Monday, December 31, 2007

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


I wish you every blessing in 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Only the Good Die Young


One of my heroines died today. Benazir Bhutto, a modern-day Joan of Arc, succumbed to an assassin's bullets after a rally in Pakistan, the country she returned to after many years in exile. She was 54 years old.

It was believed that her party, the Pakistan People's Party, would win the upcoming election in January, making her Prime Minister once again. She had occupied that office twice before, the first time at age 35. She was one of the youngest chief executives in the world, and the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of an Islamic nation.

Modernizing Pakistan was her priority, She brought electricity to the countryside and built schools all over Pakistan. She dedicated herself to solving the problems of hunger, housing and health care and bringing her country into the 21st Century. Her agenda was one of reconciliation among various factions, peace, ending militancy, eradicating poverty, building institutions of civil rule and democracy, spreading education and providing hope to the people of Pakistan for a better future.

Ms. Bhutto was born in Karachi in 1953 to a prominent political family. At age 16 she left her homeland to study at Harvard's Radcliffe College. After completing her undergraduate degree in Political Science, she earned a second degree at England's Oxford University, followed by a law degree a few years later.

Meanwhile, her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected Prime Minister, but within days the military seized power and her father was imprisoned. In 1979 he was hanged by the military government of General Zia Ul Haq.

She was arrested many times and served three years in solitary confinement before being permitted to leave the country in 1984. She settled in London, where she and her two brothers founded an underground organization to resist the military dictatorship. When one of her brothers died in 1985, she returned to Pakistan for his burial, and was again arrested for participating in anti-government rallies.

Despite her prestigious Western education, she agreed to an arranged marriage in 1987. The couple had three children.

Bhutto's husband was imprisoned in 1997 on charges of corruption and served eight years in prison. Once again, she was forced to leave her homeland. For nine years, she and her children lived in exile in London, where she continued to advocate the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

In October of this year, she returned to her native country despite death threats from radical Islamists and the hostility of the present government.

She was greeted by enthusiastic crowds but within hours of her arrival, her motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber. She survived this first assassination attempt, although more than 100 bystanders died in the attack. Even this did not deter her from her mission to finally restore peace to her country.

Today in Rawalpindi a gunman fired at her car, fatally wounding her. The assassin then detonated a bomb, killing himself and numerous bystanders.

Rioting erupted throughout the country, intensifying the dangerous instability of a nuclear-armed nation in a highly volatile region.

The world has lost one of its most eloquent voices for peace, moderation, and democracy, and also one of its bravest citizens. We are all diminished for it.

"I find that whenever I am in power, or my father was in power, somehow good things happen. The economy picks up, we have good rains, water comes, people have crops. I think the reason this happens is that we want to give love and we receive love."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

C-c-c-coffee

Coffee doesn't taste very good to me lately. I'm thinking of giving it up for awhile but my timing couldn't be worse because at present, we have enough coffee beans to open a small coffee shop - or to last us for at least three or four months.

I have always been perverse.

We have a pound of coffee beans from a caffe in North Beach, which I love for the ambiance, old men in black turtlenecks speaking Italian, Tony Bennett on the sound system, cannoli in the glass cases. We also bought a pound of their Sicilian espresso beans right before six pounds of various coffee beans arrived from Gevalia, which sent us three shipments in the same week. I called them to explain that it was rather a lot of caffeine for two people to dispose of and to cancel all future shipments.

Two days later, a fourth shipment arrived, another two pounds of coffee beans. I called them again.

I was probably too jittery to make any sense, though.

Our freezer is getting pretty crowded.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

There But For the Grace of God


Walking down the street with Flip, who had an errand at Guitar Center, I spotted a woman who was built like a tugboat coming toward us in the ugliest coat I had ever seen.

I murmured, "The coat. Look at the coat."

The Coat was a full length horizontally worked multicolored mangy-looking fur in an oversized houndstooth tweed pattern. Suffice to say that I have never seen anything like it. It looked as if it were made out of several mismatched old dogs.

I think this is what happens when furriers go bad.

The woman was old, by which I always mean Older-Than-I, with determinedly blond hair and did I mention, portly?

As we passed her, Flip said, "That's a beautiful coat."

I almost swallowed my tongue.

She simpered, "Thank you!" while her male companion, like me, turned his head the other way.

"What were you thinking?" I demanded. Flip is not mean. Ever. It is not in his nature at all, yet he also has taste.

Obviously, I was missing something.

"I couldn't help myself," said Flip. "I really did it for the guy because he probably thinks it's ugly and he didn't get his money's worth."

"Fifteen dollars at the thrift store," I replied. "and it is ugly."

"She just needed to be told she looked good," he said. "I bet she doesn't hear that very often."

Flip is such a nice man for a liar.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fire Drill


The fire alarm in our building went off tonight. It was deafening. When I poked my head out the door, I smelled smoke and grease, like a diner that uses the same oil for three years. Flip went into the hallway to see what was going on as people gathered, but nobody knew where it was coning from.

The smoke got thicker.

I called 911. They put me on hold for at least two minutes while their recording cautioned me that if this was not an emergency, to hang up and call the police. They told me this in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Then they played another recording which informed me that calls would be answered in the order received. They repeated this, too, in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Finally, a woman came on the line. It was difficult to hear her because of the loud alarm, but after I told her what I knew and gave directions, she told me to go outside.

Flip was already out in the hall talking with other tenants, so I climbed up in our closet for Truffle's carrying case, stuffed her into it, threw on sandals and a down jacket, grabbed Flip's down jacket, locked the door and went downstairs.

I thought of our treasured possessions that I was leaving behind and realized that I was okay with it as long as Flip, Truffle and I got out. I hit the street.

Flip asked me for my keys because he was barefoot on the cold sidewalk. He went back inside. My upstairs neighbors who adopted Joey, the backyard cat, invited me to stow Truffle in their car, which was parked in front of the building. I set her on the front seat because Joey was in back. Truffle is not kindly disposed toward other cats.

Flip was taking a long time to get his shoes, so I ran back inside in case he didn't realize that I had already removed Truffle.

Three fire trucks raced down our street as we all waved at them from in front of the building. The place was crawling with firemen from three different precincts, all bearing hatchets. They agreed it was a grease fire but couldn't find the apartment it was coming from.

They questioned us about whether we were cooking. I was the only one who admitted to doing so as I was making pasta, but I had turned off the sauce 1/2 hour before and was only boiling water and making a salad when the alarm went off.

Nobody else seemed to know their apartments had kitchens.

"Somebody's lying," said one of the firemen.

They went up and down the stairs with their hatchets checking every door. The smoke and burning grease smell were very intense all over the building, but they finally determined that there was no danger and left. I would have liked to invite them in for pasta.

These men were great! They came quickly and were very thorough. They were intelligent and pleasant.

It takes a special kind of courage and conviction to become a firefighter and risk danger every day. They couldn't possibly be paid enough for what they do. And their trucks are very cool, too. I would have liked a ride, but still...

I feel so safe now.

Same Ancienne Tale

December is an expensive month. I can't afford to spend money on myself so having just run out of moisturizer, I reverted to my stash of sample products.

The first one I found in my special place for samples was a little tub of cream from Sephora which was not labeled. Since I had no idea what it was, I decided to use it up on my heels, which can always use a softening boost. I have generally soft, smooth skin, but it's clear that when I was assembled, I was mistakenly given someone else's heels, probably those of an alligator.

So I opened the tiny jar and rubbed every bit of cream into my parched heels, which barely noticed. It was then that I remembered what the sample was: Fresh Creme Ancienne, an ultra moisturizer for wealthy skin which sells for $135 an ounce. It also comes in the large economy size at $350 for 3.5 ounces.

Ouch.

Here is the product information: "A modern formulation inspired by the work of Claudius Galenus (Galen), a 2nd century scientist and physician who developed the first known skincare cream and used it as salve to treat burns and wounds, Creme Ancienne combines the core ingredients of Galenus' formula: rosewater, beeswax, and borax with modern day ingredients like, chamomile wax, meadowfoam oil, and vitamin E.

In order to preserve the legacy, craftsmanship, and spirit of this formulation, small batches are prepared entirely by hand in a monastery, with each jar taking up to two days to produce."

You'd think that would make a big difference in my heels, that I would now have heels of silk. But you'd be wrong.

I wonder what else I have in that drawer, and also, what the monks get for their labors. Probably nowhere near as much as the company that sells their product.

I hope they're all tooling around the monastery in fine cars when they're not stirring the pot. Or at least new magic carpets all around.

They must all have great skin.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I Know This Much is True



One of my fondest fantasies is one in which I go to my closet and SURPRISE! There is something new there that I love, just my size, the perfect color.

Sometimes I scrunch my eyes closed before opening the closet door in the way I tried to catch fairies under my pillow as a child. I seem to have misunderstood the tooth fairy legend, for I believed that fairies lived there no matter where my teeth happened to be, and all that was needed to see them was the element of surprise.

If there is something new and wonderful in my closet, I am determined not to let it get away unremarked.

There is never anything there that I didn't put there myself.

Today, Flip found a hooded sweater in his closet, light gray, which he had not seen before. For a moment, I didn't remember it either, and was horrified at the thought that I might have collected someone else's garment at the launderette, perhaps left behind in a dryer, and never noticed.

Then I remembered buying it for him months ago. Of course I bought it. I love hoods.

I'm so glad to have made my fantasy come true for someone else.

I had an experience yesterday that was almost in the realm of fantasy, however.

I was driving to the supermarket and decided to check out the wharf where the Friends of the Library bookstore and my favorite vegetarian restaurant are as there are sometimes events in the large buildings.

There was a craft fair, not the usual tacky baubles but some really nice items which are also sold in elegant boutiques in the city. I found something I loved for one of my family members. (I'm being vague here because you never know who reads this blog.)

I told the craftswoman that I needed to have it, and did she take credit cards?

"No," she said, "I take checks."

"I don't have any with me. I'll have to come back."

"I trust you," she said, smiling. "You can send it to me."

She told me about her years sailing on San Francisco Bay with her husband and children while wrapping my gift beautifully.

I reminded her that I needed her address but she was out of business cards.

She scrawled her contact information on a scrap of paper I produced from my pocket, and we wished each other a happy holiday.

Of course I sent her check off today, but this gift has become a thing of wonder to me because of the luminous spirit of the woman who made it. In my note, I thanked her for her trust in me and in human nature and told her how delightful it was to meet her.

The kindness of strangers is very real and can absolutely be relied upon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Joy To My World!

T'is the season for Christmas brag letters, and they have started to arrive in sickening splendor.

I thought I would write one of my own. I don't know the people I'll be writing about, but since the letters I receive never bear any resemblance to persons living or dead, it shouldn't matter.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS TO ONE AND ALL!

As another joyous year draws to a close, I want to share our good fortune with all you less fortunate beings so that you can eat your collective hearts out rejoice with us.

The first major event of 2007 was that I finally changed my name legally to the name I have used forever, as Donna was not nearly fabulous enough for the exotic creature I have become since I hitchhiked away from the family farm and never looked back. I am now Marcella in both word and deed, the name by which most of you know me, and which suits my fabulousness so perfectly.

In September, James and I bought the ketch of our dreams and look forward to sailing around the world with a small crew of 100, including a manicurist, of course. There was some tough competition for this boat, but we outbid that upstart Donald Trump and the entire Hilton family, and she is now ours. Bon voyage to us, darlings! We have christened her "The Odyssey," of course, with many gallons of the best champagne.

Our eldest son, Lafcadio, the Captain of Industry, was lauded by Business Week as a Superstar Businessman. His Fortune 500 Company is indeed fortunate to have him. His filly, Heart O' Gold, won the Triple Crown this year as well, and his lovely wife, Loma Linda, gave birth to a baby with two heads, both of them gorgeous, proving the old adage that two heads are indeed better than one.

Our second son, Olfactorio, the perfume industry genius, launched his new fragrance in Paris and Milan, named for his loving mama, Marcella. He confided to me that he always knew that if what I have could be bottled, it would make billions. I'm so proud.

Our daughter, Cinderella, who washes dishes at the best five-star restaurant in New York, caught the attention of Georgio Armani and will be modeling in his next show. Even a jealous mother dishpan hands can't keep a beautiful woman down.

Finally, our youngest son, Destino, who is twelve, has received early acceptance to Harvard. By a wonderful coincidence, he also won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer and the Library of Congress Living Legend Award. It's been quite an exciting year for our 7th grader.

2007 saw my wonderful James installed as President of the World, and if I may be immodest for a second, yours truly was featured in a delightful spread in Town and Country for my work with starving orphans in Rwanda. I am told that my generous gifts of designer clothing, worn only once, were much appreciated, and I plan to continue sending them all the jeweled evening purses their little hearts desire.

Our Christmas roundup letter would not be complete without mentioning that our French Poodle, Marie Antoinette, won Best in Show for the 4th time at Westminster this year.

The Ming vase I dug up while vacationing on the beach in Aruba has been added to the vast collections at the Louvre, and darling James surprised me with the Hope Diamond for our anniversary, just a little something to flaunt wear while sailing the Southern Seas in our ketch.

Our main residence, Valhalla, is being photographed for the March issue of Castle Homes Magazine, and we're all so very excited. Our racing silks won the Grand Prix at Monaco in April for the first time, and we donated the specially-built mechanical marvel to the Smithsonian amidst tremendous international brouhaha.

My toenail clippings were sealed into a Space Capsule to be opened in 100 years, along with photographs, of course, and I owe it all to darling James, without whom I would still be a little farm girl from a Red State, trying to become Miss Rheingold. It makes me humble.

From our houses to yours, I wish you all a healthy and prosperous New Year. Ciao, darlings!

Oodles of love,
Marcella

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's a Beautiful Day in this Neighborhood

I dropped Flip and his computer at the Apple store to visit a genius, my all-time favorite job title, at the Genius Bar.

They had no record of his reservation despite having sent us an email confirmation, so he'll have to package it up and return tomorrow.

I picked him up and as we walked to the car....

KaBAMMMMM!

"Oh, look, a Mercedes hit a Jaguar."

For some reason, this struck me as hysterically funny. We continued down the street laughing, loaded Flip's computer into the backseat, and headed for home.

A block away, a Ferrari, red, whipped around the corner and slammed into a Maserati, silver.

KaBAMMMMM!!!

It was getting monotonous already.

Mr. Maserati jumped out of his car and confronted Mr. Ferrari by the throat. I noted that nobody was hurt except for the $thousand or so it would take to fix the dent and drove home counting my blessings, one of which is that I drive a mere Toyota.

Nobody hits Toyotas. They're not good enough.

Later, I headed out again because my cousin who lives near the Canadian border in Maine wrote that she was unable to find latke mix in the local stores. I called to ask her how many boxes she wanted since I had seen it here, although I've never bought any, and went off to be her purchasing agent.

My checker was an elderly Chinese woman with a heavy accent. She lovingly picked up one of my latke boxes and said, "I wen buy matzoh now."

I smiled agreeably, and she continued, "Is hard find Jewish food California."

I wouldn't know. I smiled again.

There was something marvelously surreal about bonding with a Chinese Jewish lady when I am barely Jewish enough to appreciate the name of Andy Kaufman's wonderful character on "Taxi," Latke Gravis, which means, literally, "Fatal potato pancake."

There were no accidents in the parking lot at Safeway.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Whole Truth and Nothing But


Chani at Thailand Gal, one of the people I most admire, has posted this quiz on her blog today. It consists of 35 questions that were originally published in Vanity Fair, and is entitled "Answer as though you are not afraid."

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Understanding my life's purpose and knowing that I am living it.

2. What is your greatest fear?

Not leaving works of art behind when I die, (besides my children.)

3. Which living person do you most admire?

Anyone who is kind, generous, compassionate and loving to all, not just to selected friends and family members

4. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

impatience

5. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Cruelty

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Conformity

7. On what occasion do you lie?

To avoid hurting feelings. I try hard not to lie out of fear and assumed guilt, as I used to.

8. What do you dislike most about your appearance?

Just that I'm visibly aging. And I dislike that this bothers me as it is inconsistent with my belief that people can be beautiful at any age.

9. What is your greatest regret?

Poor judgments I have made because I lacked the self-confidence to know that I deserved better

10. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My family

11. Which talent would you most like to have?

Writing great books that enrich the lives of those who read them

12. What is your current state of mind?

I feel as if I'm waiting for something, but I'm not sure what it is.

13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would be a better listener.

14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving so many dangerous events and unhealthy relationships that I wonder if I am really a cat, and if so, how many of my nine lives I have left.

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

I would like to return as a fully-realized person who is always able to help others in the ways they most need.

16. What is your most treasured possession?

The card that accompanied this year's Mother's Day flowers which said, "Thanks for being our mom. Don't ever stop."

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Being trapped in a body from which I am unable to express my thoughts to others

18. Where would you like to live?

Living in happy circumstances matters more than geographical location. I have lived in many places and put down roots to some degree in all of them because it is my nature.

19. What is your most marked characteristic?

Inquisitiveness

20. Who are your favorite writers?

Too many to mention, also, it depends on my mood.

21. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

The first was Sidney Carton in "Tale of Two Cities." Later, Maggie Tolliver in "The Mill on the Floss" and Jo in "Little Women," Janie in "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Sayuri in "Memoirs of a Geisha." Mama Day in "Mama Day." Lara in "Doctor Zhivago," Rachel in "Moloka'i," Ellen in "Ellen Foster," Vianne Rocher in "Chocolat," Abel in "House Made of Dawn." Jack Burns in "Until I Find You," Lily in "the Secret Life of Bees," Cal in "East of Eden"

22. Who are your heroes in real life?

Those who manage to overcome obstacles and to become their best selves

23. What is it that you most dislike?

Dishonesty and indifference

24. What is your motto?

Live every day as if it were your last.

25. Favorite Journey?

Life

26. What do you value most in your friends?
Loyalty and compassion

27. Which words or phrases do you must overuse?

Nasty words directed at the wall between my apartment and the one next door

28. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Robin Hood

29. What is your greatest extravagance?

Books

30. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

My family of birth: A greater ability to feel and express love
My present family: Only proximity. I would love to live near all my children.

31. What is your favorite occupation?

Writer.

32. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Wisdom

33. What is the quality you most like in a man?

Wisdom

34. How would you like to die?

At a very advanced age but still healthy, mentally and physically, surrounded by my loved ones

35. If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?

A better-realized version of my present entity, one who would be able to fully utilize her talents and make better life choices.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gulls Just Wanna Have Fun



The post-coital noise level next door drove me to seek solace at the waterfront, feeding several partial loaves of bread to seagulls and pigeons.

I was happily ensconced in seagull heaven when two young girls of about 12 and 15 came up to me and ordered me to stop feeding the seagulls.

ORDERED ME TO STOP.

"Why?" I asked as I pitched a really sweet long shot at a gull who swooped and snatched it on the upswing.

"They become aggressive," they said. I kept flinging large crumbs to my winged friends.

These girls, who were both bigger than I, were standing much too close to me. The older one grabbed my bag of bread, and I realized that they were serious.

She flung it over the seawall and I caught it just in time, nearly taking flight myself onto the boulders in the water below.

"Go," I told them tersely. "What gives you the right to take something from a person you don't even know?"

They chanted in unison, "You shouldn't feed seagulls. They become aggressive. It's bad to feed seagulls. BAD PEOPLE feed seagulls."

I kept throwing out my bread. There were about 40 gulls and half as many pigeons surrounding me. I was their holy grail.

"STOP FEEDING THE SEAGULLS!!" they shouted. "STOP NOW!"

"Sorry, girls, I like feeding them," I said.

They kept telling me that I was a bad person, that seagulls became aggressive, at which point, the birds, whipped into a feeding frenzy, beat their wings and screeched for my attention.

Aggressive? I would prefer "hopeful." Or even "forceful."

I love seagulls.

The younger girl began running around the seawall, yelling "Shoo!" at the birds. I asked her to stop. She smugly screamed her "too aggressive" litany. These girls were clearly brainwashed. They had the fervor of religious zealots. Bornagain bird haters. The Anti-Gull.

I had never seen anything like it.

They were practically foaming at the mouth. I considered whether I had ever had a rabies shot in case they bit me.

They kept chasing my birds away. I told them, "You don't have to feed them, but don't spoil it for those who do."

"Why do you feed them?" the older girl asked.

"Because I like to."

"You're a really bad person," she said.

Then the Mother Load lode came along. She was a huge battle ax of a dame who would have looked quite natural in a mustache.

"They're so BIG," she exclaimed. "Biggest seagulls I've ever seen."

"Because she's been feeding them all day," sneered the younger girl venomously.

The mother also scolded me and assured me that she had seen seagulls so aggressive that they took bread right out of people's hands. Kind of like her daughters.

"Thank you for your advice," I told her, still tossing crumbs. I had lots of bread and I intended to use it.

"I'm a sailor so I know what I'm talking about," she said as she swaggered away. She gave me one last scathing look of disgust.

I'm still trying to reconcile their apparent fear of aggression with their own aggressiveness. I cannot imagine why these people thought it acceptable to criticize and insult a perfect stranger and if I were not a big fan of St. Francis of Assisi, I would have directed my friends to poop on their heads and peck their eyes out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Snatch Me Baldheaded


Flip has often remarked that I am at war with the material world.

I prefer to say that I am not mechanically inclined. Fixated on the physical aspects of life, like door jambs, which have always had it in for me, curbs on occasion and low-hanging objects that go bump on my head.

Today, I caught a large section of my own hair in the vacuum cleaner while leaning over to vacuum under a low table. I have long pieces of hair fluttering down my back well below the point it presently grows to. And while I am grateful that this shocking hair loss is not due to chemotherapy or hereditary alopecia, the idea of being partially bald on one side does not enchant me.

I have always been materially challenged. When I was 13, I was lying on the floor under a telephone table chatting with friends when I yanked the cord, bringing the heavy, 50's instrument down on my head, which bled profusely. My mother heard me yell, told the two boys I was talking to that "Susan just dropped the phone on her head," and hung up.

All the years of my childhood, she watched me run into walls like the Helen Keller doll, even though I had excellent eyesight and was, my mother admitted grudgingly but with some wonder, so graceful. She was unable to comprehend how a person who moved gracefully, which by all accounts I did and do, could initiate so many collisions with stationary objects.

It's part of my mystique.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Seven Ways I'm Weird (7)

The delightful and glorious Claudia at On a Limb with Claudia has tagged me with a meme that requires me to tell you seven random or weird facts about myself.


1. When I was ten, I was a Quiz Kid on a show that was broadcast from Rockefeller Plaza in NYC. Every contestant was an "expert" on something. My specialties were grand opera and dogs.

My favorite part was sliding in the lobby on shiny floors which had giant black and white checkerboard squares while my mother begged me to act like a lady. Then I would go upstairs and answer questions.

2. In high school, I hated sit ups and my gym partner, Terri, was terrified of heights so we quietly changed places halfway through our exercises. Terri did her sit ups and then mine while I climbed the ropes for both of us.

The gym teacher never noticed.

3. I lived in an unheated house in Vermont for a year with my daughter, two ponies, a wolf, a dog, a cat and a rabbit. I made a wood stove out of a galvanized garbage can and chopped wood every morning. When the pipes froze in late September, my daughter and I visited a hot tub in Montpelier every day so we could shower, then hauled a dozen plastic gallon jugs with a rope harness three miles up the mountain to our house by foot because our car couldn't navigate the ice.

When we left Vermont, I pulled a loaded two-horse trailer with an old Plymouth Duster to Florida, camped in the Ocala National Forest through two hurricanes, then continued to Western North Carolina, where we lived for several years.

4. At 16, my best friend and I tried to cross Long Island Sound in a rowboat. About halfway to Connecticut, she lost her oar and we were unable to row with only one. A Coast Guard helicopter found us drifting long after dark and sent a boat to rescue us.

5. In my late teens, I regularly bought Ebony Magazine and took it on the subway, hoping to pass for Black. I always felt vaguely uncomfortable being White, as if there had been a mistake which I didn't know how to rectify.

6. When I was 17, I was home alone when a young woman knocked on the door. She said that she was from an orphanage and the orphan who sold the most magazine subscriptions would get a scholarship and a chance at a better life. I sat her at our kitchen table and gave her a veritable feast of everything in the refrigerator, and ordered a dozen magazine subscriptions in my parents' names.

A week later, her picture was in the paper. She and her male accomplice had murdered another young woman in my town and burglarized her home. She was not a 17 year old orphan but a 28 year old serial killer, and I have always wondered if the meal I gave her saved my life.

7. I once stole something. It was a Peruvian wall hanging, which adorns the wall behind my computer now. I hid it for years because I was convinced that the police were looking for me, and it made me so sick to my soul that I never stole anything again.

When my ex-husband happened upon it years later, I told him that I had gotten it "for a very good price."

I have done this meme before as variously ten,nine and eight weird things about myself. I did them at different times and there is some repetition, but I think this one is all new stuff.

I'm betting that after this, there is nothing left that anyone wants to know about me.

I am not going to assign this to anyone specific as there have been so many versions of it in the blogosphere, but if you yearn to do it, please, please do. And let me know!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Misery Loves Company


I curled up fetally on the bed in mid-afternoon because there was a kangaroo inside my head, kicking me to death from the inside. I moaned a few times and asked Flip if he could squeeze out a tear or two, even if he didn't mean it, for me.

I get disgustingly maudlin when I'm sick.

"It would have to be a matter of life or death. If you were dying, I would cry," he said.

"Man, you strike a hard bargain," I said. "Presbyterians got no soul."

I am normally the stoic one around here; he is the whiner. Everything I know about whining I learned from Flip.

Here is how many times I have sneezed today: 4,579,563. 4. 5...

It seemed a good time to make a last feeble attempt to cram a lifetime of unfulfilled wishes into what was undoubtedly my last few days. Hours, maybe. I really hate that I've left so much 'til the last minute.

I told Flip of my lifelong desire to be given a surprise birthday party. I suggested that my next one would be a good place to start.

He said, "You could die on your birthday. That would be a surprise."

Bad move on his part as his birthday was last month, and he didn't die. Yet.

We are no longer speaking. Which he may not have noticed since I have laryngitis and can't speak. I just hope he realizes that if I could, I wouldn't. Not to him, anyway.

When I was five, I had the only birthday party of my childhood. Arlene Davin from down the street was not invited as she was six years older, my brother’s age, but she came anyway and demanded a piece of cake for her mother, the shut-in. She grabbed a knife and took half of my birthday cake, which was beautiful.

My mother had ordered it from George’s Bakery and it had sugary white icing with pink roses and crushed, toasted almonds smooshed all around the sides. There were no leftovers. I had hoped to live off that cake for months. I couldn’t understand why my mother didn’t protect it.

Sometimes I accompanied my mother to a chicken store next to the bakery where they did their own butchering. The floor was thickly covered with sawdust, which I kicked around to entertain myself while my mother interviewed dead chickens for our dinner.

Here's what I have eaten today:

Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle Soup, one can
Red Oval Stoned Wheat Thins, one box
One orange
One banana
Cough drops of every flavor known to woman. (My last cold was in January. This link will explain about the cough drops.)


I am wearing my red flannel pajamas, the only ones I have. My traditional sick gear. By an incredible coincidence, Crankster at Cranky Old Bastard has awarded me the Blog Most Likely To Inspire Pajamas Award. Or something.

He envisions me in something black and dark green with red sequins. Slinky, naturally. Of silk.

Trust me, there is nothing slinky about my old red flannels which get hauled out, moth holes and all, as soon as a cold reaches life-threatening proportions, my fever soars like an eagle, and I am called upon to debate whether I want to be buried or burned.

The CEO of The Morning Meeting has also awarded me the pajama award. There must be something in the air. (Germs.) Wow. Two pairs of pajamas, just when I need them most. Thanks, guys.

I think the idea is to figure out what kind of pajamas would be appropriate for other bloggers.

Chani at Thailand Gal - that's easy. Her pj's would be Thai silk with contrasting scarf over one shoulder, tucked out of reach of the Farang Satay.

Claudia at On a Limb With Claudia would wear her Wonder Woman togs, which I suspect she wears under her street clothes anyway to avoid changing in phone booths.

Josie at C'est La Vie would retire dressed as Botticelli's "Venus on the Half Shell." And she'd look damn good in it, too.

Eslocura at Eslocura's Asylum would wear baby doll pajamas in wine silk with matching ashtray for that ubiquitous cigar.

And David of Witnessing Am I, lucky dog, as the only man at the slumber party, would be in maroon-lined black silk smoking jacket, Gatsby elegant, worn with gray sweats from Gap.

If I don't survive the night, it's been great and I will haunt miss you all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Wonder What Cats Eat in Italy

It has come to my attention that cats do not commit suicide like humans and lemmings. They go to The Court of Last Resort instead.

Flip decided to discipline Truffle-the-Cat, who has learned to ring her own dinner bell by rattling knobs on furniture when she's hungry. She does it increasingly loud and fast if ignored. I think she's brilliant, if annoying, and this performance always makes me laugh.

He covered the preferred knobs with a big pillow and stated that there needs to be a time in which nothing happens before we feed her.

I assured him that she would be most impressed with this little lesson in patience.

She flicked her eyes at the pillow as impersonally as a flyswatter kills a fly, then hightailed it to me without missing a beat because she knows that I control the kitchen while Flip merely has privileges.

I made pasta tonight. This should not be taken lightly, because I make some of the best pasta on the planet, despite the fact that I am not Italian. (Nobody's perfect.)

Truffle was fed canned chicken, of which she is an enthusiastic consumer, a half hour before we sat down to dinner, but immediately began her tired old usual performance, the one in which she pathetically arranges herself in my line of vision looking miserable. Even hungry, when we both know that is not the case.

For Truffle, it is not really about the food, but about being included. She is big on breaking bread with her pride, kibitzing over the bloody carcass and perhaps licking blood off each other's whiskers.

Her feelings are hurt if she is not fed at precisely the moment we eat, even if she is already stuffed to bursting.

It gets old.

She cannot be reasoned with. She is 17 years old and has the social requirements of an antebellum Southern lady. She despises rudeness, and I am guilty of extreme rudeness every time I ignore her pitiful countenance and feed myself.

So I put a little capellini in her bowl, with a small topping of my excellent sauce. From my own plate. I cut it into tiny pieces since she knows nothing about twisting pasta with a fork. That pesky thumb thing again.

I beamed at her encouragingly.

She strolled across the room as casually as possible when you have four legs and a tail, and delicately sniffed her bowl.

She turned her head toward the table, utterly appalled, and made eye contact with me, incredulous that we could eat anything that had no chicken, tuna or mackerel in it. And even more incredulous that I expected her to eat it, too.

She pointed her tail toward the ceiling and with as much dignity as she could muster with a swaying belly, sailed out of the kitchen.

I know I will pay for this fleeting pleasure later, when I am sleeping and she creeps up and lounges on my head, pulling every single hair that grows there.

Meanwhile, back at the blog, Pool at My Reflecting Pool has given me a "Be The Blog" award. I'm not sure how to be a blog, but I guess I could learn.

She says, "This badge is for bloggers who make their blog their own, stay with it, interact with their readers, and have fun!"

Well, thank you, Pool! If not for my readers, I would have stopped blogging long ago.

I started to compile a list of people to give it to and realized that to do so would imply that all the others I read don't do those things. You all do, and are far too numerous to mention. So while I am grateful to Pool for honoring me, I will raise a glass here to every one of you, including Pool, who interact with me and share your wonderful selves in post after post.

Here's to all of us in our delightful and varied community that grows bigger and more inclusive every day! I am so very happy to know you and consider you my friends.

You really must come over for pasta, hold the cat food, soon.

Six Meme

The Individual Voice from her blog of the same name has tagged me with a meme of guilty sixes.

Six has always been my favorite number. I won't say my "lucky number" because it hasn't panned out yet, but still, I like it. I was born in the sixth month, and my birth day is divisible by six. I prefer rounded numbers and letters to angular ones. And then, of course, "guilty" is the name of my blog so I have a lot of stored-up guilt.

SIX GUILTY PLEASURES NO ONE WOULD SUSPECT ME OF HAVING

1. Blogging addictively. Although I'm sure that other bloggers would and do suspect me of this, real life people probably have no idea as I am able to fake normalcy fairly well.
2. Kidnapping abused dogs and finding them better homes
3. Believing that if I only had chocolate cake, everything would be better
4. Being a sticker bush when I am treated as if my needs don't matter
5. Not automatically respecting authority, and in fact, usually distrusting it. My respect has to be earned.
6. Trying to cuss creatively when I feel the need to express myself derisively


SIX GUILTY PLEASURES I WISH I HAD THE COURAGE TO INDULGE

1. Hang gliding
2. Submitting my writing to a publisher
3. Returning to acting
4. Stowing away on a boat to the South Pacific
5. Racing horses
6. Standing up for myself, no matter who I need to confront

SIX PLEASURES I ONCE CONSIDERED GUILTY BUT HAVE EITHER ABANDONED OR MADE PEACE WITH

1. Moving around a lot. I am the kind of person who moves to a place because I can't afford to vacation there. This is probably not optimal.
2. Stealing flowers from public places. I abandoned this one when I grew a conscience.
3. Buying more books and plants than anybody really needs, constantly and without remorse
4. Photographing fathers interacting tenderly with their young daughters
5. Giving stink eye to people who blow smoke in my direction, especially from cigars, and cretins who don't clean up after their dogs
6. Morning coffee to the extent that I get headaches if I don't have any

If you want to do this meme, you're tagged. No pressure. But if you do, please let me know so I won't miss it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Slouching Towards Compassion


Today is the anniversary of my father's death forty-two years ago, and for forty-two years I have struggled to come to an understanding of him and especially, his frequently unsupportive treatment of me. In a post I wrote on this date last year, I tried to explore some memorable aspects of his dramatic personality.

His favoritism of my older brother is legendary in our family, and while much of it was doubtless gender-related, I punished myself further by believing that my brother must be more worthy of our father's love and respect than I. We will never know if he grew up to be a more confident adult because of his early and continuous nurturing, or whether it was simply in his stars.

I think it matters more that we have both survived our lives so far and try to be the best we can than whether one of us had a head start. Any other view is absurd at this point, but it occurs to me that none of us is immune to snobbishness of one kind or another. It's easy to feel condescending toward those who seem not to have suffered as much as we have. It isn't so much a competitive thing, but we tend to believe that people who have had easier lives are incapable of understanding real suffering.

When such unwelcome (and unworthy) thoughts about others invade my consciousness, I remind myself that it's not their fault they haven't suffered. Isn't our main goal a suffering-free world, after all? We don't get to pick and choose who gets that.

We all have our own karma, and there is no worldly explanation for why everything seems to come easily to some people while others never quite manage to have their needs met.

Since truth is where we stand to look at a thing, we can't ever know the suffering in another's heart. A perfect life, seen from afar, is an inaccurate perception at best.


Everyone experiences suffering sooner or later. This provides endless opportunities to practice kindness and compassion, for there would be no other reason for us to witness it.

That said, it probably is harder to come to a place of real compassion from a privileged life than from one of hardship. We have to know how suffering feels before we can recognize it in others. We can't always avoid pain, but we can choose how to respond to it. We can become bitter, envious and stingy with both material things and affection, or we can grow compassion.

Like charity, compassion begins at home. When we are unable to love ourselves, it is impossible to open our hearts and minds to others.

Too many of us have been taught that we must always place others ahead of us, that humility demands we put ourselves down so we will not become immodest or self-important. Perhaps we were trained in these behaviors so our parents could control us more easily. They were the ultimate authority, and we learned early in life that it was easier to go with the program, which does not, however, serve us well as adults.

Perhaps the hardest thing to achieve is a state of balance. Taking care of others while also tending to our own needs. It's a cliche that we cannot give from an empty well, yet we all lead busy lives with many responsibilities and commitments. It's inevitable that someone will be short-changed, and that someone is usually ourselves. It is not possible to maintain such a pace forever, though, and eventually we begin to feel neglected. We turn to others to give us what we need, but they are also overextended and have little to give.

This vicious cycle must be broken because it leads to nothing but wheel spinning and resentment as we begin to measure out what we give to others and what they give us in return, hardly a breeding ground for compassion. Or even worse, we tell people of our sacrifices on their behalf, which completely negates the gift and leaves its recipient feeling terrible and used.

When I was in the Social Work field, some of my colleagues liked to shout their own praises from the rooftops. They seemed to have chosen such work to assuage their own fears that they were not good enough and constantly needed to prove their worth.

Mother Teresa was too busy ministering to her flocks to worry about her efforts being noticed.

Contemplating my father's life and death today, I am struck by the fact that perhaps he taught me my most important lesson: "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" (Rabbi Hillel, born around 65 BCE; many of the teachings attributed to Jesus were in fact borrowed from him.)

Such a complicated business, this compassion, a goal that is never quite achieved. Our work is never done. But is there really a better way to spend our lives than in cultivating it?


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
-Dalai Lama-

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

¡ Ya Vote´!


There was a Mayoral election today in San Francisco. The incumbent, who attempted to make gay marriage legal and admitted to having an affair with his campaign manager's wife, is up against a field of thirteen with names like Chicken, Grasshopper, and Billy Bob, who must be on loan from Tennessee.

I like our Mayor. I think he's a hot stud good guy, and agreed with his stand on gay marriage because I also don't believe that love can or should be legislated.

One of the candidates, an Indy journalist blogger, refused to turn over his tapes of a protest last summer. In a First Amendment showdown, he was jailed on civil contempt charges.

This city can always be counted on as a testing ground for political beliefs.

Another challenger qualified for public financing of his campaign. Since political candidates are not required to refund unused campaign contributions, this has given me an idea: Maybe next time, I'll run for Mayor, too.

We'll need to figure out what I stand for by then. Are you with me? Who's a player?

There was a porta-stall in front of the polling place, which could have been confusing. Visions of Mr. Magoo danced like sugar plums in my head. For some city offices, there was only one candidate, yet we were importuned to vote for a second and third choice, all of whom must be different. It was Communist Russia deja vu, where people were allowed to vote for or against a single candidate.

The best part of the process was feeding our oversized ballots into a big purring machine, a page at a time, and being rewarded with a sticker that says "I voted" in Spanish, English and Chinese.

On the way home, we stopped for espresso and croissants at a coffee shop presided over by an Asian St. Pauli Girl. Va-VOOM. Flip, of course, claimed not to notice the immense welcoming globes bulging out of the barista's tiny apron as she bent over him repeatedly while delivering our order.

I claimed that if his eyesight is that bad, he needs a white cane and a seeing eye dog. Braille lessons. Maybe a horticulture class with emphasis on seedless watermelons.

I tipped her especially well because they can't have been cheap, especially if she bought them by the yard.

I Have Given My Life to Laundry


I decided to try a launderette nearer to home than the one I've been going to. I was delighted that I was the only customer in the place.

After I had used up both my quarter rolls, I tried to get change of a ten dollar bill in the change machine, but it wouldn't work even though my bill was almost mint-crisp with no dogeared corners.

The place had a dry-cleaning plant in the back, so I went to the window and tried to get someone's attention. It took awhile because the attendant was on a smoke break and didn't want to be bothered.

I explained the problem, and she asked if I was doing laundry there. (They don't make change for mere interlopers.) I said that I was. She grudgingly dragged out a rusty can that looked as if it should hold bait, and started piling quarters on the counter. I wouldn't have believed it possible to count money in a hostile manner.

She clearly hated me with the hate of many generations. Every one of her ancestors was present and hating me through her. She was an ICBM of hatred, beamed directly at my heart.

I thanked her for the change. She scowled at me in response and muttered something I didn't understand. Which was probably just as well.

The front door was open and a Nor'easter was whipping through the place. I was wearing a thin sweater and had wet hair. It was freezing, so I got up and closed the door.


A man who also worked there immediately came out from behind the counter and yanked it open.

It was hard to turn the pages of my book because my fingers were stiff and turning blue. I asked him if it was all right to shut the door.

He screamed at me in mostly unintelligible syllables, the gist of which was that it was stuffy in the back so the front door had to remain open. I doubted that because there was a door open in the back and the temperature was subarctic, so when he returned to the back area, I closed the door again.

He barreled out of his den of iniquity, swearing at me in Chinese, and opened it again. He was waving his arms menacingly, and to make matters worse, I had already spent more money than the overpriced place I usually go to because the dryers were set so low. I was covered in goose bumps.

I do not have a natural affinity for servility, and the idea of actually rewarding such gratuitous nastiness with even more money was untenable.

I loaded up my still-wet laundry, piled it into my three baskets, and drove to the usual place which seemed to be bathed in a golden light.

Why had I never noticed this before? The door was firmly closed, and the warmth of the dryers melted my icy bones like an embrace.

I lugged in a huge stack of magazines to donate, which I hadn't wanted to leave at the other place.

The owner, an elderly Chinese man named Ben, came in to collect his quarters and gave me a sweet-scented flower from his garden.

"I hoped you would be here," he said.

With one act of kindness, he erased my bad experience from the other place.

It seems that love really is stronger than hate. Who knew?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallow's Eve

In San Francisco, it's hard to tell who is in costume and who is not.


On any given day, it is not unusual to see people with piercings, tattoos, and multicolored hair, wearing their entire wardrobes at one time. Some are homeless, but others have adopted a nouveau 60's lifestyle to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

The Castro, San Francisco's famous gay district and the most colorful part of the city, has always had a gigantic parade and party on Halloween. This year, the city, in a most cruel and misguided move, canceled the entire celebration and even stopped running public transportation to the area at 8:00 p.m.

Most of the trick or treaters in my neighborhood were dressed as little angels and bunny-wunnies, which is not exactly my idea of scary Halloween costumes, but most offensive was the person dressed as a Native American dancer.

Fancy Dancing, as it is called, is both cultural and spiritual. There are competitions at pow wows, but in typical Native American fashion, nobody really loses as all are praised and admired for their unique style which expresses their own relationship with the Creator.

Such trivializing of a great and rich culture by turning it into a Halloween costume is nothing new, but remains as tasteless as ever.

There seemed to be an abundance of baby hookers and pimps on the candy trail, which led to the obvious conclusion that all their parents had gone brain dead on the same day.

Flip wanted to don his pig head and go out. He reminded me that I still have my wolf mask, tail and red cape from a party we attended a few years ago, but I declined. I just wasn't feeling the love.

Maybe it's the Shingles. Or maybe I have simply outgrown Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

S.O.S.


My friends, we have another animal rescue issue before us. My daughter in New York, who is involved in cat rescue, informs me that the Port Authority of NY and NJ began trapping feral cats at JFK Airport this past weekend with the plan of exterminating them. Rescuers were barred from feeding or attempting to rescue the cats and were threatened with arrest by federal wildlife officials from USDA.

In addition, a Port Authority spokesman admitted to the NY Post that his agency had lied when telling the public last Friday that the cats would all be adopted into good homes. The Post confirmed that the cats would instead be put down immediately.

The Port Authority claims that the cats pose a risk to aviation because their food supposedly attracts seagulls. The truth is that JFK Airport is located near the ocean and has mountains of trash strewn all over the grounds, which attracts seagulls. An insignificant amount of cat food is not a factor, and in fact, cats are usually blamed for killing birds, not attracting them.

The only appropriate solution to the problem is trapping by experienced feral cat workers, neutering, and returning to their chosen home where they will continue to be monitored. Only through sterilization and long-term monitoring by caretakers (Trap-Neuter-Return or "TNR") can the cat populations be reduced.

WHAT WE CAN DO NOW:

Phone, fax or email the people listed below and demand that the Port Authority suspend the trapping immediately and meet with representatives of the NYC Feral Cat Initiative and the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals to come up with a humane, effective feral cat management plan.



WHO TO CONTACT:

Anthony Shorris
Executive Director
Port Authority of NY and NJ
(212) 435-7271
ashorris @panynj.gov

Shawn Larenti, Director
Government and Community Relations Dept.
Port Authority of NY and NJ
(212) 435-6903
slarenti @panynj.gov

Charles E. Meara
NYC Community Relations Dept.
Port Authority of NY and NJ
(917) 596-0492
cmeara @panynj.gov

Port Authority Corporate Headquarters
(212) 435-7000 (get a live person on the line and
demand to speak to someone about the JFK situation)

Susan Baer (let's try reasoning with her again, this time not accepting Port Authority lies)
General Manager, JFK Airport
718-244-3501
sbaer @panynj.gov

TALKING POINTS: PORT AUTHORITY KILLS CATS AND THE TRUTH


LIE #1: "The cats will all be adopted into good homes."

THE TRUTH: Feral cats are unadoptable and are usually put down immediately when brought to shelters, as Port Authority plans to do. Port Authority ADMITTED LYING to the public about this in the NY Post article, "Frequent Liars", published Saturday, October 27, 2007.

LIE #2: "Feeding the cats attracts seagulls and the birds are an aviation threat."

THE TRUTH: Seagulls are at the airport because JFK is NEAR THE OCEAN!! and because there are tons of trash strewn about the airport's grounds. There is not enough cat food to attract large numbers of birds and there is no food left anyway when the cats finish eating. Cats hunt birds, they don't attract them. There is ZERO evidence proving a link between the presence of cats at an airport and an aviation risk. DON'T BE GULL-IBLE!!!

LIE #3: "We can achieve a cat-free airport."

THE TRUTH: You can't wipe out the presence of feral cats in a 5000 acre area in which new, unneutered cats are constantly being abandoned or lost and then reproducing, and where there are plentiful food sources.

Only Trap-Neuter-Return can, over time, reduce the numbers. The Port Authority's extermination effort is futile and will only result in new furry faces, not fewer. The killing is senseless and cruel.

For more on the NYC Feral Cat Initiative:
http://www.nycferalcat.org

For more on the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals:
http://www.animalalliancenyc.org

For more on Neighborhood Cats:
http://www.neighborhoodcats.org