Friday, March 30, 2012

That Marvelous Invention -- the Mirror

There was (maybe still is) a restaurant in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. called The Blue Mirror. I used to go there to drink German beer -- dark and sour in my mouth. My friends and I were demonstrating our sophistication. In those days, the law in D.C. allowed eighteen year olds to drink beer and wine -- no hard liquor though until age twenty-one.

The restaurant's wall of blue-tinted mirrors showed a girl in her late teens, big-bones, slightly awkward-looking body but good facial features -- high cheekbones, well-shaped mouth, and eyes some people had said were "arresting." I would examine myself critically, self-consciously. Where, for instance, were my breasts?  I mean, my real breasts, not those modest prepubescent swellings but the big generous melons I surely deserved.

Today's mirrors tell me I'm old and overweight. I can alter the latter, not the former. Whose is this wrinkled visage anyhow? This shriveled, apple doll grandmother? How did I get into her body? What did she do with mine?

Presumably I grew older month by month, year by year, until I arrived at this state.  I don't think so, though. What I think is that I'm the victim of some evil sorcery. When and how this happened, I no longer remember. And why this particular transformation? I could have been turned into an aardvark. Or a pill bug coiled in the rich dark loam of my daughter's garden, plucked from the soil by my youngest grandson, later squashed under foot or given to the ducks to eat.

Is dying as a human any better than dying as a pill bug? I mean, death is death after all.

So...mirrors. Does anyone actually look in one and say, "By God, I'm beautiful!" I've never known anyone that did. At least not anyone sober. Mirrors tend to reflect our imperfections more than our assets.

If there were no mirrors, would anorexia even exist? Dysmorphia? Bulimia?

Would the world be a better place without mirrors? Or would we all be bending over ponds and lakes, cursing the breezes as we struggled to scrutinize and rate our physical attractability?

Turning to metaphor, one might suggest that children are their parents' mirrors. This is particularly true, I think, of mothers and daughters. In my daughter's mirror, for instance, I am an inappropriately-dressed, feeble-minded blabbermouth in need of stern rebuking. Whether this perceived impression says more about me than it does about her is any one's guess.

The earliest mirrors, I've read, were made of obsidian, a shiny black igneous rock. I have a small piece of it given to me by my middle grandson. When I'm in the mood for magical thinking, I imagine that it holds great power if only I knew how to work it.

Throughout history, mirrors have been fashioned using glass and various kinds of metals. During the Renaissance, only the rick and powerful could afford to own one.

These days, though, they are everywhere:  in restaurants, cars, stores, people's homes. They catch you unawares and whisper silently, spitefully:  "Too fat, too scrawny, too messy, too prissy, wrong color, wrong style, too young and fleshy, too old and saggy. You should hide your head under a rock; you should use a bed sheet to cover your body..."

I suppose I should conclude by presenting the positive side of mirrors. For instance, if you have a piece of lettuce lodged between your two front teeth, a mirror will alert you to that fact so you can remove it quickly before the people you're dining with notice. Unless, of course, they've already noticed.

Scrutinizing yourself in a mirror before you go out can prevent you from appearing in public with a large stain on your blouse or a shirt you pulled on hastily that you're presently wearing inside out.

If you're dedicated to wearing makeup, a mirror is essential and if you want to know what that lump is on the back of your neck, you will actually need two mirrors.

Mirrors are also used in scientific apparatus such as telescopes, lasers and cameras.

Mirrors became affordable for the masses in the mid nineteenth century.

Aren't you glad they did?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Shenanigans (the Folklore Version)

the flag of Wales

Shenanigans.  The word sounds Irish (which it may or may not be, according to my research). Nonetheless, it makes me think of a red-bearded leprechaun twirling a shillelagh. I am Welsh, not Irish, and in Wales there are no leprechauns. What the Welsh have instead is bogies.

Like leprechauns, bogies are prone to trickery, sometimes of a mean-spirited variety. Though of ancient origin, they have adapted well to modern times and are especially fond of washing machines and dryers where they enjoy twisting garments together to form a sort of huge sopping-wet French braid. They also love to remove socks and are probably the sole reason for the large number of unpaired ones you end up having to throw away. What the bogies actually do with the socks is any one's guess. A friend of mine once suggested they turn them into wire coat hangers, though I'm more inclined to think they fashion them into little hats or vests.

Bogies enjoy moving things around in your cupboards. For example, you open your spice cupboard and a container of oregano hits you in the forehead before falling and scattering its contents all over the kitchen floor. Was it you who forgot to screw the lid on properly? Or did the bogie loosen it?

Bogies generally avoid households where there are several children, especially highly-active children. I assume this is because they don't like competition.

Bogies are invisible to anyone except people with special powers such as Merlin in the King Arthur stories. A true magician not only can see a bogie, he can seize and forthwith banish him with this incantation:  I bid you, bogie, be transported to the banks of the Red Sea for fourteen generations and to be taken there by a strong wind.  This spell works much better, of course, if you say it in Welsh.
Bogie about to be banished

Alas, real magicians are scarce these days and so if your home is inhabited by a bogie, you are probably stuck with him until, and if, he decided to move on.
Another thing bogies do is rearrange the books in your bookcase so that when you go to search for a particular volume, it is nowhere near where you originally placed it. Bogies like to hide car keys and bury cell phones under piles of dirty laundry. They like to roll up the corners of area rugs in order to trip you when you're rushing around doing things. In fact, seeing someone trip under any circumstances gives bogies enormous satisfaction.
A bogie will hide your reading glasses in the most unlikely places -- even inside a toilet paper roll or in an ice cube tray. In fact, if you were to add up all the money you spend replacing objects  the bogie has hidden, you'd be able to afford laser surgery. Or go on a cruise.
Can what a bogie does be labeled shenanigans? Yes, according to some definitions I've read, the ones that include a touch of malice in the making of mischief.
In this country, everyone knows about Irish leprechauns but few people know about Welsh bogies. Let me ask you this, though -- which folklore creature is more likely to inhabit your wold? A leprechaun that lures you over rainbows in search of gold? Or a bogie who makes you spill your morning coffee all over your brand-new laptop?
In my opinion, the question is rhetorical.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ducks Are Not Nice People

Ducks are not nice people.

For one thing they react to your appearance in their yard as if you were the Gestapo, even those you raised by hand, gently and lovingly, from ducklinghood.

For another thing, ducks are horrible to one another. By means of ungentle pecks on the neck, they are prone to designating one member of the group persona non grata and exiling him/her to the far end of the duck yard.

They are also fair weather friends with no apparent loyalty to their former boon companions.

Take Aflac, for instance. Aflac (who has virtually no traits in common with the famous insurance duck) was the first to be adopted by my daughter and family. In the beginning he was friendly, following us around, eating out of our hands, etc. He seemed lonely, though, so Q-Tip, a crested male, was purchased and introduced as a companion. This worked out fairly well and the two became fast friends.

Then my family decided to engage in serious duck farming. Thus, three fluffy yellow ducklings arrived, grew to adulthood and -- though my family had hoped for three females -- one of the threesome was a male named Siren.

Well, Siren proceeded to rip feathers from poor Aflac's neck and cast him out of the flock to waddle bare-necked and friendless on the periphery of the family circle.

"What about Q-Tip?" you ask. "Didn't Q-Tip stand by his hapless friend?" NOT AT ALL!

Q-Tip switched his allegiance to Siren without the slightest twinge of conscience or blush of shame, and followed his new boss around like a proper lackey.

Then Siren died (and I won't go into why or how this happened). Anyhow for a brief time, a happy foursome prevailed. Aflac was now part of the group, though his acceptance made him less friendly to his human caregivers. Thinking, perhaps, to demonstrate one hundred percent allegiance to his own kind, he took to rushing at us and pecking at our toes.

And then it was Sweetpea's turn to be exiled. Sweetpea is a vociferous, but generally sweet-natured, female who has been known, on occasion, to lay her eggs in the duckpond.

Why has dear, benighted Sweetpea become the latest target of ostracism?

Because Q-Tip, having added bullying next to disloyalty on his defects-of-character list, has so decreed.

Thus, it is Sweetpea's turn to waddle in lonely isolation outside the avian circle of love.
Sweetpea, the new pariah

It is now late winter here in the mountains of North-central New Mexico. Most of the (unspeakably filthy) snow in my daughter's back yard has given way to mud. The ducks' section of the property is especially mudluscious. Fragments of straw and bits of vegetable matter mingle with wet adobe soil, along with copious droplets of avian poo.

"God, it's like traveling thorough Mordor!" I exclaimed yesterday watching the muddy mixture suck at the soles of my daughter's boots.

"There wasn't any duck poo in Mordor," my son-in-law contradicted.

"Yes, there was but Tolkien left it out for fear of alienating his readers," I contradicted back.

Meanwhile the ducks drink from the same murky puddles in which they bathe and poo -- all except poor Sweetpea who hovers nearby, hoping, no doubt, to steal a drop or two from the fetid, reeking ponds of the Dark Lord.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Remembering Sherryl

On March 13, two years ago
Winter had pretty much yielded to spring;
New green infused with sunlight dazzled the eyes.
Fruit trees were frilly with pink and white bloom;
 Fields were buttered lavishly with mustard flower.

And you lay dying in your bed at home...

"I'm not giving up," you told me.
(The doctor said all treatments had been exhuasted.)
"I'm still not giving up."
I sat on the edge of your bed, holding your hand
That seemed so little and smooth, like a child's hand.
And I realized I had never seen Death up close,
Never watched that dark tide rise and unfold
Taking back, as it fell,
The warmth, the  spark, the breath,
The rage and radiance of a human soul.

You were the best friend a person could have;
Your laughter pulled me from the muck of melancholy
Again and again,
And helped me regain perspective.

We went on car trips, taking our special needs kids,
Our lovable,

...and frequently got lost.

I always hated getting lost,
Except when I was with you, and then it was funny --
Hillarious, in fact.
Taking one wrong turn and then another, and really
With you, Sherryl,

I was never lost.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Mrs. Rafina Draminsky
In the following anecdote I am introducing the feisty (but hopefully lovable) protagonist in the only novel I ever managed to complete. Mrs. Rafina Draminsky is hopelessly and relentlessly confrontational, mainly because she feels passionately about justice and about the people whom she loves.

When Mrs. Rafina Draminsky retired from her job as Orientation and Mobility Instructor for children and teenagers with disabilities, Benny Gympoli was the only student she continued to see on a regular basis. This job provided her with what she called "frivol money" but that wasn't the main reason she held onto it. The main reason was Benny Gympoli himself. An eager five-year-old in a twenty-year-old's body, Benny believed that, everyday of his life, something delightful and entertaining was sure to spring up in his path.

Benny Gympoli
 Today Benny and his mentor were on their way to a store called Earth's Bounty where Benny would practice his shopping skills. 

Ordinarily Earth's Bounty would not have been Mrs. Rafina Draminsky's first choice. It was an elite food market promoting exotic natural and organic foods including Ancient Mayan Multimush cereal bars at thirty dollars for a box of twelve. The store also sold genuine Pomo Indian gift baskets and hand-carved wooden salad utensils made by a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon whose members probably had no use for them. In Mrs. Rafina Draminsky's opinion it was a place where the rich could feel virtuous and nutritionally fortified. The latter were, she  believed, trying to form themselves into a master race of collagen-enhanced, vitamin-enriched Methuselahs, which, of course, was nothing new.

 "You're prejudiced, Mom," one or the other of Mrs. Rafina Draminsky's daughters always said, to which accusation Mrs. Rafina Draminsky merely shrugged.

Earth's Bounty had been selected for Benny's lesson because of a particular checker (guaranteed to be working there today) who was willing to devote time and endless patience while Benny slowly and painstakingly counted out the correct sum of money to pay for his few groceries. Connie Gympoli, Benny's mother, provided the needed cash and didn't appear to grudge the inflated prices.

"Or-GAN-ic ba-NAN-as," Benny sang out (he was a spontaneous soloist) as Mrs. Rafina Draminsky maneuvered her twenty-year-old Toyota Previa into one of the two available parking spaces designed, quite obviously, for vehicles smaller than a mini-van.

Mrs. Rafina Draminsky noted that to the left of her was a gleaming maroon-colored Mercedes Benz. "Be careful with the door, Benny," she warned. Her warning had the effect of Benny's lightly flinging the door open with his hand instead of kicking it open vigorously with his foot. Hence the door of the Previa made gentle contact with the door of the Mercedes.

Then all hell broke loose...

"Your touched my car!: A man in black Spandex shorts and a Stanford University sweatshirt proceeded to scream at the top of his lungs. He was small and muscular with thinning dark hair that clearly resisted any attempt at grooming.  The tawny color of his face was now splotched red with exploding capillaries, and his obsidian, shoe-button eyes appeared to be throwing off sparks. "You touched my car; I can't believe it; you touched my car." Mrs. Rafina Draminsky thought he sounded like an eight-year-old in the throes of a playground tantrum.

Benny was staring at the man in consternation. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," he hissed over and over. It sounded like a mantra for a steam engine. Mrs. Rafina Draminsky got out of the car and, glancing at the point of impact, determined that, if indeed there was a scratch, it was microscopic. She planted herself directly in front of the self-styled victim, arms akimbo. "Are you through with your tirade?" she demanded.

"I can't believe it, I can't believe it," the man continued to emote aloud.

"I SAID," Mrs. Rafina Draminsky repeated, "ARE YOU THROUGH WITH YOUR TIRADE?" The man paused for a moment. "Because if you ARE through," Mrs. Rafina Draminsky continued, "You need to apologize to my friend, Benny, here for making a mountain out of a mole hill at the expense of his sensibilities."

"Making a...HE SCRATCHED MY CAR!" the man shouted.

"He most certainly DID NOT scratch it and, even if he had, a car is constructed in order to take you from one place to another. If yours is a work of art, then you need to park it in a museum." And with that Mrs. Rafina Draminky turned her back on the volatile gentleman.

"Come on, nothing to worry about," she said authoritatively. She held the passenger door open just wide enough to extract a trembling Benny.

As she guided her mentee across the parking lot toward Earth's Bounty, she noted that the man had begun accosting various customers to discover if anyone had a pair of magnification glasses.

At the entrance to the store, Benny Gympoli turned around to stare for a moment, his fear having yielded to curiosity. "Ms. D," he said, "that man looks kind of like a pepperoni screamer monkey."

Mrs. Rafina Draminsky who had always rejoiced in the fact that the damage to Benny's brain had not extended to his imagination, paused for a moment then said, "Benny, you're absolutely right. Now let's see about those groceries."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Simple? Or Not?


Simplicity... It's what you long for...

...the days when you could make a business call (to your health care provider, for example) and instead of being given six different categories each with a number to press followed by an off-key rendition of some light classical piece performed by an elementary school orchestra inside an empty airplane hangar, the phone would be answered by a real human being who would actually help you. RIGHT AWAY!

...the days when you could travel by plane without waiting in line like a pack animal, then pulling off your shoes, struggling out of your overcoat and getting patted down or indecently X-rayed...days when your sweetheart, your family and your  friends could go with you all the way to the departure gate and wave goodbye as you mounted the steps to the plane. You could even turn around and blow a last fond farewell kiss.

...days when you didn't have to remember twenty different pass codes and/or pin numbers.

...days when you didn't have to give out personal information over the phone to hearing-impaired robots who keep asking you to repeat what you've already clearly and carefully enunciated TEN TIMES!

...days when all the faucets in all the public bathrooms worked EXACTLY THE SAME WAY and toilets did not self-flush loudly and explosively before you'd completed your business.

Simplicity describes how the Amish live and also the lifestyles of Zen masters, sadhus, rishis, yogis, self-appointed  gurus and wannabe hunter-gatherers.

Simplicity places the blame for economic upheaval and social unrest right where it belongs on the shoulders of the (take your pick) illegal aliens, Jews, African-Americans, Muslims, Gays, Indians (both kinds), beer-bellied reactionaries, latte-slurping liberals, Zoroastrians, Patagonians, unregulated thespians, and reticulated troglodytes.

reticulated troglodyte

Simplicity is the band name of a pattern I was obliged to follow in junior high school sewing class and which I managed to make complicated, after all, by being incapable (almost) of threading a needle or, once having threaded it, stabbing myself repeatedly in the thumb, thus producing a mish-mash of snarled, blood-stained threads and a garment that resembled a hastily-improvised Halloween costume for someone posing as Oliver Twist's sister or the Little Match Girl


Simplicity is often undone by technological "improvements."

Terrorists have succeeded in ruining the heretofore simple travel patterns of American citizens.

People who sanctimoniously display their simplicity end up demonstrating simplicity's opposite -- i.e., pretentiousness.

People who promote simple antidotes for complex social problems end up by making those problems even more complex and harming other people in the process.

Simplicity sewing patterns are NOT simple -- at least not for everyone.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I did manage to pass junior high school sewing class with a C- but that was only because I snuck the product of my struggles home and my mother transformed the two randomly stitched, blood-spattered pieces of cloth into something that faintly resembled a skirt and blouse.