Thursday, February 26, 2015

Presented without comment

Overheard at work today:

"That's no emergency! Boy stuck in a drainpipe- that's an emergency! This is no Baby Jessica!"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Uniquely Portable Magic

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Stephen King

My friend Sheri invited me to hear Judy Blume speak down in PA where she lives with her husband and her sinfully adorable beagle, Olivia, who looks like a cross between my Minchy and Frances. It's not till June but I am so unspeakably excited.

Judy Blume was one of my favorite authors growing up and she holds a special, very dear place in my heart. The kids in her
books were so real- warts and all- and she wrote so honestly about them. It's easy to forget how revolutionary that was when she was first published.

Coming just before this was the news of Harper Lee publishing her second novel 50+ years after To Kill A Mockingbird. I must admit, I was worried that this was some cobbled-
together half-hearted sequel, a revisitation of characters who lived best in memory. I was quite pleased to learn that Go Set A Watchman, the new novel, is not such a thing at all. It's Lee's first version of To Kill A Mockingbird, written as an adult Scout returns home to Maycombe and Atticus. Her editor suggested she focus more on the past and on Scout as a child, and To Kill A Mockingbird was born. Go Set A Watchman was lost in a drawer somewhere until recently- Lee herself admits she thought the manuscript was lost forever. Doing some writing myself and seeing how my own story has changed and twisted and turned as I've gone along, I'm thinking this will be at least a fascinating look into how her story evolved. Like my friend Eric said, even if it's crap, it'll be better than most of what's out there now anyway.

I have a very special fondness for "Nelle." (Did you know she was named after a favorite aunt? Nelle, apparently, is for Ellen, but spelled backward.) I can't really think of Harper Lee as anyone but Nelle after seeing a wonderful documentary called "Hey Boo" celebrating the book's fiftieth anniversary. The documentary featured lots of interviews with Lee's sister Alice, who only refers to her as Nelle. (And has one of the most startling voices you'll ever hear.) Alice, bless her, was a
Alice on the left, Nelle Harper on the right
lawyer who still worked for the firm where their father had practiced until she was in her 100s. She also guarded her sister- and her sister's work- fiercely and some folks have been wondering if Alice's death last year is the reason we're seeing this new work.

I've always loved how independent Nelle is- how she's refused to fit in or be assimilated or be conventional. A friend of mine once criticized how reclusive she is- who says no to attention? Everybody wants attention, right? Why, she could be out making millions, getting guest spots on TV! I very much disagreed. I think Nelle is the example of how to do it right: give the world one absolutely perfect piece of art, then keep the rest of your life for yourself. I admire that way of thinking so much and I hope I get the chance to emulate it someday.

I also love the story of how Lee came to finally write what became To Kill A Mockingbird. She worked as a ticket agent for an airline in New York. For seven years, she wrote fiction whenever she could, mostly nights and weekends, but didn't publish anything. In 1956, she received the best Christmas gift ever. Her friends, Michael and Joy Brown, gave her a check for the amount of her salary for one year with a note that said, "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She made good on that opportunity. (Click the link above to read Lee's essay about the gift. It's wonderful.)

So it's a pretty awesome time for readers. Which makes me very happy. Reading is one of my most favorite things to do, and my oldest pasttime.  I learned to read when I was about two and a half. It wasn't taught; for me it was as natural as learning to walk. My mother says I just picked up the TV Guide one night and started reading the listings to her. When she and my dad told my dad's beloved grandmother, Mimi, she was
skeptical. They gave me one of my books and I read it out loud to her. She wasn't falling for it. Little kids memorize their favorite books and then recite them, pretending they're reading, she said. My dad shrugged and handed me a newspaper. She was a believer when I started reading headlines about Nixon to her.

I have never been able to imagine a world without reading. I found it mind-boggling that it was something others had to learn, and that some had great difficulty with. It came so quickly and automatically to me, that it never occurred to me that a process might be involved. One of the reasons I love Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird so much is that she shares that singular experience: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” I went to graduate school to study literacy primarily out of curiosity- I wanted to know how people learned how to read when it wasn't second-nature. (I wound up with masters' degrees in elementary education and reading education instead, but that's beside the point.) I still find the arguments over which methodology is best to teach reading quite pointless. Reading is such an individual thing- it seems fairly ridiculous to think there is only one prescribed way to acquire it.

I'm just about due for a library binge and I'm excited to think about the armfuls of books I'll toddle out
carrying. There is no better way to get through these dismal, gray, bitterly cold days than with a good thick book and a dog curled up on your lap. After all, like Groucho Marx said, "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Batman Jose & Polar Bear Ninjas

The Nike Training Club app I use to work out has this feature that allows you to use your own playlist and music during your workouts.  This is great because one of the biggest problems I've ever had with workout

videos was the terrible music that accompanied them. The NTC workouts are hard enough without having to deal with Katy Perry or Ariana Grande or that Bruno Mars fella who, as much as I can tell, just wants to be Michael Jackson. If I'm going to struggle through wood chops and push ups and planks, it has to be some angry punk or high-octane Bruce Springsteen. Iggy Pop, not Iggy Azalea.

I know. "Squat Party" makes me giggle too.

But I also like some 60s music.
? and the Mysterians' 96 Tears, the Kinks' All Day and All of the Night, Eddie Floyd's Knock on Wood, even some Jerry Lee Lewis works for me.

The other day I was struggling (and swearing, I freely admit) through a medieval torture device called 'plank walks' when Jay & the Americans' Come a Little Bit Closer started playing. I misheard the lyric I always get wrong and started laughing, collapsing on the floor. (I waited for the Nike lady who periodically shouts out encouragement or directions to scold me.) It's one of my favorite mondegreens.

A mondegreen is a misheard lyric in a song. The term comes from an old song which contains the lyric "They slew the Earl of Moray and laid him on the green." It was commonly misheard as "They slew the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen."

The correct lyric in the song I was listening to is "She belonged to that man, Jose."
What I hear is, "She belonged to Batman Jose."

It's silly; mondegreens often make no sense, but that's what's fun about them, I think.

One of the most famous mondegreens is "S'cuse me while I kiss this guy" instead of Jimi Hendrix's intended "S'cuse me while I kiss the sky." It shares its name with a website collecting submitted mondegreens and a book as well.

Here are some of my favorites:

 "I want a piece of date bread."

(The Ramones- I Wanna Be Sedated)

 "You make the rice. I'll make the gravy. But it just may be some tuna fish you're looking for."

(Billy Joel- You May Be Right)

 "See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen."

(ABBA- Dancing Queen)

 "Steak and a knife. Steak and a knife."

(Bee Gees- Stayin' Alive)

 "Let's pee in the corner, Let's pee in the spotlight."

(R.E.M.- Losing My Religion)

 "This is the dawning of the Age of Asparagus"

(Fifth Dimension- Age of Aquarius)

"Cheese corn."

(Hall & Oates- She's Gone)

 "There's a bathroom on the right."

(Creedence Clearwater Revival- Bad Moon Rising)

"I've got shoes, they're made of plywood."

(Grease soundtrack, You're the One That I Want)

I think the best part of mondegreens is imagining someone singing them- their head thrown back, totally getting into the song, then singing lines like "Hit me with your pet shark!" (Hit Me With Your Best Shot.)

In the book I'm writing, one of my main characters is always mishearing things, lyrics especially, and I've really enjoyed writing the scenes where she's caught singing the most wrong, absurd lyrics possible.

Do you have a misheard lyric that confounded you? Share it in the comments if you like.

Mine for years was Bobby Brown's Every Little Step, a song I didn't even like, but I was totally befuddled by the line I heard as "No matter what your french fries tell ya, we were made to fall in love." I had this image of an obviously mentally imbalanced girl who took dating advice from food.

Kind of like Lane Meyer in Better Off Dead when he's left to his own devices in the kitchen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Olive You A Latte

I love love love Valentine's Day, for reasons I've written about at length here before.
I love the candy, I love seeing red and pink everywhere, I love the flowers, but I especially love the cards.
I still have the card from my first valentine's flowers (from my daddy) and one of my most prized possessions is the Valentine's Day card my parents gave me after our house fire when I was ten.

But there's nothing like a good pun to really make a Valentine's Day card awesome.
Punny cards have been around forever, but some plays on words haven't held up to the test of time. Or in some cases, our culture has changed enough to alter the meanings and make what was intended as an innocent sentiment considerably darker and inappropriate. Or just plain offensive. I came across some truly horrifying cards when I was trolling for vintage valentines; I only included one here, and it's a milder one. No need to taint the holiday with that kind of garbage.

And if you're looking for some cool valentines cards for your "significant otter," check out He has an awesome line of valentines cards with famous dictators ("Leon Trotsky Thinks You're Hotsky") along with historical & literary figures, like the Harriet Tubman and Vladimir Nabokov ones seen here.

But first have a laugh (and maybe grow a little uncomfortable) with these odd and inappropriate vintage valentines.



Don't you need somebody to shove

Fifty shades of valentines?

Wow. Threats. How romantic.

That's hardly the artwork I would expect to go with that sentiment.

Current events in the news make this one wince-worthy.



You're acting like a brat

Is this some kind of meat-on-meat violence depicted here?
This hot dog is not going to give up easily.
By the expression on its "face," you can tell that wiener is motivated to interrogate.
Not sure what the jar of pickles is about to do here. I'm hoping it's just going to slather the hot dog with that mustard-coated knife. But they both look way too weirdly excited for it to be that innocent.
I hope he's sharing those "weenies" with his little bird friend.
Because he sort of looks like the kind of kid who might add a little "poultry" to his barbecue.




Pleased to meat you

Anyone else hear the echoes of Ralphie's family from A Christmas Story scream-laughing over their Christmas Goose at the Chinese restaurant when you saw this one?
Hello, Valentine. Goodbye, right thumb.
I'd keep a close eye on that wee farmer whose heart you're tromping on, Bessie.

I fear the wurst for this valentine.


 Come out of your shell, valentine



Kale me maybe



Just plain weird and/or creepy

It meant something different back then. I hope.

How long before this dummy loses patience with this kid? I think he's 3/4 there already.
Cute sentiment. Terrifying execution.
Wow. Did people really give insults to one another on Valentine's Day?
Story of my life.



And presented without comment:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The importance of a toothbrush

I can't find a way to write this without sounding like a smug a-hole, but in the past couple weeks, I've been kind of overwhelmed with people telling me they've seen me on tv. My aunt and uncle in Florida, my cousin in North Carolina, a friend in Seattle, high school classmates, college pals, colleagues, even residents at work have told me they've been seeing the ad I appear in for the Red Cross lately.

I'm not a person who likes the spotlight; I'm uncomfortable receiving attention, so hearing people say, "I saw you on tv!" is kind of discomfiting. Even more perplexing are the people who only caught the end of the ad or didn't hear most of it- one person asked if I knew I was on tv, another asked if I was in the ad because I'd been through a fire, and the best is my dad, who saw it while I was briefly at their house and yelled at me to come in the other room and check myself out. I declined and assured him I was well aware of what I'd been saying on national television.

Here's the back story- a couple years ago, the Red Cross put out a call asking for people's "Red Cross Stories." I wrote a little paragraph about how for years I kept the box from the comfort care kit I received after my childhood house fire as a place to keep my treasures and remember the goodness of people. The Red Cross folks liked it, interviewed me on the phone, ran background checks to make sure my story was legit, then asked if I'd like to have my story be part of their campaign. They sent a photographer to take some pictures and gave me a package with a video camera and instructions. (See video above. My package on our filthy stoop is in there.) I filmed a little bit, went home and interviewed my family and tried to get some shots of the neighborhood where our house was. I included some photos of the aftermath of the fire and sent the whole kaboodle off to the Red Cross.

They first ran the ad about 3 years ago, as well as posting it on their website. There were a lot of other Red Cross stories that were really gripping- people who survived floods, received a blood donation, saved a life thanks to CPR and First Aid classes, or survived other disasters, including house fires. (I recommend checking them out.) This past fall, they asked me to sign another release to keep using it. I figured it was something they did automatically. Then about a month ago, they started really churning this sucker out, and apparently, my little video is now everywhere.
My sister's room

Which I'm okay with (obviously, or I wouldn't have signed up for this) since it's a good cause. There have been a bunch of really terrible house fires in our area recently and hearing people's struggles to get back on their feet reminded me of how important the work the Red Cross does is. Most folks think if you have home insurance, you're set. Have a fire? Lose everything? Well, too bad about the memories and keepsakes, but insurance should replace it all, right? Not even close. For one thing, no insurance will ever replace everything you had, and it's important to remember that it's the insurance company claims adjuster's job to give as little of the insurance company's money to you as possible.

Note the melted light fixture
You have to fight tooth and nail to have covered what you've been paying all along to have covered. Our house was so unstable after the fire that it was condemned and had to be torn down, no chance of renovating or even rebuilding. Yet the claims adjuster on our case insisted the house was not a total loss and refused to pay out what we should have received for a home that was no longer habitable according to the police, fire department, etc. So the help the Red Cross provides is more important than you might think.

When I went to my parents' house with my Red Cross video camera and got my family all in one room
1st floor smoke & water damage
to talk about our memories of that night, I learned a lot of details I hadn't known before. My dad talked about standing out on our lawn in that terrible cold in the middle of the night watching his home burn down, and all of a sudden there was a guy all bundled up against the cold standing next to him. It was Gene Jacobs, the director of our local Red Cross. He asked my dad if we had a place to stay, and reassured him that they could take care of that for us if we needed it. And he handed him a check to help us get through the next couple days as we figured out what to do next. It was probably about 2am on a Sunday in February, on one of the coldest nights on record in years. He easily could've waited until the sun came up or sent someone else in his place. But instead, he got out of his warm bed, bundled up and went to stand on that snow-crusted lawn covered with firefighters' gear and burned stuff that had been thrown out the windows, to stand with my dad and offer him not only tangible proof that there were people looking out for us, but his own support and concern for us as well. I think that's utterly amazing.

My bedroom
So, whether you liked the ad or just got excited to see someone you know on tv, do something to make it count. Make a gift to your local Red Cross. (I know the commercial is for the national, but I believe in keeping your money in your own community.) If you've got a couple bucks to spare, let them use them to help out your friends and neighbors when trouble hits.

Because there are a lot of folks- and probably more as winter goes on- who will be standing on their own lawns looking at a burned-out building that used to be their home and wondering how on earth they're going to get back to normal. Give so that they have someone standing by their side in the cold, offering help and support. Give because there's another little girl trying to sleep on a neighbor's couch but wide awake from the trauma she's just been through and only starting to realize that everything she's ever called her own in her whole short life is gone. Give so that when she receives that comfort care box, toothbrush and all, she gets that physical reminder that not only will life be normal and good again, but that people are good, too.

PS- Don't forget you can volunteer or donate blood too!