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Archive for April, 2011

“Describe the worst driver you know.”

That would actually consist of a number of drivers in my neighborhood, all of them women.

Now, before everybody jumps down my throat:  I do remember when men routinely made Female Driver jokes.  It was back in the 1950s and 1960s, and yes, they were very offensive.  It was due to those jokes that I made a point of learning how to drive a stick shift and how to do basic car maintenance.   Also how to use the rear-view mirror for driving, and not for putting on makeup.

Fast-forward fifty years.  Thanks partly to feminism and partly to what passes for education nowadays, girls and women have a sense of Entitlement.  They can Be All They Can Be, the Sky’s the Limit, the only barrier that remains to be shattered is the Glass Ceiling (which was actually shattered a number of years ago, but why mess with a good myth?) — and they can drive as if they own the road, because they do.  Men can’t make Female Driver jokes without getting sued, but women can make all the Guy Jokes they want, and nobody says anything.

One of the major employers in this area is a large national insurance company.  About fifteen years ago, they demolished several cute houses along a peaceful rural road, paid the city to widen the dratted thing, and planted a huge complex in the middle of some of the most desirable farmland in the county.  Now we have a 24-hour Beacon of Industry, literally since the building’s lights never go out, that extended the city’s commercial district into its Farm Zone.  We have McMansions where there used to be forests.  We have traffic lights where there weren’t even roads.  And, from six until ten a.m. and from three until seven p.m., we have cars clogging up our once-peaceful rural existence.  The turnpike is stop-and-go.  The main secondary artery is stop-and-go.  So is the rural road that most of use to get between two cities eight miles apart.

And ninety percent of these drivers are women.  Putting on makeup.  Turning around to admonish the children they’re dropping off at daycare.  Yammering on the umbilical cord cell phone for the entire distance.  Texting on same, which is actually illegal, but what the heck.  Running red lights — I mean, most of us in this neck of the woods take a yellow light to mean “Go like hell,” but an actual red light?!  Tailgating, by which I mean clinging to the bumper of the car in front, not having picnics prior to sports events.

I’ve made a point of looking at who drives like this.  And so help me Hannah, every single really crummy driver in this area is a woman.  And most of them work for Liberty Mutual — since Liberty Mutual is located on a posted private road, and all these cars are driving on that private road, it stands to reason they work there.

And I’m supposed to insure my vehicle with a company whose own employees can’t observe the common-courtesy rules of the road?!

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Comments left on one of my earlier posts have led me to a point I’ve been trying to get to for a few months now:  “Describe the town where you grew up.”

Makes me think a little of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which was about a small New Hampshire town — ironic, when you consider that Wilder was from the South, and even more ironic when you consider that although I now live in a small New Hampshire town, the town I actually grew up in is in the Borough of Queens, in New York City.  Yes, New York does have small towns.  In fact, it’s really just a collection of small towns cobbled together into one large entity, and I never did find out how that came to be.

When I was growing up, it was just making the transition from a farming community to a City suburb.  In fact, there were still dairy farms in the next town over, and a large part of my childhood memories focus on the clank of milk bottles being delivered to our doorstep at around 4:30 in the morning (I’ve been a Morning Person from, oh, the day I was born — at 6:30 a.m.).

In our town, you not only knew where you belonged, you knew where you didn’t belong, and heaven help you if you were caught in a part of town where you didn’t belong.  Not that you’d get beaten up or anything, but thanks to the village grapevine, your mother would find out.  “What were you doing over on 79th Avenue?!” my mother would demand suspiciously, and of course, I’d wonder how on earth she’d found out.  In fact, I still don’t know.  We didn’t know anybody in that part of town who would have called her.  It wasn’t a bad part of town, not at all, but it Wasn’t Catholic.

The part of town where I belonged was very strictly defined.  I could walk the half-mile to school.  I could walk the half mile between home and the public library.  I could go around the corner to my aunt’s house.  I could walk over to the next street where my cousin lived, and I could walk a couple blocks past that to where my grandmother lived, along with her two sons and their wives (who were cousins of my mother’s).  That was it.  On no account was I to walk up The Avenue past the library, or near the cemeteries that defined the western and eastern boundary of town, and actually, I first ventured past the library when I was a teenager and wanted to purchase records at Bill’s Radio Shop.  My mother would purse her lips when I told her I was going to Bill’s.  Only when I was in my 40s did I learn that Bill, along with half of Metropolitan Avenue, was a frothing Communist.

Apparently there was a lot of Communist activity in our town in the 1930s.  My dad had a part-time job working at a hardware store at that time, and once casually mentioned that he covered the store on Wednesday evenings when the owner held his Communist-cell meetings in the back room!  If had known, when I was a kid, I think I would have called the FBI myself!  There was Bill’s, there were a number of haberdashers on the main drag, there was the movie, the toy store, a couple of drug stores — all, apparently, owned by Communists or Communist sympathizers, which was not a good thing to be in the 1950s, and heaven alone knows how those stores avoided being closed down:  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg weren’t neighbors, but they certainly could have been.

I always felt safe in our part of town, at least till after I was grown and New York became such a hotbed of crime.  There was always crime in other parts of the City, but it never seemed to touch our area, which was completely blue- and pink-collar.   The cops used to hate being posted to our town; they called it “the Little Old Lady Precinct.”  But that was probably because, as I look back, the whole neighborhood was inhabited by cops.  There were two on my block alone, four or five around the corner, my uncle who lived one block over, one of the uncles who lived with my grandmother, and there was another cop on his block.  Then there were the neighborhood kids who grew up to become cops.  In later years, the Mafia would take credit for keeping the neighborhood safe, but long before there was the Mafia, there were cops.

And in those days, there wasn’t any of this nonsense about “bribing” cops.  You took care of each other.  The cops didn’t patrol in cars, they walked beats, and if you invited the neighborhood cop in for a cup of coffee on a cold winter’s day, he didn’t take that to mean that you were looking for extra protection, and that wasn’t why you were offering him a cup of coffee.  It was cold, and the poor soul was half frozen, that’s all.  The whole dynamic of New York City changed when people began accusing cops of being “on the take”; it wasn’t neighborly anymore.

Was there discrimination?  There must have been.  In a town that was half Jewish and half German, where the Jews employed Gentile teenagers to work for them on the Sabbath and the Germans employed Polish farm workers, during the immediate post-war era — not to mention our little half-square-block of neither-here-nor-there Italian and Irish families — how could there not have been discrimination?  But we knew how to practice civility towards one another, and we knew that Jews didn’t speak to Christians and vice versa.  (And Catholics didn’t socialize with Protestants, and vice versa.)  The rules were never, ever spoken, but they were widely known and accepted.

As the Jews died off and the Germans moved out, the Italians moved in, and the neighborhood changed again.  One of my most vivid memories is of visiting my old neighborhood with my two children — actually, we were visiting my aunt, who still lived around the corner from where I grew up — and I wanted to take them on a trip down Memory Lane.  It was summer, and as we rounded the corner, we came upon a scene familiar to me from my childhood, all the housewives sitting out on the steps of their houses, chatting with one another.  As we walked down the street, all conversation stopped dead.  All the women stared at us, and the silence, and the stares, continued as we walked down the block and out of sight.  We had become the strangers.  Home wasn’t home anymore.  It was a powerful lesson in neighborhood dynamics, and I finally understood an event that had taken place not too many years earlier, when a black man was badly beaten in an Italian neighborhood (Bensonhurst).  Everyone assumed the beating took place because he was black.  But that day, I learned that it was because he didn’t Belong.

Now the neighborhood has changed again.  My aunt tells me that Romanians have moved into the neighborhood.  In a way, I wish I lived there again; I’ve had good experiences with Romanians locally, and being an Orthodox Christian, if I lived back home, I’d be attending the Romanian church, since it’s the only Orthodox church in town — down the street from where my grandmother lived, in fact, in a former synagogue.  (Frequent seismic activity in the area suggests a lot of Jews rolling over in their graves at the very thought.)  But in truth, I probably never will see Home again.  And if I did, it wouldn’t be Home; it has changed too much.  And so have I.

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“According to a Gallup Poll, nearly 70% of Americans believe in the Devil. Do you? Why or why not? Why do you think 70% of Americans believe as they do on this issue? Do you think this number is higher or lower than other countries in the world? Why? Do you think the devil is behind the choice of this topic?”

To answer the last question first:  No.  I think that someone over at Post-a-Day has too much time on her hands.

Moving backwards…  Probably this figure (70%) is actually lower than the rest of the world.  Excluding Western Europe, which still suffers from the effects of the “Enlightenment,” every other culture has some form of personification of evil, and it seems to me that, in terms of the Collective Unconscious (thank you, Dr. Jung), for every other culture in the world to have such a belief — there’s gotta be something to it.  Not every culture has the same version of the Creation story, but every one has an introduction of Evil into a fundamentally good world (interestingly, every other culture also has some version of the Great Flood recorded in the Bible.  Hmmm).

Continuing backward, I do think that Americans who believe in the Devil fall largely in the Fundamentalist camp, and at one point in fairly recent history, the Southern Baptist Convention was the largest denomination in the United States (still may be, for all I know).  And that’s just the SBC — that’s not counting other kinds of Baptists, Pentecostals, Holiness types (whatever that is), AME Zion…  Well.  There are nearly 400 Protestant denominations in the United States, and most of them are fundamentalist of one kind or another.  So 70% strikes me as a reasonable figure, considering that the devil figures prominently in the Fundamentalist culture.

As to me personally…  Define “believe.”  Do I believe in the red-tights-and-horns version of the devil?  Give me a break.  Do I believe in a force for evil?  I’m a product of the twentieth century; I’d have to be mad not to.  Do I believe in the devil in the same way that people express belief in God?  God forbid!!!

Do I believe that he exists?  I’m pretty sure that’s where this question was supposed to go, and the answer is:  Yes.  Absolutely.  People who have trafficked in evil have conjured up demons, for one thing, and for another, I certainly believe that there is a force in this world that is steering it steadily towards a path of destruction; and I further believe that without God, mankind is powerless to stop that force to destruction.  By ourselves, we can’t even bring ourselves to believe that such a thing is possible, so how could we be expected to withstand it, alone?

So the real question should be, Do you believe in God?  And on a related topic — why was this question posed on Easter Sunday?!

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“What would you do differently if you were president or Prime Minister of your country for a day?”

OK, maybe not the world.  Maybe just the USA.  Point is, one day wouldn’t do it.

I’d want to put a stop to foreign aid.  All of it.  The countries that ostensibly need it, have had it coming in now for, what, fifty years?  And it hasn’t done any good whatsoever.  And some of the countries that are still getting it, are in better shape than we are.  Big savings right there.

I’d have some collection of environmentalists in Congress do a serious study on how to drill for oil in those portions of the USA that still have huge oil reserves — there has to be a way to get it out of the ground without ruining the environment altogether.  While doing that, I’d get together a coalition of Congress weenies whose task would basically be to brainwash the populace into remembering that mass transit is a good thing.  That would be the foundation for re-instituting trains and trolleys around the country.  And there wouldn’t be any flights for distances under 500 miles.  Take the train, idiot — it’s easier on the nerves and better for the environment.

Then I’d want a Congressional committee to undertake a judicial review of the duties of the Supreme Court, and see if there isn’t a way to reverse some of its more idiotic decisions.  I mean, if this really is a government of the People, shouldn’t laws be written that reflect the values of the People?!  So if the majority in a given community wants a Christmas display, shouldn’t that be what decides the matter?  Those nine old buzzards have been making law for far too long, and that’s not their job.

And I’d re-institute the draft.  I think I’d broaden it just a bit, to include civil service, so the twitbrains who don’t want to serve their country couldn’t whine about becoming cannon fodder.  Oh, and based on past performance, I’d raise the legal age for both sexes to 25.  New brain research indicates that your brain doesn’t stop growing till you’re about 30, anyway, so 25 is a fair age.  Once you learn how to put other people’s lives before your own selfish interests, then you’re old enough to vote.  No exceptions.

Likewise, no educational exceptions.  If you can’t be bothered to learn English, go home.  I actually don’t have a problem with Americans learning a second language, but if it’s going to be mandatorily Spanish, then Spanish speakers should have to learn German, Russian, Polish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese…  You get the idea.  Just — learn English.  It’s simpler, in the long run, and all our ancestors had to learn it to get anyplace.

Oh, and I’d make the immigration laws much more balanced.  Currently, there’s an actual law that discriminates against Europeans of any kind  coming to this country to live.  It massively favors Third-World nations.  That’s plain silly.  We lose a lot of talent from Eastern Europe, and we’re stuck with people like that pulmonologist who insisted that my husband had lung cancer because he couldn’t think of any other reason for that embolism lodged in my husband’s lungs.  (It was an infection that had started in his big toe, for crying out loud — and it was my dentist who connected the dots, long before the thought occurred to any doctor.)

So I’d need two terms, at least, to get all this rolling.  As I’ve said before — a monarchy would be infinitely better.  But since I don’t live in one, and don’t plan to move to one — my husband  doesn’t seem to like the idea — I’m stuck with what we got.

God help us.    😉

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Post-a-Day: Dino Days

“Your phone, laptop, tab, ipad and desktop are dead. Will you make it through a normal working day and evening? What would you miss the most?”

I was about to write that “one of my favorite TV shows is NCIS,” but actually, it’s the only TV show I watch these days.  (I’d watch Glee, if it weren’t opposite NCIS.)  Anyway, occasionally they’ll do a show in which the power in the building goes on the fritz, and all the Young Things are scrambling to do the jobs they’ve always done with computers and other specialized crime-fighting Technology — and Gibbs, the team leader played by Mark Harmon, comes along with some antiquated piece of equipment that everybody used B.P.C. (Before Personal Computers) to get the job done — like the mimeograph machine, my favorite, because I remember them but never actually got the hang of one myself.

So.  In the scenario above, everything is Dead, Dead, Dead.  No telephone, no laptop, no “tab” (saywhat?), no i-pad, no desktop.  Will I make it through a normal workday?  Probably not, considering how workplaces worldwide depend on all this Technology.  In such a scenario, I could get through all the filing in the office and probably straighten out my desk, but that would be it.  Which would be a terrible waste, because without a telephone, you can get so much more work done.

Did I ever mention how much I hate telephones??  I will go to the most extraordinary lengths to avoid using a telephone, making all my personal appointments in person and crafting deathless prose on gorgeous letterhead rather than picking up the receiver and punching numbers.  (I almost wrote, “dialling.”  There’s a reason those NCIS episodes resonate with me.)  E-mail has been my lifeline practically since it was invented.

Now, my personal life is a different matter.  I was just thinking yesterday, in fact, that if I’d had access to modern technology when I was living overseas, I’d have stayed much more in touch with my family and friends and never have had any excuse at all to get out of the house and learn about the culture I was living in.  And what a rich life experience I’d have missed.  I tell you, really living day to day in a foreign culture is such an eye-opener.  (But you have to do it for at least a year.)

With that in mind, oh gosh — I’d drift from cross stitch to my latest book (either the one I’m reading or the one I’m plotting), to getting the house Really Clean, to baking my own bread — maybe — if the oven was working — to going for a long, long walk in the fresh spring air….

Eventually I would miss my “friends in a box” and want to be in contact with them, and at that point I’d miss my technology.  But for a day or two, I’d really appreciate a techno-free day.  Especially without a telephone of any kind.

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“Have you ever considered writing a book? If so what would it be about? Make a list of the ideas you want to cover, or the themes it might have. If you’ve never considered writing a book, what other major work have you thought about (a movie? a symphony?). Write a paragraph or two about what you imagine it would be like.”

As readers of this blog already know, not only have I considered writing a book, but I’ve actually written three of them.  All unpublished.  I did think I had a publisher at one point, but she wanted too many changes in ways that I considered would have weakened the plot and the impact, so they remain unpublished, and likely will do so until I’m in my grave.  And just as well, since they invite the reader to consider the KGB in a different light, as simply another law-enforcement agency.  This is not to suggest that it is just another law-enforcement agency, but rather that it might employ the occasional individual who just wants to serve his country and his society, as opposed to exercising power over same.  My hero is actually rather an ordinary person, who just wants to do his job in peace.  His wife is, as all good wives should be, anything but ordinary.  And thereby hang the tales, all three of them.

I left in the rest of the prompt, about other artistic endeavors, because I would dearly love to write music, and it ain’t never gonna happen.  Ideas come into my head in words, not in pictures or in sounds.  I can give you back a sound that is a pretty close approximation of the original, but in terms of an original sound…  No.  Not ever.  Sigh.  Similarly, I would love to produce real art, as opposed to the paint-by-numbers variety that I actually do, which is all that counted cross stitch is:  You copy someone’s masterpiece color for color, shade for shade, except where you lose track of what color you actually should be using, which happens with distressing regularity.  But while the artist himself would doubtless have conniptions over a soft shade of pink that was actually supposed to be a soft shade of peach, I find that it rarely makes all that much of a difference once the piece is stitched.  However — original art it ain’t.

I also left in the entire prompt to get you thinking about your own creativity.  Creativity is shockingly neglected in modern life, and especially in modern American life.  We don’t consider something creative unless it shocks and offends, and that’s sad, because we should be able to create oases of beauty in our own lives, wherever our own creativity takes us — whether it’s a symphony, a magnum opus of music or writing, or a stunningly good loaf of homemade bread.

There’s another reason why creativity is so important.  When we reach deep into ourselves to tap that vein of personality that is crying out for expression — if we reach deep enough, we find that we grasp the hand of our Creator.  And, like children imitating the actions of a beloved parent, we imitate our Creator, by creating something unique to who we are.  God is endlessly creative, and sin — those places where we miss the mark of being as godlike as we can — sin is so crashingly boring.  Try keeping track sometime of all those horrible little things that you know you shouldn’t be doing.  It won’t take long to see that it’s always the same damn thing.  In other words, the exact opposite of creativity.

So create, already.

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This is an old question from the Post-a-Day crowd.  I hung onto the ones I liked best, in hopes of using them for filler on days when the question was one that was less inspiring, and this, I thought, was right up my alley:

“What non-exercise activity do you wish would keep you fit?”

Since the death of knitting guru Elizabeth Zimmermann, in (I think) 2001, there hasn’t really been anybody to take her place.  She had the most creative mind, and inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of knitters to reach beyond pattern books and design their own knitwear, by sheer dint of her skill and wit.  When she died, I gave up knitting altogether — until an ex-girlfriend of my son’s gave me a knitting calendar.

Never Not Knitting is put out by a Canadian, Stephanie Pearl McPhee, and comes pretty darn close to the Zimmermann magic, in terms of wittiness.  And one of Ms. McPhee’s observations, in 2009, was along the lines of, really wishing that she could count knitting as a form of physical fitness.  I think she even tried to make the case that it was a form of exercise, since your arms were constantly occupied with the movement of knitting needles, and if you added a rocking chair into the mix, your legs got a workout, too.  Let no one say that knitters lack creativity.

I am so There.  One of the more irritating aspects of my admittedly sedentary lifestyle is the number of people who think of “couch potato” as someone who sits around all day watching soap operas and noshing on bonbons or chips, and the most exercise they get is clicking the remote.  I always think, What about artists?  What about musicians?  These people aren’t out there training for marathons, either, and a professional musician will spend six to eight hours a day practicing his craft.  And a painter just sits there all day with his easel and brush — but in both cases, the mind is going non-stop, discerning forms and patterns and colors (yes, music has “color,” too) and interpreting them into something that will please the eye or ear of the general public.  Yet, by the general definition, these people fit the mold of “couch potato,” because they Sit Around All Day.

Phooey on that.  I think we need to lose this phrase out of the general vocabulary and replace it with something more specific, like “TV devotee” or something that indicates a level of true laziness.  Because for me, anything that involves art of any kind will never qualify as Couch Potato material.

And that includes knitting.  Gotta keep those forearms toned.

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