In MY Day …

I love the comic strip “Zits”.  It’s about a teen-aged boy, Jeremy, and the completely opposite way he and his parents view life.  I sometimes wonder if the cartoonist has hidden cameras in our house, as the situations depicted in the strip suspiciously reflect what goes on in our home.  However, the cartoon the other day had me thinking along different lines.

Jeremy and his girlfriend, Sarah, are walking down the street and see a kid selling lemonade for one dollar a cup.

Jeremy says, “A dollar? When I was your age, I sold lemonade for fifty cents!”

Sarah says, “You just old-manned that kid!”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to love the phrase, “When I was your age”.  Granted, I intensely disliked it when my parents used it on me, and I always somewhat suspected their revelations were grossly exaggerated.  But honestly, don’t kids have it so much easier today?

The other night I watched my son writing his book report on his summer reading project on the computer.  Not only did he not have to look up how to spell words in the dictionary, the computer automatically put capital letters on the first words of his sentences.  Geesh!  Back in my day, we actually had to know how to spell words without spellcheck and how to correctly punctuate sentences.  We actually had to go to a physical library, search through the card catalog, locate and check out physical books, and look up references in order to do a research paper.  Oh, and don’t forget, this was all done on a typewriter, so mistakes were not all that easy to correct.  This took a lot of finagling to collate sentences from several different sources and get them in the right order before sitting down to type the finished product.  Then we had to remember to return the library books.

When I was a kid we didn’t have cell phones.  Our phones were anchored to a cord, from which we couldn’t move more than a few feet.  Portable phones hadn’t been invented yet.  We even had limited calls and party lines. Remember having to wait around all day for the phone company to send someone to hook up your phone?  I remember unsuccessfully begging my parents to let me have an extension in my bedroom so I wouldn’t have to talk to my friends on our living room phone.  Now kids are deprived if they don’t have their own smart phone by the age of five.  Spoiled cry-babies!  If only they had to put up with the inconveniences I did at their age.

When I was a child, we didn’t have air-conditioning. Nope.  We sweltered in the miserable Ohio summers with only an inefficient little circulating fan to blow the hot air around.  I remember sitting in church, with the oppressive, dense air weighing heavily on the congregation. There were little cardboard fans mounted on a broad wooden stick advertising funeral parlors placed in the hymnal racks. (I wonder why these fans were always from funeral parlors.)  These fans were pretty ineffective in cooling, as we generated more heat from the effort of fanning ourselves than we derived benefit from the hot breeze the fan produced.  Sometimes, however, I would scoot over behind someone who was fanning herself so I could reap the advantage of the breeze without the work.  And of course we always wore our Sunday best to church.  Women wouldn’t have been caught dead in shorts or pants and men always wore suits.  We stuck to the chairs in our desks at school—oh, and this was back in the days when girls had to wear dresses and pantyhose to school.  (By the way, in the freezing winters, we still had to wear dresses and pantyhose to school.)  Riding in our cars in the summer guaranteed sweat drenched clothing.  There was only relief as long as the car was moving, which made sitting at stop lights unbearable.  Moreover, with the windows down, we were treated to the nauseating odors of exhaust fumes from all the other vehicles on the road, as well as the sickly smell of hot tar and asphalt.

I could go on and on about how much harder we had things back in my day, but I’ll cite just one more example.  Not only did we not have school buses which picked us up and delivered us to our destination (like these lazy, whiny children of today), we had to walk five miles  to and from school each day—barefoot in the snow and uphill both ways.  I kid you not!


My Wheel of Fortune

I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up.  I want to be Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune.  Well, to clarify, I don’t exactly want to be Vanna White, I just want her job.  Seriously, I can be window dressing.  How does one go about falling into a gravy train “career” like hers?  I can gesture to the puzzle board.  I can touch on a lit up square to reveal the letter behind it.  I can grin and clap like a seal while the contestants spin the wheel. Vanna actually has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for most frequent claps. She has clapped more than 4 million times in the 32 seasons she had been on Wheel of Fortune. That’s based on an average of 606 claps per episode. If I try, I’ll bet I can clap 607 times per episode.  And, unlike Vanna, I can even remember what letters are supposed to be in the puzzle so I don’t prematurely move when a contestant calls a letter that isn’t there.  (I love it when she does that.)

Back in the day, she actually had to turn the squares by hand.  When a contestant solved the puzzle, she had to frantically turn the rest of the hidden letters.  I guess that was too physically taxing. Now she just taps the lit up squares.  And have you noticed that when a contestant solves the puzzle, all the letters magically come up?  She doesn’t even have to tap the unrevealed ones.  So I’m kind of wondering if the letters can simply be revealed by technology, what exactly is her function?

I am willing to travel to exotic locations to promote the show and speak lead-ins for advertisements.  I am willing to be a guinea pig for designer clothes to be worn only once.  She has a big fan base of women who are interested in her daily wardrobe, which led to the phenomenon known as Vannamania.  I can do that.  How does Ellenmania sound?   I am even willing to stand with Pat Sajak, flutter my hand, and chirp, “Bye bye” at the end of the show.

Do you know she makes an estimated four million dollars a year from Wheel of Fortune?  Four million!  And get this—they only work four days a month, recording six shows each day.  Wow, that’s gotta’ be tough!  Yes, she does have the stress of having to change her designer clothes between each show, but I could live with that.  What’s more, I could still work my regular job as a veterinarian if the taping could be done on my days off.  I wonder if Wheel of Fortune would be interested in taking bids for Vanna’s job, you know, sort of like government contractors.  I would be willing to undercut her four million by say, oh … 90%.  Think how much money that would save the network.

So now that I’ve decided what I want to be, I’ll just send an email to Wheel of Fortune advising them of my availability.  You never know.  Stranger things have happened.

You’re Dead Meat

There was a strange notation in our appointment schedule the other day.  Granted, we get some strange notations every day, but this one was particularly interesting.  It simply said, “Dog rolled in something very dead.”

Hhhmmm.  Very dead.  As opposed to what?  Only slightly dead?  Dead is one of those conditions I typically regard as a black or white matter. Either something is dead or it is not.  Does very dead make it more dead?  It’s kind of like being a little pregnant.  I could only surmise that “very dead” was somehow an indicator of the degree of odor associated with the act of the dog rolling in the offensive material.

This got me thinking, which is always a scary undertaking.  (Did I really just write “undertaking” in a blog on death?)  Clearly my mind should not be allowed to wander loose by itself.

For example, where did the phrase, “dead as a door nail” come from?  How dead are door nails, anyway?  Is being as dead as a door nail worse than just being merely dead?   Well, it turns out “dead as a door nail” means unequivocally deceased—which all this time I thought was the simple definition of “dead.”  I never knew there were varying degrees of being dead.  The expression goes back to poems in the 1300’s, and was also used by William Shakespeare and in Charles Dickens’  A Christmas Carol in 1843. It is thought that the phrase “dead as a door nail” comes from the manner of securing door nails that were hammered into a door by clenching them. Clenching is the practice of bending over the protruding end of the nail and hammering it into the wood. When a nail has been clenched, it has been dead nailed, and is not easily resurrected to use again.  Wasn’t that was a fascinating bit of trivia?

It’s incredible how many idioms there are for the word “dead”.  Dead ringer, dead tired, dead center, dead end, dead giveaway, dead serious, knock ‘em dead, dead weight, dead of night, stop dead in your tracks, play dead, and beat a dead horse are just a few that come to mind.  But I’ve never heard the expression, “very dead.”

There is, of course, the question of why dogs choose to roll in dead, smelly things.  Many believe it’s instinctual behavior, hearkening back to the days when dogs’ wild ancestors would mask their scent to help them sneak up on their prey. One would think, however, with their keen sense of smell, rolling in foul smelling substances would be as offensive to dogs as it is to their owners.  This just goes to show that what is perceived as repulsive by one individual can be perceived as a fragrant aroma to another.  Kind of like those people who apparently bathe in their body sprays which give everyone around them a headache.

Knowing how unpleasant it is to have your dog roll in dead things, particularly when they want to climb all over you and lick your face afterwards, if my dogs are ever dead set to do it again, I’m going to kill them dead!  (Was that last sentence a bit of overkill?)



I Have the Voice of an Angel

In the fertile ground of my imagination, I have the beautiful singing voice of a glorious meadow lark, whose sweet melody is pure rhapsody to the weary soul.  In the harsh light of reality, however, my singing voice sounds more like the raucous cawing of an old crow.  I open my mouth expecting to hear Julie Andrews and Edith Bunker comes out. This is inherently unfair.   I have a great passion for music and just enough musical talent to be frustrated.

My father was a professional musician.  He played piano and organ on live radio and television back in the day, and accompanied some well-known singers, such as Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and Rosemary Clooney.  He could do some pretty amazing things, such as sight transpose, and he could play songs in one key in the right hand and a different key in the left—at the same time.  This of course sounded gosh awful, but it was always a hit at birthday parties.  I did manage to inherit a tidbit of his musical ability, for which I am grateful, as playing the piano and organ are usually a relaxing outlet for me.  And although I grew up with his sometimes harsh criticism of my less than perfect technique (his idea of a compliment was along the lines of, “That didn’t sound too impossible”), I am still happy that I have a small degree of musical ability.  And I have come to terms with the fact that my natural talent will never equal his.  This is okay.  He couldn’t neuter a cat.

The one thing I have never come to terms with, however, is the fact that God didn’t give me a beautiful singing voice.  I know we are supposed to be content with the gifts God gives us and not want someone else’s gifts.  But singing is the one gift I truly covet.  I can listen to someone whose voice moves me to tears and ask, “Why couldn’t I have that voice?”  Why can’t I be the person who raises my hand when the choir director asks for volunteers to sing the solo parts of a piece of music instead of hiding behind my choir book saying, “Ain’t no way?”  I suppose, in actuality, I could volunteer to sing a solo, but not if I don’t want to be un-invited to join the church choir.  And our church choir takes anybody.  No talent necessary.

People tell me, “But you can play the piano!”  Yes, I know, and I don’t want minimalize that gift, but why can’t I do both?  There are other people who are musically talented in both singing and playing an instrument.  Why not me?  There’s probably nobody who would appreciate the ability to have magnificent melody flowing from my mouth as much as I would.  Perhaps the Good Lord knew it would be too much for my pride to handle.  But it sure is frustrating to have an ear for music—I have perfect pitch for crying out loud—and to have the singing voice of a bullfrog with Strep throat.

As if that isn’t bad enough, my husband had to go and make things worse.

“I wish I could sing like an angel,” I lamented to him.

“Angels don’t sing.  They chant,” he replied.  “Nowhere in the Bible does it say angels sing.”

“What?  Are you sure?” He had to be wrong.  “What about the angels in the Christmas carol?  You know, Hark the Herald Angels Sing?

“That’s in a song.  It’s not in the Bible.”

Well.  If that didn’t deflate my balloon!  What a letdown!   “Then where did the expression ‘sing like an angel’ come from?” I challenged.

“I don’t know. But angels don’t sing.  They chant.”

I brightened up.  “Well then, I have the voice of a chanting angel!”


They’re Out To Get Me

Am I the only one who feels victimized by inanimate objects?  Or is there anyone else out there brave enough to admit it?  I swear, “things” are out to get me.  At the very top of the list is anything having to do with technology.  Computers hate me.  There is a vast conspiracy among computers everywhere against me and they are all interconnected somehow in cyberspace. They will stubbornly and repeatedly refuse to do whatever task I’m trying to accomplish,  but when I ask for human help, the person who comes to my assistance does the exact same thing I have been doing over and over, and this time it works!  Not only does the human think I’m incompetent, but I just know the computer is secretly laughing at me somewhere in its hard drive.  It is probably also sending messages to computers everywhere, “Ha ha!  I got her again!”

Smart phones, too.  For years I was the only person on the planet without a smart phone.  That was because I was too dumb to own one.  Then my beloved basic phone disappeared from my car and I was forced to buy a new phone.  Is there anything more painful?  Or humiliating?  I stood there like a deer (or a dinosaur) in the headlights while a twelve year salesperson at the phone store regaled me with a barrage of foreign words as she switched from this screen to that screen with the speed of light showing me functions I will never find again.  Even if I do accidentally manage to stumble across these screens again I won’t know what to do with them or how to get them off my phone so I can actually make a call. When she asked if there were any questions, I was too embarrassed to ask how to answer a call.  My smart phone has deep secrets which it will not divulge to me.  Sometimes it lets me know I have a text message.  Other times it doesn’t.  Or a voicemail.  So unless I am constantly checking, which I don’t do as I have a life, thank you very much, I often end up missing messages—which is why God gave us the standard answering machine affixed to my dinosaur house phone.  Of course I can’t understand half the messages on it because they are garbled, but at least I know they are there because the blasted machine beeps at me until I attend to it.

Even the old standard copier machines have it in for me.  Except now, the old standard copier machines have been replaced by machines that not only copy, but pull paper from multiple trays, collate, fax, do your taxes, and make coffee.  I can’t simply take something to the copy machine and have it make a copy. Now there are 23 different buttons to push and if I mess up even one, I will accidentally fax something confidential to half the known world.  Unlike some people (who shall remain nameless) who are guilty of transmitting classified national security information, I will be arrested and thrown into a dank, dark prison cell where I will never again see the light of day for divulging Mrs. Brown’s dog, Scruffy, has mange, thus violating HIPPA.  So it is with trepidation that I approach these scary-looking apparatuses.  Even if by some miracle I get the machine to make copies, it will inevitably spit out 100 copies when I only wanted ten, while I frantically try to figure out how to make it stop, or it will rebel with a massive paper jam deep in the unreachable inner bowels of the machine.

Cameras, forget it.  I long for the old days of the simple Kodak point and shoot cameras.  There are way too many gadgets on our camera, and unless everything is set precisely where it was the last time I took pictures, God only knows what I will capture. I have taken more accidental movies than I can count.  This is because I thought I recorded the segment I wanted, only to find that instead of turning the recorder off I turned it on and now have a lovely video of my feet walking somewhere accompanied by pointless chatter.  Don’t even suggest I chuck the camera for my smart phone.  I think I’ve made myself fairly clear on that!

I wrote a whole blog on how public restroom dryers refuse to blow air for me.  And just when I had about mastered the VCR, it became obsolete.  Televisions were somewhat straight forward until they came out with Roku.  Even my fairly tech-savvy husband can’t manage to program all the channels on Roku that we get on our basic old TV.  I have to get my teenage son to work the DVD player for me.  If I’m alone in the house, I can’t watch a DVD because I guarantee it won’t play.

Pretty much everyone who knows me understands this conspiracy inanimate objects have against me and are usually willing to come to my aid to do all the wretched tasks these machines refuse to do for me.  But somehow I just can’t seem to convince my husband the washer, dryer, and stove are also in on the plot.

Sweet Home Alabama

There’s a lot to be said for taking a vacation without a surly teenager along.  So when we cheerfully packed our thirteen year old son, Darion, off on a youth retreat to Ridgecrest in North Carolina on July 4th, Doug and I decided to treat ourselves to a few days of “doing what we want to do” without having to listen to the complaining.  Let me just say that Darion is very good at being thirteen.  And God bless our youth leader who braved a ten hour drive both ways with a van full of teenagers!  We don’t pay her enough.  As we cheerfully waved off the group departing from the church parking lot, we cried, “We’re free!”  Of course we said this silently to ourselves because there were actually people present who were going to miss their kids.  Go figure.

Within a couple minutes of seeing the tail lights of the van move out of sight, we hopped into the truck and set out to see some things we had always wanted to see as we hustled through Alabama on our way to somewhere else.  It seems we have spent twenty-eight years on our way to somewhere else and never had the time to stop and see anything along the journey.  And without Darion, we could see each and every waterfall and hike each and every trail we wanted, exploring nature in the way it was meant to be enjoyed.  We could actually hear the sweet songs of the birds and the chirping of the cicadas without the endless barrage of “Nature is stupid!  I hate hiking! How far do we have to go?  I’m tired.” Loud melodramatic teen-aged angst sigh.  “How many more stupid waterfalls do we have to see?  I just want to go back to the hotel and watch TV.”  For some reason, Darion fails to understand that if we wanted to watch TV we wouldn’t pay $100.00 bucks a night in a strange city to do so.  In fact, we wouldn’t even have to leave Valparaiso.  Somehow, his endless tirade of dissatisfaction tends to spoil the ambiance of communing with God’s creation.

We also got to eat at establishments other than our son’s usual culinary preferences of “drive through” with a large order of fries, without sulking and the announcement of, “Fine!  Then I’m not eating!”  I suppose his not eating is somehow meant to punish us, but I’ve never understood why.  Truly, if he kept his word, we’d save money.  Unfortunately, he always capitulates, as pretty much every restaurant carries chicken tenders and fries.  But oh, for a few days, we relished the sweet taste of our selfish pleasures.

Not only were we able to enjoy nature, we were also able to visit historical areas, such as the First White House of the Confederacy and Old Town, Alabama, which would no doubt have been deemed “boring”.  I was able to cross one more item off my bucket list—touring Helen Keller’s home and seeing the outdoor drama, “The Miracle Worker,” performed on the grounds.  The play alone was phenomenal and completely worth the trip.

We also got to see the only Coon Dog cemetery in the country.  (At least I think it’s the only one.)  Don’t laugh at me.  Some people like to go antiquing or to art museums on vacation.  I enjoy quirky things like the Coon Dog cemetery.  And although the visit was done more as a lark, we were surprised to see several other visitors there.  So apparently I’m not the only oddball out there.  My husband, being the good sport that he is, indulged me in this fifteen minute fantasy.  It was either that or two days shopping at the outlet center in Foley.  He chose wisely. I was a little disappointed to find out that the movie, “Sweet Home Alabama,” was mostly filmed in Georgia and the Coon Dog cemetery in the movie was not the actual one, but rather a movie set based on the real thing.

Now for some reason, our teenager, who is embarrassed to tears when we breathe the air in his vicinity, felt the need to call us at least a half dozen times a day—like when he awoke at 6 am, when he ate every meal, when he was on a break, or before he went to bed at 11 pm.  He was always quite concerned about where we were and what we were doing.  And he doesn’t even have his own phone, which necessitated the humiliation of having to borrow one from his friend to call his—gasp—parents!  (Yes, we are cruel and abusive parents who have ruined his existence by denying him his personal cell phone rite of passage.)  As tempted as we were to say we were in the midst of shipping all our worldly goods to Bali with no forwarding address, we resisted the urge and assured him we would be home before he returned.  (After all, Bali isn’t that big.  He could probably find us there.)

Sure enough, we were back to greet the youth when they arrived home the following Tuesday night and our son is back to his usual uncooperative and churlish self.  We are wondering how much we would have to bribe the youth leader to take a longer trip next year.




The Suspense is Killing Me

Why is it in a suspense novel or movie, the protagonist always does something extremely stupid to put himself or herself in a life-threatening situation?  Of course we all know the lead character will be rescued or something otherwise miraculous will occur at the last possible minute, because lead characters, after all, don’t die (or even become critically injured).  Never mind that the other bit players all met their demise; nothing untoward will happen to the main character.   This is supposed to enhance the suspense and drama, I suppose, but I can’t get over the fact that nobody in his right mind would ever do what these people do.  So why do writers think these are realistic plots?

I’m talking, for example, about the person who seems to think blackmailing a killer is a good idea.  It never seems to occur to this person that the murderer has already killed somebody and killing him, too, wouldn’t be that big a deal at this point.  But in his mind, there’s no way the killer would think to come after him.  The killer will happily and forever dole out massive quantities of money in order for the witness to keep his mouth shut.  Yeah, and pigs fly.  So why is this such a common thread in mystery and suspense plots?

Then there are the people who believe confronting the killer in order to make him turn himself in is the best way to go, because, after all, one doesn’t want to rat this person out to the police and possibly have him get upset with you.  No, you schedule a meeting with the killer—often in a secluded setting— tell him everything you know, assure him you’ve told nobody else what you saw, and end with, “I know you will do the right thing, but if you don’t turn yourself in, I’ll have to.”  Well.  That should put the fear of Hades into him.  By the way, how long do you wait before turning him in?  Do you hire a body guard in the meantime?  No, because there is no way the killer would ever harm you!

Okay, so these less than brilliant characters have effectively and naively managed to eliminate themselves from the rest of the story, as well as the gene pool.  Now comes the protagonist, who up until the end has managed to display a modicum of common sense and stay alive.  But for some reason, towards the end of the story, he (she) feels the need to check out something in a deserted location on her own, without telling anybody where she’s going, without taking a weapon, and usually in the middle of the night.  Oh, and by now she has run her mouth enough that the killer knows she’s on to him, so he just has to waylay her.  It is guaranteed she will walk into a trap.  There will be no cell phone service or her emergency contact number will go to voicemail.

Once she’s trapped, the killer doesn’t just shoot her and be done with it, like he did his last five victims.  No, now for some reason, he decides to spill his guts.  He confesses, for a full twenty minutes,  everything he did and why he did it under the interrogation of the trapped lead character, who, by the way, should really be trying to think of a way out, rather than concerning herself with the motivation of the killer.  Then, when time has run out, the killer orders the lead character to go somewhere else so he can kill her there, as if where they are standing isn’t good enough.  That’s when the rescuers, going off nothing more than a “bad feeling,” manage to track down and find the trapped protagonist who is out in the middle of nowhere, just before she is marched away to be executed.  Or, if the writers want to really spice up the action, the lead character will suddenly notice something like a box of fireworks right next to her and using the cigarette lighter she just happens to have with her (even though she doesn’t smoke) manages to light up the box, effectively enabling her to escape.  Then when she has made it safely away from the killer, the rescuers miraculously appear.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same plot over and over again?  Surely people are not really that stupid, or that lucky.   Perhaps I should change my genre of writing and delve into suspense.  But I’m afraid my characters would not be very interesting.  They would either do the smart thing, run to the police and let them handle things from the start, or end up like me—hiding under the covers with the blankets pulled over their heads.  There is only so much one can do with this scene.