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!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Baby, you can drive my car… but maybe you shouldn't

When I started my current job about 5 1/2 years ago, one of the things I was most excited about was that I could use the city bus system to get to work. I tried it a couple times my first winter when the snow was really bad. The next year, I decided to completely give my car up during the winter and if it went well, I'd sell my car in the spring. I haven't had a car of my own in about 4 years and it's been awesome.

Up until recently, the bus picked me up just past my driveway at about
8:52am and delivered me to the front door at work about 3 or 4 minutes later. And did the same in reverse bringing me home. The total cost of my daily commute was about $2.66. (The bus route has changed starting this month, but just adds a block or two walk to get to my new stop, nothing major.) I bought a carshare membership last year too, so now when my husband's car isn't available to borrow, I can use the carshare car that's kept in my neighborhood as well.

It's really worked out great for me. Prior to being a bus-rider and carshare-er, I had a 14 year old beast of a car that was eating a couple hundred dollars every quarter in repairs, not to mention the cost of gas & insurance and all that crap. I had to spend at least 15 minutes letting it warm up (and usually digging it out from all the snow) before it could handle the 2
minute drive to work. Which was a total waste of both gas and energy.

Sure, relying on public transportation takes a little bit of forethought. You need to have your moves planned in advance. But that's a good thing. It requires you to think about where and when you're going and do so in the most efficient way possible. I've learned to lump all my errands together when I have the opportunity, as opposed to making multiple trips for one or two things.

Of course, there's the environmental impact. I'm really proud that I've taken one car and all its emissions off the road.

And I enjoy riding the bus. I like to leave the responsibility to someone else, especially if the roads are bad. For a people-watcher and writer who is fascinated by characters, the public bus system is a veritable GOLD MINE. It is also just about the only way I will make it to work on time. Left to my own devices and not the bus schedule, I'm almost always a couple minutes late. But if it's the bus taking me, I have no choice but to be on time. Which I do greatly appreciate. It also forces your attention to stay focused on work. Once delivered to work, I have to stay there until my bus arrives to get me. There's no popping out to pick up treats at Dunkin Donuts or grab a latte at the coffee shop up the road. To do so using the bus would mean a major chunk taken out of my day that I really can't justify. But when I have a car at my disposal (and not the carshare car which I am charged for the mileage) I'm free to be as gadabout and spontaneous
with these excursions as I like. Which is not good.

My husband went to Utah for a conference/film festival this week, leaving me with the car. I was late just about every day to work; I ducked out whenever I felt like it to swing by the aforementioned Dunkin Donuts or Dolce Delight. And I nearly crumbled under the responsibility. Did I remember to lock the doors? What if I parked too close and the people in the next car scrape the door? Did I remember to close the garage door? What if the roads are slick from the snow coming down right now? I realized how many worries are taken care of for me or are not applicable when I ride the bus.

And my winter coat does not help matters. I have a heavy, calf-length fleece-lined winter coat that is a
godsend in the bitter cold weather we've been experiencing. When you're walking to the bus stop, then standing outside waiting for it to come by, you need to be bundled up well. However, the big bulky coat does not make getting into Brett's little Honda Civic very easy. I have to sort of fold myself into the seat in the tortilla of my winter coat and inevitably it elicits an audible grunt out of me that is really none too attractive. (Getting out is a sort of combination of frail elderly person who needs help coming to a standing position and morbidly obese person who can't bend over very well. Again, not the best way to make an entrance.)

So now that Brett's back from his trip, I'll gratefully go back to riding the bus this week. When you're not behind the wheel of a car very often, it can be nerve-racking when you are. You get out of practice; things that would've been instant and instinctual need to be consciously thought out. Not that I'm a danger when I'm on the road, but unlike most people who regardless of ability insist they are excellent drivers, I'm fully aware of my limitations.

To be truthful, I've never liked driving. I put off getting my license until two months before I turned 21 and I really only wanted it so I could get into bars. I took Driver Ed in high school (is it Driver's Ed? never was sure). We had a larger group for classroom instruction and then broke into two groups for driving time, boys and girls. The four girls in my group were by no means experts. One girl never could figure out where the indicator was for what gear you were in and played that damn thing like a slot machine. It was an utter surprise to her every time- you'd see her grip the handle and know she was thinking, "Come on… drive!"

"No, that's reverse. Try again."

"No, that's park. Try again."

My best friend, Mrs. Schmenkman*, was in my class and one day she slammed on the brakes so hard to avoid hitting a toad in the road, that it threw us all over the car and left our heads bobbling on our necks.

A couple years before this, I had been out riding my mom's bike and I rode right into the back tire of a moving motorcycle. I wasn't hurt- just flung into the air and landed in the grass on the other side of the road. It was apparently comparable to Pee Wee Herman's bike accident in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (according to my parents and grandmothers who were watching from the big picture window at our house, oy).

Mrs. Schmenkman knew this story as we climbed into the giant gunboat of a Driver Ed car our school had. During my turn behind the wheel (sitting on a piled up blanket so I could see over the dashboard) the teacher told me to go ahead and pull out onto the road. As we were going along, the teacher told me to relax and just "drive like you'd ride a bike." Mrs. Schmenkman started screaming and looking out for motorcycles.

* not her real name.
** Disclaimer: I did not take any of these pictures. You would be amazed at what you find when you google "weirdos on the bus."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

It's a Hard-Butt Life

Some things that happened this week:

I overheard a girl on the bus pronounce the store's name as "Weg-a-mins." This tickled me.

At work, I found a resident in the hallway looking particularly lost and confused, but it turns out she was just throwing shade at one of our more creatively-attired, eccentric residents who had just walked by.

For our Friday Feast gathering, Ledbetter & I watched the 1982 film Annie. This was easily my favorite movie as a kid. I had Annie's red dress and her broken locket. I remember seeing it at the movies with my family. During the scene where Annie's hanging off the elevated railroad tracks, I remember my mom leaning down and asking me, "Aren't you scared?" and being surprised that I was too entranced to be frightened at the thought of a little girl my age about to possibly plummet to her death.

Punjab was fascinating, too. What on earth was that turban made of that could support his weight and Annie's suspended in the air?? How handy that he always had that right at his fingertips! I remember being completely befuddled when I later learned what a Bolshevik was, because my only knowledge of them previously was a wild-bearded dude who threw a round black bomb with a sparkly fuse into Daddy Warbucks' office. Last year I finally watched Camillle with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor and I had to admit the only part I was familiar with was the "Marguerite!" "Armand!"
"Marguerite!" "Armand!" exchange they showed when Annie, Grace Farrell & Daddy Warbucks saw it at the movies.

It can't be right that this was the first time I'd seen it since 1982, but it felt like it. Two things struck me:

One, how utterly perfect Carol Burnett was as Miss Hannigan. So boozy, so floozy. Such ability to hiccup on command! "Bonus Ay-rees"?? I really want to start referring to people as "my little pig-droppings."
And two, how clear it was that Aileen Quinn, playing Annie, was really a little girl. She was my age when this was filmed- actually a year older than me- but watch it now, and she's so obviously a small child. This shouldn't be remarkable, but child actors nowadays are such polished, skillfully styled professionals that they seem less like children and more like small adults. This Annie was clearly a KID, messy hair and all, and maybe that's the reason so many of us little girls at the time related to her so strongly.

The other item of note this week was a local news story, out of Syracuse, that when I posted it on Facebook, the most common reaction varied between, "This can't be real" and "Is this a joke?" and quick checking to make sure the publication wasn't The Onion.

Yes, Rick Springfield is in court again for damages incurred by his rear end.
Uh huh.

Vicki Calcagno, 45, of Liverpool, said Springfield, a 1980s pop icon and actor, struck her with his buttocks while performing in the crowd during a 2004 Chevrolet Court concert at the State Fair. She said she was knocked unconscious.

"Struck her with his buttocks."

Apparently, what happened is that Springfield went out into the audience during the show, stood on a fence or bench, lost his balance and fell on this woman, who was injured. It makes it sound like he directed his ass at her like a weapon and assaulted her with it.

Apparently, Rick Springfield is very upset over this. "Rick Springfield yelled and cried while on the witness stand this afternoon for the retrial of an injury lawsuit against him... Springfield was emotional again when his lawyer, John Pfeifer, asked him about going out into the audience to be closer to his fans. Springfield choked up and was given a tissue for his tears."

He should have taken the apt advice of article commenter, James Bafaro, "Don't Twerk to Strangers."

Or from Oy gevalt: "Syracuse. We'll sue your butt off."

One can only imagine Tina Belcher's reaction to this story. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hard Time with Dirtbag Alice & Emily Spinach

Tidbits this week:

On Friday I watched a documentary on prisons called Hard Time with my friend Ledbetter. (It was narrated by Thurston Moore. Yeah- Sonic Youth Thurston Moore. Am I the only one who finds that weird?)  In one episode, there's a prison break where they discover two men have escaped. One of the guards was interviewed about his worries after the men had been missing for over 24 hours. Ledbetter shook her head and said, "I know just how he feels. It's like when your hamster gets out and you just want him back in the cage."

Awhile back, I found a piece on The that tickled the hell out of me: Dirtbag Teddy Roosevelt.
I adore T.R. and I thought this was funny as all get-out.

The comments on The Toast were awesome as well- these are people who know their T.R. My new favorite word ever? UberRoosevelt.

One person commented that this was great, but what she REALLY wanted to see was Dirtbag Alice.

Which led me to believe I should finally dig in and start reading the biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth that I bought eons ago. It has not disappointed.

Alice was one of my favorite kind of people- independent, intelligent, witty, weird.

Her mother, T.R.'s first wife, died two days after she was born and T.R. was so distraught he gave the baby to his sister Bamie (sometimes known as Bye) to raise. (Alice admired her aunt so much, she once said, "If auntie Bye had been a man, she would have been president.") After Teddy married Edith Carow, they made the child leave the only home she'd ever known and move in with them- and their five children which were soon to follow. (Ted, Kermit, Ethel, Archie and Quentin. As another Toast reader said, all hail Edith's naming skills.)

In the White House, Alice relished the attention she received as First Daughter (or Princess Alice as she was often known) and HAD HERSELF A TIME. During a diplomatic mission to Japan, Alice jumped into a pool fully clothed and coaxed a congressman to join her. On May 11, 1908, Alice amused herself in the Capitol's gallery at the House of Representatives by placing a tack on the chair of an unknown but "middle-aged" and "dignified" gentleman. Upon encountering the tack, "like the burst of a bubble on the fountain, like the bolt from the blue, like the ball from the cannon," the unfortunate fellow leapt up in pain and surprise while she looked away.

"In her purse, she could be counted on to carry four essentials: cigarettes, a fertility image (no doubt sanctioned by the RSC), her green snake named Emily Spinach (after her thin aunt), and a copy of the Constitution."

EMILY SPINACH. I cannot tell you how much I love this.

Once, a White House visitor commented on Alice's frequent interruptions to the Oval Office. The exhausted president commented to his friend, author Owen Wister, after her third interruption to their conversation and threatening to throw her 'out the window', "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

When it came time for the Roosevelt family to move out of the White House, Alice buried a Voodoo doll of the new First Lady, Nellie Taft, in the front yard.

She was banned from the White House in 1916 for making a bawdy joke at the expense of Woodrow Wilson.

 Alice demolished Thomas Dewey, the 1944 opponent of her cousin Franklin, by comparing the pencil-mustached Republican to "the little man on the wedding cake." The image stuck and helped Governor Dewey lose two consecutive presidential elections.

In 1965 her black chauffeur and one of her best friends, Turner, was driving Alice to an appointment. During the trip, he pulled out in front of a taxi, and the driver got out and demanded to know of him, "What do you think you're doing, you black bastard?" Turner took the insult calmly, but Alice did not and told the taxi driver, "He's taking me to my destination, you white son of a bitch!"

Alice is credited with the saying, "If you haven't got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me." She had it stitched on a pillow.

Senator Joseph McCarthy jokingly remarked at a party, "Here's my blind date. I am going to call you Alice." She responded, "Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice. The trashman and the policeman on my block call me Alice, but you may not."

Alice, who lived to age 96, was known as The Other Washington Monument.

While I very much enjoyed Ken Burns' The Roosevelts when it aired on PBS a couple months ago, I agree with Lyetteann on The Toast that it needed more Alice. I would've watched the hell out of "Come Sit Next To Me: the Story of Alice, Bamie and Some Dudes Who Were Related to Them."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hello, 2015

Well, here I am again.
I'm starting the new year with a resolution to post more frequently- once a week is the goal I'm setting for myself.

It may be crap, it may be whining, it may be something funny that I saw, it may be me standing on my soapbox outraged about something, it may be gratuitous photos of my dogs, it may be the Uggly Wugglies taking over again. I can't guarantee it will be good, but it will be weekly.

So to start us off, here's some photos of my adventure with Minchy today.

Minchy is a very high energy beagle- Jack Russell mix. In spite of his twelve years, there is nothing he loves more than a good walkie. We tend to favor the South Hill Rec Trail because it's in the neighborhood- just a couple of blocks away. But we keep a NY State Parks Pass because we're blessed/spoiled with several amazing parks all within a couple minutes of us.

These are not fitness walks- not for me, anyway. The beagle in him really comes out and I would estimate he spends about 3/4 of the time sniffing and peeing on things. It's a challenge sometimes, especially when we're by the lake, because I want to check out the water and he wants to pee on the trees and barbecue grills.

It's also our special time together when he gets all my attention. Frances and Ozzie are such love-hogs that I rarely get to cuddle with Minchy without one of them barreling over and pushing him out of the way to get to me. So we make a big deal of it- when we're driving to a park, I'll usually stop for coffee and we share a sandwich on the way to our destination. (We used to share the teeny hash browns from Dunkin Donuts but all of a sudden he disliked them which has made me think maybe I shouldn't be eating them either.)

He's going to be extra happy because he doesn't usually get an adventure on a Thursday.