinking. The words just seem to flow from my head down to my fingers to the keyboard and onto the screen, as if the blank page is pulling them from my mind.

I assume that this is the same “state of grace” that my kids get into when their art is going well. I know that, like me, when my son is sketching or my daughter is drawing or sculpting with clay, they don’t hear people talking to them. And when I do get their attention, they turn to me with that drowned look in their eyes, as if they’re having to come back from a long way to answer me. It always makes me wish I hadn’t interrupted them, because I hate it when someone derails me when I’m on a writing roll.

It isn’t only writing that brings on this oneness with the universe sorta thing. I’ve felt it while reading and while sitting on the deck looking at the moon through clouds. Good music is very likely to make me feel this way, which is why driving and listening to music probably should be illegal. I counteract it by dancing in my seat, which keeps me aware of what’s happening on the road in front of me and so what if my daughter thinks I look stupid. As any fool can see, stupidity is not against the law, while insurance companies and police officers frown on crashing your car. (Of course, you can’t insure yourself against stupidity, which is a shame, because most of us would collect at some point. But I digress.)

Like driving while listening to music, knitting while listening to music is an activity that often brings on this feeling. I’ll be sitting there knitting on a cold winter’s night, listening to Tom Paxton or Phil Ochs (folk songs seem to go along with knitting wool socks, don’t you think?), a cup of tea beside me and the pellet stove creating warm white noise, when I’ll come to and realize that I’ve gotten a little carried away while in the groove, and my ankle sock has morphed into a garden hose cover. (I’m sure this never happens to the Yarn Harlot, but she’s a special case.

Although I know people who get into this state of mind with housework and other tasks that don’t take a lot of mental effort, housework doesn’t do it for me. It’s just time wasted when I could have been doing something I enjoy, like gardening. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone out to deadhead the peonies and come to an hour later and half a mile down in the meadow, picking daisies and marking wildflowers to transplant. Or I’ll go out to pick a few strawberries for dessert for supper and come in to find that the kids have already eaten, had ice cream, loaded the dishwasher and have gone off to their separate pursuits, so the berries end up on our cereal at breakfast the next morning. I’m very unreliable off the leash and out in the yard.

Of course, sometimes, I sit down to write and the feeling just isn’t there. Worse yet, sometimes the blank page seems to be resisting my every effort to push out some words and make them stick to it. I come up with a couple of sentences and type them in with effort (this is when with turns into wiht and I don’t notice that there there are double words to too), but they’re no good, so I backspace and start again and then again, until I realize that it’s just not going to happen.

And this, Gentle Reader, is why I sometimes write for hours, sometimes for a few minutes and sometimes, only a shopping list. It’s also why some of my essays are long. Some are short. Some are funny and some are serious. I rant. I (attempt to) regale. I write like the gadfly I am – interested in everything and everyone and about as selective as a toddler in a candy store. It all depends on whether the words are flowing.

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What’s the Question?

Lou and Peter Berryman have a song on their Double Yodel CD called, Come To Mind in which Peter mentions that he’s no good with answers. He says that he gets by with mostly two suggestions: “Put the curtain in the tub, when you take a shower. And learn how to live with your questions.” This is really good advice. I think of it almost every time I take a shower. I’ve known for years that I’m much better at questions than answers. Oh, I have some answers, but they’re hardly ever the right ones.

For instance, someone will ask me where the peanut butter is and I don’t know. I wasn’t the last one to put it back, and my best guess is that it’s in the fridge or maybe the dishwasher or even, possibly, the trash. Those are the three places where things seem to end up in our kitchen, when they’re not where they should be. So, I answer that it might be in one of these places, but in a really wimpy tone of voice. How different my tone and my life would be if, just for once, someone asked me something I know for sure.

For instance, if some fine morning, someone stumbled down the stairs, looked in the fridge for a long, electricity consuming five minutes and then turned to me and with a puzzled look said, “Mom, what was Yip Harburg’s real name?” I’d say, with complete confidence that it was “Isidore Hochburg”. He got the nickname “Yip” from yipsel, which is Yiddish for squirrel, because he was so active as a boy. He wrote all of the lyrics for Over the Rainbow, the Depression anthem Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, April in Paris, It’s Only a Paper Moon and many, many more songs. He also wrote two books of rhymes which were republished in one book that’s available from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He was a Democratic Socialist and was blacklisted in the 50’s. He’s one of my heros. (I got most of this information from Whither Zither Peter Berryman’s well-worth-reading newsletter.)

But no one ever asks about Yip Harburg, although I don’t know why. Neither do they ask about anything else I know about including live bottoms, Blonder Tongues or Frigiscopes. (Sometimes I wonder, Is the art of conversation dead?) So, I waste hours on answering questions about mundane things like missing wallets, strayed shoes, how long to nuke jello and whose cat threw up the mouse on the bathroom rug (which is really important, because it determines who has to clean it up).

It’s no wonder, with all this trivial chatter going on, that we don’t get to the good stuff. “Honey,” I can see the geek saying someday, looking lovingly into my eyes, “Do you think live bottoms are better in a bed or what?” “Why, yes,” I’d say, batting my eyelashes, “I certainly do. Having a conveyor belt on the bottom of a truck bed to move the cargo out under the rear door – which is hinged at the top – is really effective. Dangerous though if the driver forgets to latch the door. That’s why they have those ‘Warning: Live Bottom’ signs on the trucks.”

Or, “Lill,” a friend might say after routine hospital tests, “Did you know that Doctor Martin has a Blonder Tongue?” “As a matter of fact,” I’d answer, “I actually saw it last time I was at his office. Blonder Tongue is the best company for broadband equipment that I know of.”

Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that anyone will ever ask me about Frigiscopes. Not unless, like me, they’ve had to undergo some rather unpleasant tests that only females are subjected to when they flunk their PAP test. (But, Doc, I studied all night! Honest! Can’t I get at least a B?) As I lay flat on my back on a cold metal table, my feet in stirrups and a covering the size of a dishtowel over my “lap”, there was a great rustling and shuffling of feet and my doctor led twenty first-year medical students into the room. Most of them were Asian, and as the doctor spoke, many of them bowed in my direction. I tried to do the same, but it’s very hard to bow when your feet are in stirrups and you’re lying flat on your back. It just looks like you’re sitting up.

I’m pretty unflappable and not terribly modest in medical situations (I’m a DES daughter, which is why I was there in the first place and have had many medical procedures), but I began to wish that I had read the papers I signed a little more closely. Especially the part which gave permission for twenty students to each peer through the lighted scope called a frigiscope (I am NOT making this up) until they had located the suspicious cells the PAP test had found. It took a while.

As a matter of fact, it took so long, that I was sure that the cells would have all mutated into cancer cells before the last student – a young woman with extremely thick glasses and a wall eye – had spotted them. When she finally said the Chinese equivalent of “eureka!”, the other students broke out into cheers and clapped and the doctor patted my foot, which was asleep from being in the stirrup for so long, and said, “I hope you weren’t too bored.” “Not at all,” I said, half delirious with relief that the ordeal was over, “I can’t remember when I’ve had such a good time.” (Of course, at the moment I couldn’t remember much of anything including my middle name, but he didn’t know that.)

I could answer questions all day, only I doubt that they’re answers to questions that anyone but me would ask. I notice things, wonder about them, write them down and then look them up. That’s how I found out all of the above and more. It’s great because later on in life, when there are dull lulls, I can rummage around in my mind, pull out nuggets of information and review them to keep from being bored. (This, rather than pure loopiness, is why I stand there chuckling to myself in checkout lines.) Or I can write about them, when I can’t think of anything else to write.

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