Saturday, May 29, 2010

Love 'Em and Leave 'Em

Today I attended an estate sale in a mansion 1/2 block from San Francisco Bay. Although it was within easy walking distance of my home, I do not live in such a place. The views from its high vaulted windows, framed in wrought iron, were of the postcard scenery for which this city is famous: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Marin headlands, and the bay clotted with weekend sailboats of every color.

There were many huge and tasteful pieces of furniture, none of which I could afford or have room for, but I was enchanted with an English enamel walking stick decorated with flowers in my favorite colors. What is more, it was the perfect height for me, which is unusual. I love canes because they are often handmade, carved with fanciful animal heads in beautiful woods. I always admire them in antique stores but do not own any. I have often thought they would be a delightful item to collect.

The one I saw today was affordable, also unusual, but I am superstitious that owning a cane would cause me to need one to get around. At present I do not, although I have osteoarthritis (maybe) and bursitis in both hips, plus fibromyalgia. Thus far, my determination to stay active has made navigational aids unnecessary. I would like to keep it that way.

I reluctantly placed the beautiful cane back in its place next to the grandly carved wooden banister and strolled home along the bay, practicing the air guitar version of walking with a cane. They say practice makes perfect, so if the time ever comes that I need one, my muscle memory will already possess the skills. All I will need to do is choose my weapon.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I couldn't help staring. I know better. My mother taught me manners, but the woman behind the counter at Nordstrom was shocking. She looked exactly like Jocelyn Wildenstein, aka "the cat woman." Seriously. I needed my sunglasses tightened so they would stop sliding down my nose. She offered to call the sunglass person but I knew she was probably on her break, so I left them with cat woman.

She caught me staring. "You look like a famous model," I blurted, "but I can't think of her name."

"Everyone says that, but nobody can remember who it is," she replied. "I have one of those faces..."

Oh, trust me, Sweetheart. You do NOT have one of those faces. Any real face you ever had is long gone. But nobody wants to invoke the "W" word.

Her eyes were pulled back so tightly that she probably can't drive without a seeing eye dog, and her fishy, collagen-bloated lips must make eating impossible. To say that she resembled an astonished alien slanders aliens. Her long platinum hair was not long for this world.

I don't get it. We all want to look beautiful and stay youthful as long as possible, but trusting our faces to Dr. Frankenstein is insane and has become epidemic. Such addictions used to be a malady of the rich and famous, but now even people in minimum wage jobs are saving every penny to buy themselves a new look and hopefully, a better life.

Call me crazy, but such drastic, permanent changes would feel disloyal, even ungrateful. I am also curious about how the natural process of aging looks as I journey through it.

While there are extremely talented cosmetic surgeons out there, even Hollywood stars often end up looking worse than they did before their nips and tucks. Apparently, there are no guarantees, and that's too much of a crap shoot for me. I would rather look old than deformed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tiffany-Brittany-Ashley-Crystal-Brandi and the Dinosaur Dung

On the sidewalk, I encountered a young woman with a large, squatting dog on leash. The dog was producing the biggest turds I have ever seen, and I have had many very large dogs - and a wolf. I've had ponies. This dog was a freak of nature. After he had filled most of the concrete squares within a two-block radius, she yanked his leash and began to sashay away, flipping her voluntary-blond hair.

"You're not going to clean that up?" I asked.

In a voice so impossibly high that only dogs could hear it, she wailed, "I don't have anything with me."

"Use your hands, bitch" was the appropriate answer, but I was holding my breath against the odor - not the best way to have a conversation. She pranced on her way, dragging poor Fido, who must have weighed at least 20 pounds less than he had a few minutes before.

So here's the thing: If you're walking a dog in the city, you should be carrying plastic bags for poop scooping. It's the law. Unless you have no intention of abiding by it, which clearly she didn't. Nobody loves dogs more than I, but many dog owners seem to think they're exempt from the responsibility that goes with it. I'm not feeling the love right now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And She's Not Even Running for Office

Journalist Joe McGinniss, who is working on an unauthorized biography of Sarah Palin, has moved next door to his subject.

The Palins had just returned to Alaska after attending rallies in other states. She went outside in shorts and tank top to enjoy a little sun, a rarity in the far north, and noticed a strange man on her neighbor's deck. Her husband walked over to introduce himself and learned that the "peering stranger" was the journalist, normally based in Massachusetts, who has rented the house for five months.

I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, and that's a colossal understatement because I try to keep my sailor's parrot rants to a minimum on this blog. But I really think this is taking First Amendment rights too far. While McGinniss is not breaking any laws, he is totally intruding on her privacy and her family's. His action offends my sense of the sanctity of ones home. While his dedication to his work is impressive, scrutinizing anyone and her entire family under a daily microscope is wrong, no matter who she is or what she stands for, and is tantamount to stalking.

It makes me uneasy because he could as easily be a sniper. We live in a free country and I am extremely grateful for this in all its ramifications. But I think that with such freedom should come responsibility not to abuse it by trampling on the rights of others. The families of celebrities should not be considered fair game, or fodder for a journalist's pen. A line has been crossed here, but it is admittedly a nebulous one. McGinnis has done nothing explicitly "wrong" but implicitly he has committed a wrong, in my view, no matter how indefinable it is.

It's easy to write off his actions as amusing if one does not care for Palin. But if we truly believe in the equality we tout so proudly, it must apply across the board, both to those we like and those we do not. What are your thoughts on this? I'd really like to know because I am always open to other views. Let's talk.

UPDATE: May 27 - Mr. Sarah and his buddies have erected a 14-foot fence around the property. Now McGinnis will have to buy a giant crane.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sometimes I Despair of my Species ever Becoming Human

A gay couple in Malawi, arrested the day after their engagement party in December, was convicted today of unnatural acts and gross indecency under laws dating from the colonial era. The two men face fourteen years in prison for the offense of being gay. The government, backed by Malawi church leaders, says they broke the law because homosexuality is "sinful," and the West should not be allowed to use its financial power to force Malawi to accept homosexuality. Malawi relies on donors for 40 percent of its development budget.

Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African nations, and even in South Africa, the only African country that recognizes gay rights, there have been numerous rapes of lesbians. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that could sentence homosexuals to life in prison and includes the death penalty for "repeat offenders."

Quite apart from the obvious inhumanity of such arrests, it sounds the death knell in the fight against AIDS as people with HIV, the virus that causes it, are afraid to seek treatment. In Malawi, nearly 1 million people, an estimated 12 percent of the population, are living with HIV.

It seems to me that if the Malawi government wants to make this a political rather than human rights issue, the only way we can help is to withdraw financial aid until they abandon such brutal and ignorant practices. It's impossible to understand how those whose belief in God justifies cruelty fail to realize that if there is a God, He/She made everybody, not just heterosexuals, and they are the ones committing grave sins.

"If it were possible to cure evils by lamentation and to raise the dead with tears, then gold would be a less valuable thing than weeping."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Softly, I Will Leave You Softly

We have lost one of the great ladies of the world. Lena Horne has died at the age of 92, and while that is a respectable age, I really thought we'd have her forever.

Born in 1917 to a middle-class family in Brooklyn, NY, she joined the chorus line of Harlem's famous Cotton Club as a teenager. Like all the clubs of the day, the performers were black, the audiences white. In the 1940s, she was the first black performer to play the Copacabana nightclub and to sing with a major white band. She was equally at home singing blues, jazz, and Broadway standards.

She stood out from the beginning as an amazingly gifted singer with impossibly perfect features. She later went to Hollywood, but the only roles for blacks were either servants or savages. The studios, mired in racism, had no idea what to do with an elegant, classy, sophisticated and immensely talented young woman who clearly did not belong in either category. Other black performers like Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson had gone to Europe to land the movie roles and fame they were denied in Hollywood. Finally, Lena Horne got her first movie break with the all-black musical, "Stormy Weather." She appeared in several other films but only in musical numbers which could be cut without affecting the story line when screened in the South.

In the 50's, Ms. Horne starred on Broadway in "Jamaica" with songs by Harold Arlen and an ensemble which included Alvin Ailey, Ossie Davis and Adelaide Hall. In 1978, she played Glinda the Good in "The Wiz," directed by Sidney Lumet, her son-in-law, and starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. The world had finally evolved enough that Diana Ross achieved the superstardom denied Lena Horne because of widespread prejudice in the entertainment field.

In the 1960s, she was one of the most visible celebrities in the civil rights movement, joining 250,000 others in the March on Washington in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. I was also there, and it remains one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Ms. Horne also spoke at a rally that year with Medgar Evers, another civil rights leader who was assassinated a few weeks later.

“I wouldn’t trade my life for anything,” she said, “because being black made me understand.”

When she was in her 60's (and still radiantly beautiful,) she made several enchanting appearances on Sesame Street, followed by a one-woman Broadway show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," for which she won two Tony awards. Her signature song, Stormy Weather, was the perfect analogy for her life because she weathered the brutal and soul-destroying storms of bigotry and eventually garnered the accolades she richly deserved.

Lena Horne was so unique and special that attempts to describe her become mere cliches. Perhaps she said it best herself when she remarked, “I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

Truer words were never spoken. Lena Horne, thank you for sharing you with us for so long. We will miss you.

"After all the years
I can't bear the tears to fall
Softly as I leave you there"

from "Softly as I Leave You" by Lena Horne

Thursday, May 06, 2010


A 13-story mosque will be built on the site of a building damaged by the airliners that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed thousands of people on September 11, 2001. Two Muslim organizations have partnered to open the mosque and cultural center at a cost of $100 million to create a venue for mainstream Islam to worship in lower Manhattan. The intended location is two blocks from Ground Zero.

Cordoba House, a glass and steel building, will include a 500-seat performing arts theater, a swimming pool and basketball court. 2,000 Muslims are expected to pray at the mosque every Friday.

I surprise myself with viscerally negative feelings about their choice of location. I know it is only real estate and that most spiritual disciplines urge people to move on, but this is hallowed ground to many whose loved ones died on that day. At best, it seems like tasteless nose thumbing at Americans and at worst, an attempt to replace our native cultures, square foot by square foot. In fact, the planners hope to begin construction on the 10th anniversary of the attacks that changed America forever. And that's just wrong.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Is Weirdness Genetic?

The mummified body of a baby, kept as a family heirloom for nearly a century, is missing.

Charles Peavey of Concord, NH, present owner of the small mummy, said it was possibly the newborn son of a great-great-uncle which has been in his family for over 90 years. Police learned of it in 2006 after Peavey's 4-year-old niece mentioned it at her day care center. Authorities collected the 18-inch mummy for testing, and Peavey went to probate court to get custody of it. The tests concluded that the baby died of natural causes shortly after his birth decades ago but failed to prove he was related to Peavey. A judge ordered the remains buried, and it was placed in an unmarked grave in the children's section of a local cemetery where stuffed animals and other toys decorate the grave sites.

This week, it was discovered that the grave had been exhumed and the corpse of "Baby John" removed from his casket, which was reburied. Disturbance of a grave and abuse of a corpse are felonies. Peavey denies any knowledge of what happened and has not been charged with a crime.

Relatives had treated the mummified infant as a family member, giving it cards on holidays and a dried fish as a pet.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

So Nice to Have a Man around the House

Disney has introduced a new fairy on its website, Pixie Hollow - a dude named Slate. He is a variation on Tinker Bell from "Peter Pan," J.M Barrie's famous play and subsequent novel, "Peter Pan and Wendy."

The androgynous new character is not called a "fairy boy," however. "Sparrow Man" is the preferred term, and now both genders are represented on the website which allows children to choose a flying avatar. Just as Barbie had to have Ken for that touch of um, reality, the girl fairies needed some masculine energy in the Hollow. With big wings.

Now boys can openly log onto Pixie Hollow without embarrassment, and children may choose which gender they want representing them. It also increases the wardrobe possibilities - Slate has some very cool hats. I'd like to believe that making toys and games non-gender specific will lead to true equality in the home and the workplace where people are free to pursue their interests without fear, and accepted as more than their reproductive roles. A concept which is long and painfully overdue.