Would You Pay $398 For One Dinner – And You Don’t Even Know What You’ll Be Eating?

For one dinner, wine not included?

And you haven’t a clue as to what will be served?

No?

Me, neither.

But, according to this recent article:

The demand for this dinner is so high, that the creators added a second night to the schedule:  July 16 and 17.

And though the menu has not been announced, people are actually whipping out their credit cards to pay $398 in advance for a…

What’s the story?

There’s a restaurant in San Diego – Addison – a recipient of a Michelin star.

There’s a restaurant in Healdsburg, CA – SingleThread – a recipient of three Michelin stars.

A Michelin star:  The ultimate hallmark of culinary excellence.

The chefs from Addison and SingleThread decided to cook together – excuse me, create a “major dinner event,” and according to the article: 

“The eight-course dinners…will feature a mix of dishes.”

I checked out the websites for both Addison and SingleThread, and it appears the two chefs are big on “tasting menus.”

SingleThread offers an “11-course tasting menu…a bespoke hospitality experience in the center of Sonoma Wine Country.”

Addison’s website talks about five- and 10-course tasting menus that “showcase the beauty and allure of California Gastronomy.”

And for all their “bespoke” and “gastronomy” stuff, neither website gives you an inkling of what you’ll be tasting at the restaurants.

We’re talking secretive here.

Secretive:  A hallmark of culinary pretentiousness:

So let’s say that the July “major dinner event” will be a tasting menu. 

Tasting menu:  A collection of several dishes in small portions, served by a restaurant as a single meal.

My definition of tasting menu:  A collection of super-measly portions served by a restaurant as a meal, after which you look around and say, “What’s for dinner?”

Here’s a quick recap of this major dinner event:

  • One meal is $398.
  • Wine not included.
  • We don’t know what will be served.
  • It will be eight courses.
  • It’s probably a tasting menu.
  • Available July 16 and 17 only.
  • Pretentious.

Well, since the chefs aren’t telling, as a public service I decided to take some guesses as to what folks will be eating on July 16 and 17.

Here are my five of the eight courses – throw in a few amuse bouche between some courses, and dinner is served.

Voila!

And speaking of Voila! I’ll be using French throughout. 

I say:  If you’re going to go pretentious, go big:

First, the soup course:  Essence de soupe avec de la jonque verte mystérieuse:

Translation: Essence of soup with mysterious green junk.

Next, soufflé végtéal sans le soufflé:

Translation: Vegetable souffle without the souffle.

Then, a meat course:  Assortiment d’os avec salade printanière:

Translation: Assortment of bones with spring salad.

The pièce de résistance, the grand finale:  Assiette avec visage de légumes:

Translation: Vegetable face on a plate.

And, of course, dessert:  Frottis rouges et jaunes sucrés au miel:

Translation: Red and yellow smears sweetened with honey.

C’est magnifique!

So magnifique, I’m left with just one question:

Dear President Biden:  When Your Son Was In The Service, Did His Military Housing Include These?

Dear President Biden:

Your late son, Beau, joined the military in 2003, served in Iraq in 2008-2009, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service.

While he was serving his country, did he ever live in military housing that included this:

And this:

And this:

Thousands of our military members who – and this is so important – volunteered to serve, are living in military housing with lead poisoning, mold, sewage, brown bath water, vermin and other issues.  So are their spouses and children.

And it’s making many of them sick:

I know, from your many years in the Senate and then as Vice President, that you’re aware of the horrible conditions in much of our military housing.

And I know, due to my research, that to address this issue, in February 2020, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, along with the secretaries of each military service, signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights:

Here’s another part of the Tenant Bill of Rights:

“The Department commits to providing the full benefit of the following 15 rights by May 1, 2020.”

That looked definitive.

But it wasn’t.

I also know, from this February 2021 article:

That “Congress allocated nearly $200 million over the past two years to help boost DoD’s oversight over private housing providers.”

And, from that same article,

“DoD believes it will need to spend an additional $120 million per year to staff new programs to inspect and oversee those projects.”

Mr. President, those dollar figures seem downright paltry, when you consider that the cost of one of these – just one F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter – is $100 million:

Even more so when you consider that the woman or man who’s going to fly that F-35 Lightning II may be living in housing with this:

Rodent carcasses on a trap that a military family placed inside their home on Joint Base Anacoastia-Bolling in Washington, DC. The family asked not to be identified.

The problem, as is so often the case – is the middleman.  That is, the privatized military family housing companies that have been managing and building military housing since 1996, when Congress created the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) under the National Defense Authorization Act. 

According to this article,

The “Big 5” privatized military family housing companies are Balfour Beatty, Lincoln Military Housing, Hunt Military Communities, Lendlease, and Corvias Military Living.

I was unable to discover what the Department of Defense pays – correction, what we taxpayers pay – for privatized military housing.

But I found a clue in the February 2019 Congressional hearing, “Current Condition of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative”:

Here’s an exchange between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Christopher Williams, president of the above-mentioned Balfour Beatty:

Senator Elizabeth Warren:  Mr. Williams?
Christopher Williams:  Our net profits for our military housing businesses are around $33 million…a year.

Elsewhere I learned that there are 14 of these companies, called “corporate housing partners,” and some, if not all of them, hold 50-year contracts to manage military housing.

The math?

We’re talking billions of our tax dollars going to companies responsible for this:

Mold on the ceiling and walls, Randolph Air Force Base, TX.

And this:

Lead paint chipping off a window frame, Fort Benning, GA.

And this:

A tarp covers a leak in the ceiling, Fort Meade, MD.

Another name on that “Big 5” list is Lincoln Military Housing.

As I typed it, I thought “Lincoln Military Housing” sounded familiar.

Hmmm.

Ah, yes.

I heard that name in the local news just last month:

The article says that “Several San Diego area families are suing a government contractor that provides housing to military members and their families.”

The government contractor is Lincoln Military Housing.

One of those families is the Huffmans, who moved to San Diego in 2018.  Matt Huffman is a staff sergeant in the Marines.

April Huffman said within a week of moving into their military housing, two of her sons got sick.

They started having “a really bad cold or something coming on,” she said.

Those cold-like symptoms didn’t go away, and for one of her boys things got much worse.  Logan had trouble breathing and ended up in the hospital:  

It was a sight his dad could barely handle:

“I was sitting there watching him in the hospital bed struggling and having a hard time reacting to the medication that they were doing,” Matt Huffman said.

The family called in a company to run air tests and swabs, and the results were several different toxic molds.

They then contacted Lincoln Military Housing and, according to the lawsuit,

“…repeatedly notified the defendants of these multiple defects in a timely manner; however, Defendants took no action to properly or time repair them and/or improperly attempted repairs resulting in further contamination, adding to the uninhabitability of the Subject property and making it untenantable and substandard.”

The Huffmans moved into a hotel for three months, and now the family of five is living in an RV:

Again, according to the lawsuit,

“…it was discovered there were multiple defects and problems with the home, such as vents contaminated with microbial spores, visible microbial growth in kitchen and bathrooms, an odor throughout the interior living spaces, and elevated moisture levels.”

The family’s attorney said,

“This family was exposed to microbial spores and water intrusion in their home, which caused them health issues including respiratory issues, asthma, skin rashes, headaches, nosebleeds, and things like that.”

Lincoln has denied all the lawsuit charges.

The Huffman case is still in the early stages.  Their lawsuit asks for damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees, among other things.

Mr. President, I encourage you to watch the May 14 YouTube video related to the Huffman story, Lawsuit Claims Military Housing Was Unsafe.

You’ll see Staff Sergeant Matt Huffman blinking back tears as he talks about what the family had to throw away due to contamination from their military housing including letters from his now-deceased father, written to Matt while in boot camp 10 years ago:

And this is just one military family – among so many.

So many families, despite the 2020 Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights that said, “The Department commits to providing the full benefit of the following 15 rights by May 1, 2020.”

Despite the money Congress allocated, and then added to.

Despite all that, military families are still living with this dangerous issue – as attested to on the Military Housing Advocates’ Network’s Facebook page:

And as attested to in this June 9 article:

“FORT HOOD, Texas – Military families are still struggling with private contractors and on-post housing after the Department of Defense delayed the final protections of the new housing Bill of Rights to September 30.

“The Defense Department says because these companies are signed into existing long-term contracts with the military, they cannot force these companies to accept the changes.  They must voluntarily agree to them.”

When we deploy our military members overseas, we often put then in harm’s way.

They shouldn’t come home and still be in harm’s way.

Please, Mr. President:  Don’t let the Department of Defense kick this down the road to September 30.

Don’t delay addressing this issue.

Do it now.

Do it for Beau.

And What To My Wondering Eyes Did Appear…

My usual evening TV viewing Monday through Friday at 7pm is the PBS Newshour, and this past Friday was no different.

But it was SO different.

Every Friday evening, about mid-way through the program, Newshour host Judy Woodruff interviews New York Times columnist David Brooks (below, top) and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart (below, bottom) about current hot topics.  

Woodruff asks good questions, Brooks and Capehart give thoughtful answers, and that evening I was expecting the same.

What I wasn’t expecting was this:

Brooks and Capehart were in the studio with Woodruff.

Sitting at the same table.

Not wearing masks.

IN THE STUDIO!

“THEY’RE IN THE STUDIO!  ALL THREE OF THEM, TOGETHER!  DO YOU SEE THAT?” I shouted to my husband.

Since he was sitting five feet away from me, he did, indeed see that.

It was the FIRST in-studio news interview I’d seen in…how long?

Fifteen months?

I simply sat and stared.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  I barely heard what they were saying.

I was transfixed.

It was, I realized, a real, true sign that we are on the road to recovery.

It looked so normal.

And normal looked so, so…

Pandemic Shortages – Or Pandemic Excuses?

Back in April I posed the question, “Will the pandemic become the excuse du jour?”

Since March 2020, when we started hearing “…due to the pandemic,” we’ve become accustomed to nodding and accepting the explanation.

And in March 2020, when stores ran out of toilet paper, and paper towels, and hand sanitizer, and, and, and…

We heard, “due to the pandemic,” nodded, and accepted the explanation.

In my blog post I suggested that not just for the next year, but probably for the next decade, when something isn’t delivered on time, or something breaks and stays broken, or even when someone commits a crime, it will all be…

Due to the pandemic.

For the latter, I’ll cite this April 28 Washington Post article:

According to the article,

Brendan was bored.

“Brendan Hunt, a Trump supporter who called for killing members of Congress days after the January 6 insurrection, was found guilty Wednesday of making a death threat against elected officials.

“Hunt said he was heavily using marijuana and alcohol while struggling with depression and boredom during the coronavirus pandemic.  He told the jury that the video he posted online after the Capitol riot was filmed while he was under the influence.”

Hunt faces up to 10 years in prison.

Will future conversations with customer service sound something like this?

Customer:  I’m calling to check on the status of my order.
Customer Service:  It’s delayed due to the pandemic.
Customer:  I haven’t told you what I ordered.
Customer Service:  It’s delayed due to the pandemic.
Customer:  The pandemic was declared over in late 2021.  This is 2025.
Customer Service:  Thank you for calling.  Have a nice day.

As we slowly – and hopefully, safely – emerge from the dark pandemic tunnel, I’ve been keeping track of a number of shortages blamed on the pandemic.  Just a few of many examples:

And as we all know, shortages often lead to:

And perhaps the most egregious example of that…

Is this…

When the pandemic began, apparently people in the lumber business hit the brakes on production, figuring the demand for new houses would slow.

They were wrong, according to the expert in this article:

“At the beginning of the pandemic demand for lumber was slightly down and mill inventories were down, but in the spring of last year [2020] we saw people move on home improvement projects, purchase a home or build a new home, causing an increase in demand for lumber.”

It seems to me that people in the lumber business caused the lumber shortage, and now they’re reaping the rewards:

No wonder Jeffrey Mezger is smiling.

And the people in the lumber business aren’t exactly crying in their beer over it, if this guy is an example:

“While lumber prices have gone up, we have been able to pass it on to the consumer with higher prices for homes,” Jeffrey Mezger, the CEO of KB Home, told CNN Business.  “And there is still far more demand than there is supply.”

Can’t you just picture ole Jeff, rubbing his grubby hands together in glee?

Now, I’m no economist, but I do understand that the law of supply and demand is integral to capitalism.

Definition:

Law of Supply and Demand:  The amount of goods and services that are available for people to buy compared to the amount of goods and services that people want to buy.  If less of a product that the public wants is produced, the law of supply and demand says that more can be charged for the product.

Charging more is one thing.

But with the lumber situation – a price increase of more than 500 percent in a year?

Gouging.

Outrageous.

And the lumber industry isn’t alone – here are just a few more recent price increases:

P&G said it was increasing prices on certain brands in North America to “combat the impact of higher costs of raw materials used to make the products.”

Uh-huh.  And…

Coca Cola’s “holistic inflation management” is a “multi-prong approach to manage inflation of key ingredients and packaging materials, according to executives.”

Uh-huh.  And…

According to the article, “Both Jif and Skippy already are or will be more expensive thanks to previous winter storms, the ongoing pandemic, truck driver shortages, shipping fees and delays, and even the recent block of the Suez Canal by a cargo ship.”

“The recent block of the Suez Canal.”

Well, that’s one I hadn’t thought of.

Here’s my perception.

For the first 12 months of the pandemic, we hung in and hung together, getting through the tragedy day by day.

When suppliers were caught price gouging – and it was infrequent – they were excoriated in the media and by the public.

But now, as we’re emerging from that dark pandemic tunnel, it’s no more “Mr. Nice Guy.” 

No more “We’re all in this together.”

The suppliers’ gloves are off.

Shortages?

Real or manufactured?

Higher prices?

They’re real, all right.

And while companies may tout that “wholistic inflation management” and bemoan the blockage of the Suez Canal, how many are using the excuse of the pandemic – and coming out of the pandemic – to raise prices?

Simply because…

They can.

It appears that even this venerable industry – yes, even this – has succumbed to the pandemic excuse and the lure of more money:

“Supply chain backlog.”

Uh-huh.

At least this CNN article…

…was a tad more creative than that.  In addition to “supply chain” issues, it cited:

  • The high demand for workers.
  • The shortage of truck drivers – orders that would normally ship the next day can take weeks to go out.
  • The pandemic created new demand at companies that had never needed porta potties before, such as vaccination sites.
  • The emphasis on hand washing and clean surfaces during the pandemic led many customers to order more porta potties at their job sites.
  • Competition from overseas buyers also has increased demand.
  • The concert venues and road races are starting to open up, and the festivals are talking about coming back in late summer – all porta potty customers.
  • An unprecedented increase in the cost of plastic resin used to make portable toilets; it’s a petroleum product and disruptions like the February winter storm in Texas have led to limited supplies.

The “February winter storm in Texas.”

That’s another one I hadn’t thought of.

This reminds me of an old commercial for Roach Motel, “Where roaches check in, but they don’t check out”:

The pandemic:

Prices go up, but they won’t come down.

Shortages, plus price gouging.

It’s…

It Only Took The Catholic Church 12 Years Of “Study” To Figure Out That Sexual Abuse Of Adults By Priests Is A Bad Thing

I guess we were all supposed to get excited by this story from last week:

The article says,

“Pope Francis has broadened the Roman Catholic Church’s definition of sexual abuse by revising its penal code to explicitly acknowledge that adults, and not only children, can be victimized by priests and powerful laypeople who abuse their offices.”

And it took the church only 12 years of “studying” this issue to come to this conclusion.

But I won’t be doing the Happy Dance, because this seems like the same result as Pope Francis’ global church summit on abuse back in 2019.  Here’s a picture of the Pope and church leaders from that summit:

You see all the hats?

They’re called “zucchetto.”

I call this boys club the “Beanie Babies.”

At that 2019 church summit, the Pope introduced laws requiring priests and nuns to report abuse accusations to church authorities.

However, the Times article continues,

“Critics have called on the Vatican to require reporting to civil authorities, but the church has resisted, saying that it is a global institution, and in many countries such reporting would expose accused clergy to great harm.”

So it’s OK for the clergy to do great harm – but let’s not have any reporting of them to authorities because it could expose the clergy to great harm?

And exactly which countries are the “many countries” referred to?  No specific were given in any article I read.  And what does “great harm” mean, exactly?

And what kind of excuse is the church being a “global institution”?  So what?

The reality is, Pope Francis’ latest changes to church law means “business as usual.”  The changes have no teeth.  And until the church requires its clergy to report all sexual abuse to civil authorities…

Any changes to church law will continue to have no teeth.

Except for this one.

Here’s Part II of the Pope’s big announcement, again from the New York Times article:

“The changes in canon law also take aim at a completely different problem the church has identified only relatively recently:  the growing movement of women who claim they have been ordained as priests.  

“The Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a decree in 2007 saying that ‘a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order,’ should trigger automatic excommunication.

“These revisions now incorporate that decree into church law.”

Whoa!

“Automatic excommunication”?

“Incorporate that decree into church law”?

Now that has some teeth.

Loud and clear, the Pope is saying, “If you’re foolish enough to ordain a woman, or if you’re a female foolish enough to think you’re ordained…

What, exactly, “automatic excommunication”?

For that I turned to several Catholic publications and learned, among other things:

“Excommunication is the Church’s most severe penalty imposed for particularly grave sins… By committing a particularly grave sin and engaging in activities which cause grave scandal and fracture the body of the Church, that communication ceases, and the person is deprived of receiving the sacraments and other privileges.

“The penalty of excommunication can be imposed by a proper authority or incurred automatically…”

So if someone dares to ordain a woman, or a woman receives ordination…

No bothering with the “proper authority” – it’s automatic.

And then…

“…an excommunicated person is forbidden to participate in a ministerial capacity (celebrant, lector, etc.) in the Sacrifice of the Mass or in any other form of public worship; to celebrate or to receive the sacraments; to celebrate the sacramentals; to exercise any ecclesiastical office or ministry; and to issue any act of governance.  An excommunicated person also cannot be received into a public association of the Christian faithful.”

“…the purpose of excommunication is to shock the sinner into repentance and conversion.  Excommunication is a powerful way of making a person realize his immortal soul is in jeopardy.”

If you take your Catholic faith seriously – this is very serious shit.

So, who are these sinners, these miscreants, these women who dare to call themselves priests?

These women whose defiance of church law is so threatening to the boys club that Pope Francis incorporated the decree against them into church law?

These women whose ordination as priests was categorized by the Vatican as a “grave crime” worthy of equal punishments to those placed on clergy members who had committed sexual abuse?

Well, here’s one:

Gosh – she doesn’t look scary.

She doesn’t look doomed.

She is Elsie McGrath, ordained a priest in 2007.  According to this 2019 article:

McGrath was excommunicated a few months later, along with the female bishop who ordained her.  Of this McGrath said,

“Excommunication is literally a contract.  It’s a legal document, and that means that it has to be accepted by both parties for it to actually be in force.  We see ourselves as Roman Catholic women who have chosen to be ordained and model a new way of being in the church.  We do not accept excommunication, and therefore, we’re not excommunicated.”

Today, according to a website called “Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Great Waters Region”:

“Elsie Hainz McGrath pastors Therese of Divine Peace Inclusive Roman Catholic Community in Saint Louis, MO, where she presides at weekly liturgies, witnesses weddings and holy unions, leads funeral and memorial services, does other sacramental services as requested, and engages in interreligious activities with neighboring worshiping communities.”

Take that, Pope Francis.

But…what is that word, “Womenpriests”?  That word my spellcheck doesn’t recognize?

It’s the same idea used by this organization:

Uh-oh.

There’s an actual organization for women who are priests?

Yes:    Roman Catholic Women Priests:

And on their “About Us” tab, their message is clear:

“We women are no longer asking for permission to be priests.  Instead, we have taken back our rightful God-given place ministering to Catholics as inclusive and welcoming priests.

“The Catholic people have accepted us as their priests and they continue to support us as we grow from the seven bold women first ordained in 2002.  Ordained women are already ministering in over 34 states across the country and are also present in Canada, Europe, South and Central America, South Africa, Philippines and Taiwan.

“We are here to stay.”

Take that, Pope Francis!

And if the Catholic Church boys club – the Beanie Babies – denigrates Roman Catholic Women Priests as an ineffectual grass roots movement…

I’ll remind them of another grass roots movement, this one also denigrated by men, and this one also about women:

Query To Amazon:  Is The Mouse Included?

Do you remember when Amazon bought Whole Foods?

Me, neither.

Amazon has bought so many companies, the list of “mergers and acquisitions by Amazon” on Wikipedia runs to 106 entries, the most recent being MGM last month:

You’ll note that the second sub-head says the MGM deal “is Amazon’s second-largest acquisition.  It paid $13.7 billion for Whole Foods in 2017.”

Which is a nice segue back to Whole Foods.

Unlike with some of its mergers and acquisitions, Amazon didn’t just acquire Whole Food and make the brand disappear. 

Whole Foods is still very much out there, and opening new stores, on top of the 500-plus they already have, according to this recent story:

Which is another nice segue, into another recent Whole Foods story:

Call it the mouse heard round the world – it made local headlines:

National headlines:

And internationally, on Great Britain’s metro.co.uk among others:

And to show you how seriously this story was taken, Newsweek “reached out to” the shopper who videotaped the mouse, but apparently didn’t hear back.

WPIX-TV in New York “reached out to” Whole Foods for comment on the incident, but apparently, they didn’t hear back, either.

No media outlet mentioned if they’d “reached out to” the mouse for comment.

Perhaps the media members who had the most fun were these New York Post writers…

 …who variously identified the culprit as “a mouse with the munchies,” “the ravenous rodent,” “rascally rodent,” “teeny foodie” and “filthy furball” that made “shoppers squeak with dismay.” 

And, the Post writers continued, when a customer told the store manager about the mouse, he allegedly “brushed off” the sighting, leaving the customer “really cheesed off.”

That customer, by the way, was Brittany Ellis, identified on TikTok as DefineBritt:

Ellis videotaped the mouse, and her May 24 Tik Tok mouse posting – reportedly her first – was an impressive debut: nearly two million views in its first three days.

On May 25 Ellis, who may personify the “strike while the iron is hot” business model, also posted a 12-minute in-depth analysis on YouTube:

Wherein she posed the question, “WTF WHOLE FOODS!!”

I’m expecting we’ll soon hear about a seven-figure book deal for Ellis, a biopic, and in-depth interviews on Ellen DeGeneres, 60 Minutes and Ziwe.

My takeaway?

Amazon (and Whole Foods) owner Jeff Bezos is, according to Forbes, the richest person in the world, with a fortune of $188.4 billion:

Yet for all his wealth and mergers and acquisitions, he’s still plagued with the same problem we not-wealthy also have:

The only difference being, Bezos’ vermin was nibbling on osso bucco veal that sells for $22.99 a pound:

While my vermin only get to nibble on…

Tupperware lids:

Thank You, Spenser, For Being My…

Remember May 2020?

It was bad.

Two months earlier, California – my state – had become the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to stay at home except to go to an essential job or shop for essential needs.

If we ventured out for essential jobs or needs, we were told to stay six feet apart from others, and wear face masks.

Not that you could find face masks to buy anywhere.

And as for other essential needs, the toilet paper aisle at the grocery store looked like this:

In May 2020, COVID-19 deaths passed the 100,000 mark, and a vaccine seemed more like a wish list item than something that could come out of drug companies, go into arms and save lives.

May 2020 was bad.

But I was and am one of the lucky ones, in so many ways.  One way is – I love to read.  As long as I’ve got good books to read, I’m never bored.

Robert B. Parker

Another way:  My amazing library started doing home deliveries the day after the pandemic shut it down.  All I had to do was go on the library’s website, request what I wanted, and my books arrived every Tuesday.

And in May 2020 I realized I wanted to reread Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series.

And yes, that’s Spenser…with an “s.”

Background:

My parents were Parker fans, and years ago they got me started reading his books.  I resisted at first; who wants to read the same thing as their uncool parents?  Plus, detective stories weren’t my thing.

But I gave in and gave Parker a try.  He was easy to read and from the very first book – The Godwulf Manuscript – I was hooked. 

Parker’s website describes Spenser as “the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye,” and he is that.  But he’s much more:  smart, honorable, resourceful, kind, tough, dependable, consistent, and brave. 

But Spenser is no Boy Scout – he’s kicks plenty of ass, sometimes shoots people, and sometimes shoots to kill.

He’s also funny.  And an excellent cook.  And sometimes, something of a philosopher. 

I knew that if I reread the Spenser books that I’d have hours and hours of enjoyment, smiles and satisfaction.

In May 2020 there wasn’t much of that to go around.

So I started rereading the Spenser series, in order.  But to make the pleasure last, I rationed my reading.  I’d read a Spenser book, and then a book or two by different authors.  I knew when the last of Parker’s books was coming, and I was in no rush to meet it.

A year later, in May 2021, when the library delivered Parker’s last Spenser book – his 39th, entitled Sixkill – I opened it with a mixed bag of emotions:  reverence, sadness, nostalgia and gratitude.

I finished Sixkill with the same emotions.

There’s so much more I could say about Parker, and Spenser, and Spenser’s proclivity for quoting obscure (to me, at least) writers, and Parker’s recurring characters, but…

Parker and his wife, Joan, 1998.

All that is better discovered by the reader.

And is my case – rediscovered.

According to one source – not Parker’s website – Parker was 77 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, MA in 2010.  It said he was discovered at his desk by his wife Joan, where he’d been working on a novel.

But Spenser lives on, now in books written by Ace Atkins, as decided by Parker’s estate and publishers.  Since 2010 Atkins has produced nine Spenser novels, and Spenser is still Spenser:  “the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye,” plus all the other attributes I mentioned. 

Atkins’ books were good.  I enjoyed them, and I’ll reread them. 

And I’ll have a few more months – and more good laughs – with my pandemic pal.

“Halfway through my steak I caught sight of myself in the mirror behind the bar.  I looked like someone who ought to eat alone.  I didn’t look in the mirror again.”
– Robert B. Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript 

“Mary sat, quiet and attentive and blank.  It wasn’t like talking to a dumb seventh-grader, it was like talking to a pancake.”
– Robert B. Parker, Widow s Walk

“So far so good.  I had a recently widowed mother and her orphaned son crying hysterically.  Maybe for an encore I could shoot the family dog.”
– Robert B. Parker, Pale Kings and Princes 

“Wanting more than you can have will spoil what you’ve got.”
– Robert B. Parker, Wilderness

“She was wearing something in purple suede that was too short for a skirt and too long for a belt.”
– Robert B. Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript

“I took a sip.  It went surprisingly well with the veal.  On the other hand, the fourth margarita goes surprisingly well with everything.”
– Robert B. Parker, Taming a Seahorse

Let’s Have Some Fun With…

The first time I heard the word philately was years ago in a Tom Lehrer song lyric:

“Who needs a hobby, like tennis or philately?
I have a hobby:  Rereading Lady Chatterley.”

I didn’t know, or care, what philately was, but I sure was curious about Lady Chatterley.

Eventually I learned that philately is “the collection and study of postage stamps.”  Someone who does this is a philatelist.  Then there’s philatelic, an adjective, and philatelically, an adverb, all based on the French word philatélie, and I’ll leave it at that.

Stamp collecting – a hobby, sometimes a profession, the attraction of which escapes me – is exceedingly popular.  There are local, national, and international clubs, an International Philatelic Federation, and an annual World Stamp Championship Exhibition.

And the hobby, or profession, is not just popular, but sometimes very profitable.

With an ironic twist:  A mistake can make a stamp more valuable.  That’s right – one person’s screw-up becomes another person’s treasure.  According to invaluable.com:

“The most valuable stamps in the world often feature some kind of blunder or misprint within one of the main components, known as an error.  Typically, a stamp error arises from a mix-up in the printing plates during pressing.  Errors are usually quickly caught and removed from circulation, increasing rarity and value of the affected stamp.”

Here’s an example:

This is an Inverted Jenny, a misprint of a 1918 stamp featuring one of the Jenny biplanes first used by the US Post Office to carry mail.  The plane on the face of the stamp was accidentally printed upside down. 

Whoops!

There were thousands printed correctly and only 100 printed incorrectly.  And according to a 2018 New York Times article, of those 100, only two were unaccounted for:  No. 49 and No. 66.

That is, until 2018, when a Chicago family resurrected what they thought might be an Inverted Jenny from a safe deposit box.  It was authenticated as Inverted Jenny No. 49 by the Philatelic Foundation in New York, and sold at auction for the then-record sum of more than $1.3 million:

Inverted Jenny No. 49; you can see “49” written in the lower-right corner.

A heads-up to philatelists:  Inverted Jenny No. 66 may still be out there somewhere.

What’s in your wallet?

And speaking of philatelists, in addition to safe deposit boxes, another source of stamps for collectors is the United States Postal Service (USPS).

USPS operates on the belief that every stamp that’s purchased but not used is money – called “retained revenue” – in the bank for USPS.  Collectors spend millions annually buying stamps and related items from USPS.

Many of those items are found on a USPS website page called “Collector’s Zone,” with items including “Commemorative Boxed Sets,” “Gift Cachets” and “First Day Covers.”

One example of the latter is this, the Espresso Drinks First Day Cover:

I chose this example because it’s the Espresso Drinks stamps that prompted me to write this post. 

In case you’re wondering what was the point, and when would I get to it.

USPS announced the release of the new stamps in April:

The USPS news release stated that the stamps:

“…celebrate America’s love of coffee…Whether milky, dark as night, sweetened, flavored or highly concentrated, many coffee drinks have one thing in common – they begin with espresso…four unique designs illustrating popular espresso drinks – espresso, cappuccino, caffe latte and caffe mocha.”

USPS issuing new stamps isn’t something I normally pay any attention to, until a short blurb about this in Food Network magazine caught my eye.  It mentioned the involvement of USPS art director Greg Breeding and “renowned illustrator” Terry Allen, and went on to say:

“The Postal Service sent Terry more than 100 mugs to study for the job!”

“More than 100 mugs”?

“Renowned illustrator” Terry Allen couldn’t just look in his cupboard for inspiration?

Couldn’t just go to a store and take some pictures of espresso mugs?

Couldn’t just google “espresso mugs” – like I did – and get 34,900,000 results?

Apparently not.

Apparently someone at USPS, which we know is in deep financial guano…

…decided “To hell with the budget!” and that before Allen could come up with concepts for Espresso Drinks stamps, he needed to possess espresso mugs.

More than 100 of them.

Never mind that Allen, 78, is an award-winning artist with works in many museums – the New York Museum of Modern Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, to name a few:

Terry Allen, “The Ties that Bind,” 1980, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Allen doesn’t sound like someone who needed more than 100 espresso mugs “to study for the job.”

Allen also doesn’t sound like someone who did the Espresso Drinks designs on the cheap.

I could be wrong.

Maybe he’s a different Terry Allen – maybe he’s this guy (right) who works full-time at Radio Shack and does bad caricatures at weekend flea markets.

Maybe those 100+ espresso mugs were just sitting around gathering dust in one of Postmaster General (and multi-millionaire) Louis DeJoy’s vacation homes, and good ole Louie donated them for the tax write-off.

And maybe I’ll find that missing Inverted Jenny No. 66 stamp the next time I open my wallet…

Here Are The Bear Facts

California’s state flag features a grizzly bear, an animal that once was common in our state:

But before the flag, back in 1889, a grizzly bear was used in a publicity stunt by William Randolph Hearst, a wealthy businessman, newspaper publisher and politician. 

Two years earlier, when he was 23, Hearst’s father had given him a newspaper to run – the San Francisco Examiner:  

And Hearst, who never met a situation he couldn’t exploit for his own benefit – and profit – saw an opportunity.

The story goes that Hearst got into a heated debate with one of his reporters over whether there were still any grizzlies in California.  The reporter, Allen Kelly, said there were.  Hearst insisted there weren’t.

Hearst ended the argument by challenging Kelly to go out, find a grizzly, and bring it back – alive – to San Francisco.  Hearst gave Kelly a blank check, plenty of staff, and plenty of publicity with updates like this one from Kelly:

After nearly six months, Kelly and his compatriots captured a grizzly, and Hearst’s newspaper headline read…

“He Was Trapped in Ventura County After a Terrific Struggle and Secured with Massive Iron Chains – It Was a Hard Battle but Not a Man was Hurt – The Long Journey Over Almost Impassable Mountains Before He Was Safely Landed in San Francisco”

A crowd of 20,000 was waiting at the San Francisco train depot to greet the conquering hero and the grizzly.  Hearst’s publicity-hungry heart was appeased – for the moment – and the bear, now named Monarch, would be in captivity, on view, for 22 years until his death.

Monarch was used as the model for the state flag image, and the grizzly bear was named California’s official state animal in 1953, long after grizzlies had become extinct in this state.

Hearst would go on to run – unsuccessfully – for President of the United States in 1904, Mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, and for Governor of New York in 1906.

Now let’s fast forward, and meet another California politician who’s using a bear for publicity:

John Cox, like Hearst, is also a wealthy businessman, and like Hearst, has also run – unsuccessfully – for several political offices, including President in 2008. 

His most recent run was for California Governor, which he lost to Democrat Gavin Newson in the state’s biggest gubernatorial landslide since 1950.

Now Governor Newsom is facing a recall vote, financed by what appears to be a bunch of rich, disgruntled Republicans, a number of whom were also Trump backers.

At present the Republican recall candidates include Mary Ellen Cook, a former pornographic film actress; Angelyne, a former Los Angeles billboard model; Kevin Faulconer, a former San Diego mayor; Doug Ose, a former California congressman; Caitlyn Jenner, a former male Olympic gold medalist and reality show celebrity, now a transgender activist…

Top, left to right: Faulconer, Cox, Ose; bottom, left to right: Jenner, Angelyne, Cook.

And John Cox.

And his bear:

As you can see on Cox’s bus, his campaign slogan is “Meet the Beast.”

For clarification, I visited the Cox for Governor website, where an almost-three-minute video disparages Newsom for being the “Beauty”:

Apparently equating “beauty” with “all thinigs horrible”:

While Cox – I guess – is the “Beast”:

Because we need “beastly change”:

The video winds down by asking us, “You want beauty?  Or a ball-busting beast…” and exhorting us to “Recall the beauty.  And elect the nicest, smartest beast you’ve ever met”:

So I guess Cox is suggesting that he is the beast who will bring beastly changes to California?

Let’s pause, and meet the beast.  I mean – the bear.

His name is Tag:

Unlike Hearst’s grizzly, Tag is a Kodiak bear, born nine years ago in a private zoo in Ohio.  He stands 7½ feet tall, weighs 1,000 pounds, and lives at Working Wildlife in Frazier Park, CA, a business that rents out wild animals for entertainment purposes.

And Tag has, indeed, been rented out – for TV shows including Yellowstone with Kevin Costner and the Apple TV+ series See, as well as for commercials, Geico and Rocket Mortgage among them. 

And now, Tag has been rented by the Cox campaign.

When asked why, Cox said,

“It was done to get attention, I’m going to be honest about that, but it also was done to show the seriousness of a beast.  We’ve got to tackle these problems.”

Now it appears that Cox is getting a bit more attention than he wants:

According to this May 25 article, the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL), a San Diego nonprofit, is claiming that a stop Cox made in San Diego earlier in May “violated a city ordinance, and that ongoing appearances are illegal under federal law.”

APRL has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order Cox to immediately suspend any further public appearances with the animal through the duration of the campaign to recall Governor Newsom.

APRL claimed the bear was drugged, which the campaign denied.  The lawsuit also said,

“While at one point defendants claimed to use an ‘electrified wire’ to contain the bear, this would not be sufficient to stop a 1,000-pound bear.  Defendants later admitted the wire was not even electrified as claimed.”

That “not even electrified” appears to be true.  According to Tag’s trainer, the cord was unplugged because the bear had “long since learned not to go near it”:

Tag and the not-electrified wire he supposedly doesn’t get near to.

I mention this in case you decide to attend a Cox/Tag campaign appearance – you might want to keep that “not even electrified” part in mind in case Tag figures out a workaround.

I’d certainly want something substantial between me and a 7½ foot, 1,000-pound bear.

Substantial – like an ocean.

The Cox campaign did have plenty to say as they pledged to continue displaying the bear at political events – at least until a judge intercedes.  And…

“The establishment is running scared from the bear because they don’t like that we’re going to make the big beastly changes California needs.  Gavin Newsom and his insider friends want to distract from the important issues like slashing taxes, fixing the homelessness epidemic and reducing the cost of living so families and businesses don’t have to flee the state.”

The Cox campaign has that “beastly” thing nailed, don’t they?

I was unable to find a schedule of upcoming appearances for Cox and Tag on his – that is, Cox’s – website, or elsewhere.

And I was unable to find a date for the Newsom recall election, beyond “sometime in November.”

I was able to find an estimate for what the recall election will cost, and who gets to pay for it:

And since a recent poll indicates that a large majority of California voters oppose the Newsom recall:

This whole farce is my definition of “beastly”:

Life Gave Them Lemons, And They’re…

According to this May 11 Voice of America article:

“…at the end of March there were 8.1 million open jobs in the country, the highest number since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the figure in 2000.”

Then the BLS reported that the number of newly employed Americans had risen by only 266,000 in April rather than the one million that had been forecast.

The article goes on to say,

“Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blame the Biden administration’s continuation of expanded unemployment benefits of ‘paying people not to work.’ 

“Republicans in Congress, many using the exact language of the chamber, excoriated the administration…”

Republicans have grown expert at excoriating the administration.

If President Biden said on a Friday morning, “Today is Friday,” it would be followed by a Mitch McConnell/Kevin McCarthy duet of, “I object to that!  That’s political and Biden is politicizing it!  It’s the Big Lie!”

And they’d be backed up by a lockstep chorus line of Republicans shouting, “The Big Lie!  The Big Lie!”

So let’s leave that mess aside and talk about why that April newly employed number was less than expected.

We’ve heard many reasons why people haven’t returned to work, but there’s a reason we haven’t heard much about, and it’s not people getting paid to not work.

And it’s a reason I totally get:

Many people who were laid off have had time to reflect on their employment.

And basically, they decided…

What prompted my thinking along these lines was this very insightful article from the Associated Press:

The article included interviews with a number of people I consider a good representation of the sentiment out there.

One was 57-year-old Ellen Booth:

“After a lifelong career as a bartender, Booth (below, right) was in constant pain from lifting ice buckets and beer kegs.  But without a college degree, she felt she had limited options.

“When the restaurant she worked for closed last year, she said it gave her ‘the kick I needed.’  Booth started a year-long class to learn to be medical coder.  When her unemployment benefits ran out two months ago, she started drawing on her retirement funds.  She’ll take an exam in the coming weeks to get certified, and hit the job market.”

Then there was Nate Mullins, 36, also a former bartender.  Not working prompted him to start thinking long-term – about health care and retirement benefits.  And Mark Smithivas, 52, a former Uber and Lyft driver.  He spent the last year taking technology classes in a federal worker training program.

There were other interviews, but the one that resonated with me the most was 25-year-old Shelly Ortiz.  Ortiz, said the article,

“…used to love her career as a restaurant server.  But things changed last June, when her Phoenix restaurant reopened its dining room.  She wore two masks and glasses to protect herself, but still felt anxiety in a restaurant full of unmasked diners.

“Sexual harassment also got worse.  Patrons would ask her to pull down her mask so they could see how cute she was before tipping her.”

Ortiz quit in July, returned to school full time, and this month she’s graduating from Glendale Community College with a degree in film and a certificate in documentary directing.

No more “pull down your mask” for her.

There are all sorts of bromides out there about loving your work:

Please:  Spare me.

The reality is, most people spend their lives working for a paycheck.  They’re not doing what they love – like something in the arts, or in sports, or in the nonprofit sector, or studying whales, or whatever.  And that’s because they have rent to pay, and groceries to buy, and doctors and dentists, and gasoline to put in the car, if they can afford to own one.

Being a starving artist may sound enticing, but most people don’t go that route.

You can’t feed your unsold paintings to your kids.

So, to the people who haven’t rushed back to their old jobs as the pandemic restrictions ease…  To those who have utilized this time to reflect on their priorities, and change direction…  To those to whom life gave lemons and are turning them into lemonade…

I say…

More Bad News About The California DMV

When this story about bribery at the California DMV appeared on May 18:

It didn’t surprise me.

What surprised me was how little interest it merited.

I understand why more bad news about the California DMV wouldn’t be of interest to people outside our state.

But I thought the California media outlets would be on this story like flies on…you know.

But no.

National and local, all I saw online was reprints of the same Associated Press story from above, that starts with:

“California Department of Motor Vehicle employees at two Los Angeles-area offices took thousands of dollars in bribes to approve driver licenses, federal prosecutors said.”

And ends with:

“The scheme involved sending the drivers to the window of a participating DMV employee who had an identifier, such as a red hat.”

We’ve gotten so used to bad news about our DMV, and bad service from our DMV, that back on April 19 I did a post in which I referred to it as the “asshole of California.”

“A bit harsh,” someone commented.

“Harsh”?

I think not.

I based my assessment on the encounters I’ve had with the DMV over the years, and recounted the most recent.  I’d mailed paperwork to them six weeks earlier, and wanted to know the status of my request.  After many fruitless and frustrating attempts to learn something on the DMV website, in desperation I called them.

Eventually I connected with a person and explained why I was calling.

And without bothering to ask me anything – not even my name – his excuse was well-rehearsed, immediate, and creative:

“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”

The conversation went downhill from there.  He was less than useless, and if you think that isn’t possible, you haven’t dealt with our DMV.

A bad experience at our DMV is never a surprise, so neither are bad headlines, like these:

In case you don’t know what the Golden Fleece Award is for…

“The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – a cartoonish poster child for bureaucratic incompetence – has won the Independent Institute’s seventh California Golden Fleece® Award, a distinction given quarterly to California state or local agencies or government projects that swindle taxpayers or break the public trust.”

And note, those headlines were all pre-pandemic.

Since the pandemic started in March 2020…

One thing you can count on the DMV to be is…

OK, back to the most recent – the May 2021 bribery story.

This involves two Los Angeles-area offices and at least five employees, one of whom “admitted to accepting weekly bribes exceeding $50,000.”

A different bribery accepter said a “network of ‘brokers’ would contact him on behalf of drivers who could not pass the exam and then forward the drivers’ bribes to the DMV employees.”

You’ll be relieved to know that in a statement responding to this latest, the DMV said:

“Fraud prevention is one key component of customer service.  The DMV takes very seriously its responsibility to uphold the law as we serve our customers and we applaud our thousands of employees who work with integrity and pride.”

Which I suspect is similar to what the DMV said back in 2012 after this story broke:

And after this 2015 story:

And this 2018 story:

And this 2019 story:

And…enough.

Back in January 2019, our governor, Gavin Newsom, committed to fixing the DMV by appointing a “strike team”:

As time passed and nothing changed, we were all wondering…

That question was answered in July 2019:

But let’s don’t get discouraged! 

An April 2021 report from AutoInsurance.org assures us that the California DMV made a Top 10 list.

A Top Ten list!  That’s a good thing, right?

We Have Books With A Happy Ending – How About Bookstores With A…

Independently owned bookstores have been around since before the U.S. was the U.S. – like Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, PA, the oldest bookstore in the U.S., founded in 1745:

These stores – often referred to as “indies” – have been beloved by their customers and neighbors alike, and thrived for a long time.  As a place to buy books, of course, but also as a place to learn about books, talk about books, and be around other people who shared a love of reading.

But, according to an article on newrepublic.com,

“The rise of superstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders in the 1980s and ’90s was a disaster for smaller shops, which lacked the chains’ inventory and ability to offer steep discounts.  Customers were also moving away from downtown locally owned businesses and doing their shopping at malls.  In the seven years before the Great Recession began, more than 1,000 independent bookstores closed.”

The advent of Amazon in 1995 – as a website that started out selling only books – also contributed to the indies’ demise.  Why go to a bookstore, even a big bookstore like Barnes & Noble, when you could sit in front of your computer at home and find just about any book you want from Amazon?

Sure, buying on Amazon didn’t give you the same tactile experience of pulling a book off a shelf and hefting it in your hand, paging through it, and walking out of a store, delighted with your purchase.  But many were willing to make that trade.

Then came another blow to Indies:  e-books.  No need to lug around the physical book, just download it to your device.  Download lots of books to your device!  No more bookstores for you.

Yet another blow:  The afore-mentioned Great Recession wasn’t kind to independently owned bookstores.

And neither was the pandemic.  Stores were forced to close, in-store events were cancelled, and indie owners who had little or no internet presence suddenly had to become mini-Amazons or risk permanently closing their doors.

Which brings us to two San Diego indies who managed to survive it all, then almost didn’t – Mysterious Galaxy, founded in 1993, and Warwick’s, founded in 1896.

Since its founding, Mysterious Galaxy’s focus has been science fiction, fantasy, mystery, young adult, romance, and horror books, making it – according to its website,

Mysterious Galaxy, 2019 location.

“San Diego’s premier destination for genre-fiction…a home for those who love the magical, the odd, the chilling, and everything in between…”

But, in late 2019, came this announcement:

“The staff of Mysterious Galaxy just received notice that they are losing their lease for their Balboa Avenue storefront, and will need to move in 60 days.  It is with heavy hearts that we share that unless a new buyer and new location are found immediately, Mysterious Galaxy will be forced to close its doors.”

The Mysterious Galaxy staff had seen it coming.  According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune,

“…in September 2018, the owners decided it was time to ‘pass the torch’ and pursue other interests, and they put the store up for sale.  Although several candidates came forward, no deal was struck, and the store’s lease on Balboa Avenue expired.  It continued operating month-to-month while the search for a buyer continued.”

Then the landlord found a new long-term tenant and gave Mysterious Galaxy that 60-day eviction notice. 

After surviving so much, Mysterious Galaxy was done in by their lease. 

Or, lack of.

Then, just before Christmas 2019, came this:

A married couple who were regular customers purchased the business and moved it to a new location:

One of the store’s founders said she’d met with “a number of qualified prospective buyers and corresponded with dozens of others” before striking a deal with the couple.  She described them as “passionate readers who understand our mission and want to take the business to the next level and ensure its future.”

That was Christmas 2019.

Then came March 2020 and the pandemic, but a visit to the Mysterious Galaxy website indicates that the store, though “closed for browsing” (and that should change soon) is still very much in business:

About 15 minutes north of Mysterious Galaxy in the La Jolla area we encounter Warwick’s, “the oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore in the United States,” according to their website:

Warwick’s is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, so it was a truly lousy time for the fourth-generation owners, Nancy and Cathy, to learn that the building’s owner had received an unsolicited $8.3 million dollar cash offer, which the owner intended to accept.

The store had been in this location since 1952, and it was a great location – a storefront with foot traffic and street parking in La Jolla, which one website lists as San Diego’s “most expensive neighborhood” in 2021:

The average household income in La Jolla is around $200,000, and it’s also a popular tourist destination – the description on the area’s website could leave you positively drooling:

Incredible beaches, fine dining, posh boutiques, and sweeping panoramic ocean views combine to make a dynamic community and one of the most popular places to go in San Diego.

Downtown La Jolla, or as the locals call it, “The Village,” is a walkable urban area packed with shops, museums, and art galleries – making it one of the best places to visit in San Diego.

As you can imagine, retail rents in La Jolla are commensurate with the surroundings.

After surviving for more than a century, and through all the more-recent challenges…

And how would the Warwick sisters ever find a location they could afford that could match their current digs?

Especially with time running out – the owner had given the Nancy and Cathy 15 days to match that $8.3 million cash offer.

Instead of hanging out a Going Out of Business sign, Nancy called a longtime customer and commercial real estate broker.  He arranged a meeting with a friend and local investor who’s also a store patron.

“Within about 45 minutes we had struck a lease deal and decided how to structure a counteroffer so that we could buy the building,” the friend/investor said.

The trio lined up a bank and nearly three dozen Warwick’s supporters, including Nancy and Cathy and their husbands.  They formed an LLC and offered $8.35 million dollars.  That offer was accepted and escrow closed April 28:

The deal includes a 10-year lease, with two five-year renewal options – up to 20 more years to continue the family business.

Warwick’s investors celebrating, May 1.

Mysterious Galaxy and Warwick’s found guardian angels, but many indies have not.  According to an article on vox.com, since the pandemic started, indies have been closing at the rate of about one a week, and 20 percent of stores in the U.S. are in danger of same. 

Those that are surviving are doing so because the owners and staff pivoted – from face-to-face service to online orders, curbside pickup and in some cases, home deliveries.  Book clubs and other in-store events moved to online platforms like Zoom.  Some owners applied for, and received, loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and some created GoFundMe pages, with some success.

As the pandemic appears to be diminishing and with it the lockdowns and stay-at-homes and dangers of infection, here’s hoping that the independent bookstore owners can continue to hang on, and their stores can continue to be, as one owner put it…

“…places where folks can come together to discuss what’s going on in the world, to also have a safe haven and a safe place for exploring new ideas.  Bookstores provide everything from sanctuary to meditative spaces.”

Book Review: She Deserves To Be Remembered – But Not Like This

Publication date:  March 2021

Review, short version:  One rose.

Review, long version:

There are three lead characters in Mitchell James Kaplan’s Rhapsody:  a wife, her husband, and her lover.

I’d never heard of the wife, by either of her names:  her personal name, Mrs. James (Katharine) Warburg, or her professional name, Kay Swift (composer).

I’d never heard of the husband, by either of his names:  his personal name, James Warburg, or his professional name, Paul James (Swift’s sometime lyricist).

I’d certainly heard of, and was a great admirer of, her lover:

George Gershwin.

Swift and her lover, Gershwin.

Gershwin (1898-1937) was a pianist and composer, best remembered for his Rhapsody in Blue, the musical An American in Paris, the opera Porgy and Bess, and songs including Swanee, I Got Rhythm and many others for Broadway musicals and movies.

When I read a review of Rhapsody, I was intrigued because it was a fictionalized account of the 10-year love affair between Gershwin and Swift.

I was unaware of any serious love interest in Gershwin’s life – when he died at age 38, he’d never married – and Rhapsody seemed like a good place to start.

And it was a good place to start, for Gershwin.

For Swift, not so much.

When we meet Swift (1897-1993) she’s the socialite wife of super-wealthy James Warburg (1896-1969), whom she married when she was 20, and they have three daughters.  Katharine is an accomplished pianist and wannabe composer who longs for recognition – lots of recognition.  “What was the point,” she muses, “of artistic expression in music, or any other medium, if it affected only the artist herself?”

I said “muses,” but it was really more of a whine.  And not her last, as Kaplan portrays her.

Swift and her husband, Jimmy.

Swift and Warburg – “Jimmy” – are very social, and in 1925 a guest at one of their parties brings along Gershwin.  Swift knew of him and had seen him, but not up this close.  Zing! went the strings of her heart.

Gershwin’s heart?  Not so much.

Swift – soon to be christened “Kay” by Gershwin – become friends, drawn together by their mutual interest in music.  She longs for recognition of her work, and for more of Gershwin’s attention.  Gershwin craves recognition, and his attention is on his music. 

During one exchange at her family’s apartment, George says he has to leave and get back to work.  In an effort to make him stay, she – rather pathetically, I thought – offers herself to him as his assistant.  His response:  “I’ll keep that in mind.  Meanwhile, I’ll be touring the New York Concerto.  You won’t see me for a while.”

I could accompany you.  She said it with her eyes.

Really pathetic.  Especially since Gershwin doesn’t invite her to accompany him.

This – as written by Kaplan – pretty much sums up the relationship:  Kay always yearning for Gershwin, and Gershwin always on his way out the door.  They become lovers in 1926, but when she tells Gershwin she’s in love with him, he doesn’t respond likewise.  Gershwin is unfaithful, and doesn’t try to hide it.  And when she tells Gershwin she’s going to get a divorce and marry him, his response is…lukewarm at best.

Here’s another of Swift’s responses to Gershwin:

If that’s the best you can do, George, thought Kay, I’ll take it.

And another, after someone asks Swift if Gershwin is her beau:

“I think so,” said Kay.  “I hope so.”

This last was nine years into the Swift/Gershwin relationship.

Swift comes across as weak, clingy, and powerless in the relationship, and I didn’t think that was an accurate representation.  Rather, I hoped it wasn’t, and that led me to my own online research.  Under her professional name, Kay Swift (Swift was her maiden name) evolved into an accomplished composer, including becoming the first woman to score a hit musical completely – Fine and Dandy in 1930.

To be fair, Kaplan does talk about some of Swift’s musical accomplishments, but whatever she did after Gershwin’s death in 1937 is left untold – Rhapsody ends with Gershwin’s funeral.

So I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in Swift and Gershwin and that whole era –New York in the Roaring 20s and Prohibition into the Great Depression – to do their own research and form their own opinion of Swift.

She deserves to be remembered, but…

Addendum:

Among the Rhapsody reviews on Amazon is this April 5, 2021 statement, identified as being from the Kay Swift Trust, “established by the Estate of Kay Swift to provide stewardship of the body of music, to enable scholarship about the life and work of Kay Swift, and to perpetuate performance, recording and publication of her music”:

We are disappointed by this novel “about” Kay Swift and her romance with George Gershwin.  There is almost no page in the book without absurd errors, inauthentic representations, ignorant cultural, political, and musical references, or offensive characterizations.  There are numerous representations that we consider to be anti-Semitic, whether knowingly or ignorantly.  For a book attempting to portray the romance between two celebrated musicians, the writing is both inept and tone-deaf…

Have You Met Your New Neighbor?

Let’s say it’s a Sunday evening Houston, TX in early May, around 8pm.  The family’s had dinner, kids are in their rooms playing video games, and your husband has turned on the TV to stream…whatever.

Just another Sunday evening in Houston.

Until you glance out your front window, and see this:

Yes, that’s a tiger.

There’s a tiger in your front yard.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d have two reactions:

As a resident of Houston, you may be aware that it’s legal to own tigers in your state.  However, individual jurisdictions can set their own guidelines, and being in possession of a tiger in Houston is against city code.

I’m betting that the guy pictured below (right) was aware of Houston’s city code.  This is Victor Hugo Cuevas, whom police allege is the tiger s owner, and who whisked away the big cat in a car that May evening:

Cuevas (right) and his attorney Michael Elliott in court on May 14, 2021.

At a news conference, Houston Police Commander Ron Borza said that Cuevas’ wife, Giorgiana, turned over the tiger to police after a friend of hers reached out to officials at BARC Animal Shelter.

“It is Victor’s tiger,” said Borza.  “That’s what I was told by (Giorgiana Cuevas) …She says they’ve had that animal for nine months.”  He alleged that the tiger was passed around to different people, but that Cuevas’ wife knew where the tiger was at all times as authorities searched for it.

We also learned that the tiger’s name is India, he’s nine months old, and weighs 175 pounds.

We know that – but India doesn’t know he’s just a baby.

India does know that tigers raw meat, and lots of it.

Prey on two legs, four legs – tigers are flexible.

And there India was, strolling around a neighborhood where, as one resident put it,

“It was very scary, because this a very family-oriented community and you see lots of kids and baby-strolling, and people taking their pets and walking them, so the first thing I thought was to alert the community so everybody would stay home.”

Cuevas was arrested by Houston police and charged with evading arrest for allegedly fleeing his home with the tiger. 

It turns out this isn’t his first run-in with the law.  At the time of his arrest by Houston police, Cuevas was out on bond for a murder charge in a 2017 fatal shooting in neighboring Fort Bend County.  Cuevas has maintained the shooting was self-defense.

So Cuevas was already lawyered-up, in this case attorney Michael W. Elliott:

With regards to the tiger, Elliott insists that Cuevas doesn’t own India:

“Victor was not the primary owner of India nor did India stay with him the majority of the time.  Victor was, however, involved in the caretaking of India often.  Victor loves India as anyone else would love a favorite pet…He treated India with love and fantastic treatment in all respects.”

It appears that Elliott is overlooking (or ignoring) the language in Houston’s Code of Ordinances, Article III, Sec. 6-52 which doesn’t talk about ownership, but rather possession of:

“It is unlawful for any person to be in possession of a wild animal.”

The Code’s definition of “wild animal” includes tigers.

Elliott also said Cuevas did nothing illegal because Texas has no statewide law forbidding private ownership of tigers and other exotic animals – again overlooking (or ignoring) Houston’s Code of Ordinances.

Apparently Attorney Elliott’s overlooking/ignoring worked – Cuevas was released on a separate bond for the evading arrest charge.

But prosecutors in Fort Bend County then sought to have him held with no bond on the 2017 murder charge. 

After an all-day hearing, a judge revoked Cuevas’ current $125,000 bond on the murder charge and issued a new bond for $300,000.  As of this writing, Cuevas remains jailed.

And India?

India is now being cared for at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Murchison, TX. According to Noelle Almrud, the sanctuary’s senior director:

“Black Beauty Ranch will provide safe sanctuary for India and give him a proper diet, enrichment, an expansive naturally wooded habitat where he can safely roam and will provide everything else he needs to be the healthy wild tiger he deserves to be.”

Hopefully, a happy ending for India.

This story brings to mind an old ad for gasoline company that urged consumers to “Put A Tiger In Your Tank”:

I’d say this time around, the tiger put Cuevas in the tank:

Rant:  You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

When I’m driving, I occasionally listen to “Oldies” radio, “oldies” defined as a “radio format  that concentrates on rock and roll and pop music from around the mid-1950s to the 1970s or 1980s.”

Unless you’re Generation Z, in which case “oldies” is defined as “so 20 minutes ago.”

Some oldies songs are good to hear, some not so good.

But when a song came on…

That was so egregiously bad, I almost had to pull into a rest stop and…

woman larger

While I wondered who wrote this and…

what_02 cropped larger

They were thinking it was 1963.  A time when…

Women were supposed to want this:

housewife_01 smaller

Read this:

cookbook

And ignore this:

office_02 cropped

So it’s no wonder that the song’s lyrics start like this:

Hey! Little Girlwoman_01 reversed
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door.
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore.

The lyrics start there, and then get worse:

For wives should always be lovers, too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you.

The song was “Wives and Lovers,” and it was all downhill from there:

Day after daywoman_01 reversed
There are girls at the office
And men will always be men.
Don’t send him off with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again.

For wives should always be lovers, too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
He’s almost here.

Hey! Little girl
Better wear something prettywoman_01 reversed
Something you’d wear to go to the city and
Dim all the lights, pour the wine, start the music
Time to get ready for love
Time to get ready
Time to get ready for love.

It won’t come as a surprise that these dreadful lyrics were written by a guy.

It may come as a surprise that one of the people who recorded the song won a Grammy in 1964.

But what’s really surprising is how many people recorded it:

More than 30.

And some of those were women.

But wait – it gets worse:

Cécile McLorin Salvant deliberately learned these lyrics, went to a recording studio, and included “Wives and Lovers” on her album For One to Love.

 Not in 1965, or 1985, or 2005 but in…

2015

Yes, in 2015.

I’m going to rank Salvant’s giant leap for womankind right up there with these catchy lyrics I discovered, also from the 1960s:

You’ve come a long way, baby,
To get where you got to, today.
You’ve got your own cigarette now baby,
You’ve come a long, long way.

Picture4

Book Review:  I Expected Better From Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Publication Date:  June 2020

Review, short version:  Three roses for him, many skunks for her.

Review, long version:

According to her website, author Susan Elizabeth Phillips has published 24 books, and I’ve read most of them.

And I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read, a couple enough to read twice, and one – three times.

It had been awhile, so when I went looking for her latest and found Dance Away with Me, I was elated.  Somehow I’d missed it’s publication 2020, and I was SO ready for some more Susan now.

Phillips’ website unabashadly states that “Life is better with happily ever afters,” and her love stores have them.  They also have strong, smart lead female characters, and strong, smart male lead characters, and when the females and males meet, there’s often a lot of conflict and a lot of great, snarky dialogue before they figure out their happy ending.

Let’s start with the lead male in Dance Away with Me:  Ian North, age 36.  He’s everything you want in a hunky romance hero:  tall, dark, handsome and built.  Very alpha, but sensitive.  He’s super-rich due to his being a highly successful, hughely talented artist.  He’s also a tortued soul, because he can’t create art anymore.  Plus, he had terrible parents, and a very messed-up childhood.

The lead female is Tess Hartsong, age 35, and she is Phillips’ first lead female character who totally disappointed me. 

When we meet Tess, her husband of 11 years had died two years ago, and she’s dealing with grief “that would never, ever go away.” 

Tess apparently had a career as a certified nurse midwife, but she jettisoned that.  She sold her home in Milwaukee and bought a dilapidated cabin in the Tennessee mountains, because her late husband had talked about moving to Tennessee someday.  Tess is a mess, and there’s no indication that she’s pursued any kind of professional help to deal with her grief and anger.

I’m not suggesting that Tess should just “get over it.”  I know, firsthand, that grief knows no timeline.  I also know that the right therapist can help us learn to live with the grief, and learn to live again. 

But not Tess.

Through a series of events, Tess is suddenly delivering a premature baby, and the baby’s mother, Bianca, dies.  In Tess’ muddled mind, her anger “had made this happen.  It had seared the placental membrane, boiled Bianca’s blood until it wouldn’t coagulate…Her own anger had done this.”

See what I mean about Tess’ mental state?

The man Tess believes is the baby’s father – Ian – turns out not to be; the baby was fathered by a sperm donor.  The baby is, in reality, an orphan, and should have immediately been turned over to child protection services.

Instead, Tess names the infant girl “Wren” and latches onto her like a drowning person latches onto a life preserver.  Somehow, this baby, to whom she has no legal right, is going to fix everything.

As Tess’ obsession with the infant gets worse, we meet another facet of Tess:  Tess is a bitch. A self-righteous know-it-all who says whatever she likes to whomever.  She’s arrogant and obnoxious.  She assigns degrading labels to people and she’s scornfully judgmental.  She gives sex advice to the local teenagers without their parents’ permission because “I’m right.”

Not my idea of a book character I want to spend time with.

Back to the baby.  Tess:  “I’m her family.  I was the first person to touch her.  The one who’s fed her, changed her, held her against my body…”  “She only wanted to be with Wren…Taking in the little sounds she made – the squeaks and yawns, her baby snores.  Her perfect deliciousness…”  “This baby was hers.  She would give up her life for this child.  She could not let her go…”  “Wren is mine.  She belongs with me.”

A fine way for a mother to feel.

But Tess is not the baby’s mother.

Then there’s the matter of Tess’ mess of a life:  no job, no money, no health insurance, a crappy, unsafe house – and she thinks she’s prepared to care for a child (to whom she has no legal claim)?

Then there’s the matter of Tess practicing medicine in Tennessee without a license.

And the irony, toward the end of the book, of Tess suggesting that Ian is emotionally crippled.

Uh-huh.  That’s right, Tess.  You’re the perfect person to psychoanalyze someone.

And this brings me to my comfort zone – once again totally out of step with the almost 1,900 Amazon reviewers, 96% of whom gave Dance Away with Me three stars or above (73% gave it five stars).

It also raises the question, when Phillips’ next book, When Stars Collide, comes out this June…

Will I read it?

Caught And Charged; Caught And Killed; And The One That Got Away

Every Sunday my newspaper runs a full page titled The (almost) Back Page.

It’s a collection of short articles that aren’t worthy of big headlines or the front page, but still articles worth reading.

Here are three recent stories that prompted research on my part, and of course, my own spin:

Caught and Charged

The Charles Schwab Corporation is an American multinational financial services company whose motto is “Own Your Tomorrow”:

Kelyn Spadoni (pictured below, right), a Schwab client, appears to have done just that – owning her tomorrow by buying a new car and a house.

It seems that Spadoni, 33, of Harvey, LA had requested a transfer of $82.56 into her account.

Instead, Schwab transferred $1,205,619 into Spadoni’s account.

Spadoni, obviously a fiscally responsible person, noticed the$1,205,536.44 in additional funds, exactly as she should have.  Aren’t money experts always telling us to “monitor your money”?

She then transferred the money into a different account and bought the house and car the next day.

Who wouldn’t be tempted to do the same?

Especially after the crap year so many have had? 

Imagine the pleasure Spadoni felt, walking into that Hyundai dealership and writing a big, fat check for the Genesis SUV she chose.  Imagine the thrill Spadoni felt, pointing to a house and saying, perhaps, “I’ll take that one,” a house she likely couldn’t have afforded on her salary as a 911 dispatcher for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The Schwab transaction, variously called a “software glitch,” “clerical error” and a “mistake,” came to Schwab’s attention and they, of course, contacted Spadoni.

Or tried to – she didn’t respond to their texts, emails or calls.

Now it appears someone besides Spadoni may be “owning her tomorrow”:

Schwab contacted the authorities and Spadoni was arrested on April 7.  She was charged with fraud and theft – and also fired, the Sheriff’s Office said – and has since been released on a $150,000 bond.

Now, of course Spadoni knew what she was doing was wrong. 

And we know it was wrong.

But truly…

Wouldn’t you have been…

Up Next:

Caught and Killed

A violent death is never something to celebrate, and this was a violent death. 

Still, I couldn’t help but give a small, inward nod when I read this:

Elephants:  1.  Poachers:  0.

The location was Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, one of Africa’s largest game reserves at 7,523 square miles.

Its high density of wild animals includes the Big Five:  lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos:

Its high density is a big draw for poachers, and a big menace for the Big Five.

Especially for rhinos, which, according to an April 20 Washington Post article,

“…are frequently targeted by poachers for their horns, which have been used as an ingredient in traditional medicines in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam for thousands of years.  Aside from medicine, the horns are often seen as a symbol of high social status and purchased as gifts.”

Apparently the deceased alleged poacher and his two partners had entered the park, armed with axes and a rifle.  They were spotted by rangers who gave chase.  The men fled, dropping their weapons.

I think it’s reasonable to infer that the men were in the park for nefarious reasons.

I think it’s also reasonable to assume that they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier.

Because their escape route took them straight into a herd of elephants.

Breeding elephants.

Now, I’m no expert, but I know that African bull elephants are big:  up to 13 feet tall, and up to six+ tons.

And I know that breeding bull elephants have one focus, and they do not like to be disturbed.

And when some puny humans run into the herd and interrupt the…shall we say courtship, the bulls are likely to get annoyed.

And they did:  The bulls and the rest of the elephant herd stampeded, and one of the men was killed.

Park rangers arrested another of the men, and apparently the third escaped.

The elephants resumed their breeding activities, unbothered.

It’s likely the dead poacher had family and if so, I’m sorry for their loss.

But I’m not sorry that in this one park, on this one day, we didn’t have one more of these:

And finally,

The One That Got Away

The setting for this story is the Detroit River, which flows west and south between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie:

In April, three biologists from the Michigan-based Fish and Wildlife Service office were in a boat on the river, putting out setlines with hooks to catch and survey the lake sturgeon population.

It was their version of just another day at the office, when one of them felt a tug on the line.

What they pulled in – and it took all three of them – was a lake sturgeon:

But not your typical lake sturgeon; this female measured 6-feet, 10-inches, had a girth of nearly four feet, and weighed in at 240 pounds, one of the largest ever caught in the country. 

One of the biologists, who is 5’ 6”, obligingly laid down next to the fish to give us some perspective:

The group estimated the sturgeon’s age at about 100 years, and that in itself is amazing for a number of reasons:

People do fish for lake sturgeon, though the flesh is described at “edible but not prized.”  It’s the sturgeon’s eggs that are in demand – caviar produced from sturgeon eggs can sell for more than $100 an ounce:

So for around 100 years – since 1920 – our wily female has evaded those who have wanted to eat her, or harvest her eggs.

In addition, according to a May 5 article in the Washington Post, there was…

“…a boom in commercial fishing that continued into the early 1900s, periods of over-harvesting, and habitat loss driven by shipping channel construction and the damming of tributaries.”

And, during World War II, Detroit was considered the “Arsenal of Democracy,” producing jeeps, tanks, bombers and airplane assemblies, artillery guns, ammunition, helmets, drugs, electronics, and other military items.  Oil pollution was rampant, and they discharged not only oil but other toxic substances into the Detroit River.

Our wily female survived all that, as well.

And other hazards, like collisions with boats.  Lake sturgeons are slow swimmers, and when it’s fish vs. boat…

It’s no wonder the fish are considered a threatened species in Michigan – in fact, in 19 of the 20 states where they’re found.

The three biologists from the Michigan-based Fish and Wildlife Service office tagged the female and released her. 

Let’s hope our female continues to be…

What Isn’t Right With This Writing?

I love to write – and have for a long time – but that doesn’t mean I’m a great writer.

Or even a good writer.

Which is why I know that as a writer, I can always improve.

Which is why I enjoy taking creative writing classes.

Our writing instructor gave us a tricky assignment.  She wanted us to take several writing rules and break them, repeatedly but not blatantly, in a piece.

But – she wanted the piece to be written so that at first read, you might not notice the errors.

I chose three writing rules to break, and had some fun with it.  The piece is below, followed by a list of the rules I broke.

*****

As I slowly awoke at the crack of noon, I immediately realized my blood alcohol level was getting dangerously low.

So I repaired to my neighborhood watering hole, Peely’s Pub, where – that’s right – everybody knows my name.  But you don’t, and you won’t – just call me Nameless Narrator.  Ms. Nameless Narrator if you prefer to go formal.

Peely’s was everything you wanted in your neighborhood dive:  a couple of neon beer signs flashing in dirty windows, inviting you into the dim, narrow, smoky room.  Funny how these places are still smoky, even after those health folks decided smoking was bad for us.  The bar was on one side, booths on the other, a few tables in between, a dusty Foosball game in the back.  Remember Foosball?  Me neither.  The jukebox was playing the last 26 seconds of that Garth Brooks’ favorite, I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, a tune that suited my mood perfectly.

Buddy, the bartender – that wasn’t his name, either – reached for the gin as I settled on the cracked leather bar stool.  The leather wasn’t real, but it didn’t matter because the gin was.  Watching Buddy make my drink of choice – a parsley gin julep (that’s right, I said “julep”) was to see a maestro in action.  He carefully counted out eight parsley leaves, then muddled them in a cocktail shaker with fresh lime juice – none of that bottled stuff for Buddy – and simple syrup.  I don’t know why they call it “simple,” and I don’t care.  Then Buddy added ice cubes and crushed ice, and masterfully measured out one-and-a-half ounces of gin, not a drop more, not a drop less.

After several well-choreographed shakes to the shaker, Buddy applied a strainer and poured the liquid nirvana into a tall glass of ice.  But he wasn’t finished yet.  His masterpiece still required a splash of club soda and a wheel of lime, skin on, sliced to a thickness of precisely 7/16 of an inch.

As Buddy reverently placed the glass on the cocktail napkin in front of me, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.  Why people use that cliché is beyond me, since eyes don’t have corners.  I turned my head about 40 degrees and that’s when I saw him.  Seated at the end of the bar, eight stools away, looking right at me as if he were Columbus and he’d just discovered America.  He was tall, dark and – well, you know the rest.  How did I know he was tall?  Because I’m also the Omniscient Narrator.

The scruffy two-day growth of beard couldn’t disguise his sculpted cheekbones and squared-off chin.  Dark eyebrows arched over dark eyes, and went well with his headful of thick, dark hair.  Did I mention he was tall, dark and – I believe I did.  His broad shoulders filled out his suit jacket to perfection, and his loosened tie revealed the long, strong column of his throat.  I’ve always wanted to say “long, strong column” in reference to a guy, and not a Greek building.

He was drinking beer straight from the bottle, American, not that imported stuff.  I like that in a guy.  In fact, I liked everything about this guy, and I sensed that the feeling was – well, you know the rest.  He lifted his beer, drained the last few drops, set the bottle on the bar, stood, and began walking toward me.

And yes, I admit it.  I thought, “Of all the gin joints, in all the…” – well, you know the rest.

I raised my glass, caressed it with my lips, then took a long, healthy swallow. That dangerously low level of alcohol in my blood was about to get taken care of.

And so, my friends, was I.

*****

What’s wrong with this writing?

I used nine adverbs ending in -ly.  Why is this bad?

Some experts say:

Overuse of adverbs is the hallmark of lazy, cluttered writing.  Good writing should use strong verbs rather than -ly adverbs.  Often the adverbs mean the same as the verb and become redundant, leading to messy prose.  The most common (over)use of adverbs is to modify the verb said, e.g., “I’m leaving,” he said angrily. 

By reducing these adverbs, the author allows the characters to convey the emotions of the dialogue themselves.  Instead of telling the reader, they show them:

He slammed his fist on the desk.  “I’m leaving.”

I also used nine verbs ending in -ing.

Some experts say,

Choose -ing words more carefully and replace with more powerful or descriptive verbs.  Replace weak or common -ing words with specific, stronger word choices.  Your writing will become more concise, clear, and engaging.

Instead of writing this:

She was running down the street like a maniac!

Write this:

She charged down the street like a maniac!

I also used at least a dozen clichés, and all experts agree, clichés are to be avoided at all costs (and yes, “at all costs” is a cliché):

Cliché:  a phrase or opinion that is overused and shows a lack of original thought. 

Here’s an old cliché:

Dead as a doornail.

Here’s a more recent cliché:

Low-hanging fruit.

In summary?

That’s around 30 rule-breakers in one piece of writing done deliberately.

I did a great job of writing badly!

But, please…

Don’t get out your red pen if there are other rules I broke indeliberately

Someday, When…

(This post is yet another from my endless list of Topics About Which I Knew Nothing.  And I grew up in Detroit – but didn’t know about this.)

Let’s say it’s America 100 years ago – 1921.

The Great War ended three years ago, and the U.S. is prosperous.

Warren Harding is president, the New York Yankees are going to their first world series, and people are dancing to the popular tune, Ain’t We Got Fun?

Women had achieved the right to vote a year earlier, corsets were out, and stylish, well-to-do ladies were wearing ensembles like these:

And these:

And if a woman was quite well-to-do, she may have buzzed around town in this quite stylish vehicle:

Talk about stylish!

Check out those side windows – that’s curved glass, the first curved glass in a production automobile. 

And the interior was outfitted like an Edwardian sitting room, complete with plush carpet, drapes, flower vases, and a comfortably padded bench seat along the back wall:

That’s seating for the driver and one companion, while a second companion could relax in a cushy bucket seat up front that swiveled toward the back seat for socializing:

And best of all, there was none of that dreadful hand-cranking to start the engine, like those old Ford cars:

You could break an arm doing that!

In your sweet, stylish automobile you just turned the key, and you and your friends were on your way to a soirée or afternoon cocktails (never mind Prohibition), surrounded by elegant comfort and privacy.

In this:

Your Detroit Electric car.

That’s right:

Electric.

The Detroit Electric was produced by the Anderson Electric Car Company, which built 13,000 electric cars from 1907 to 1939.  In addition to being easy to start, the cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles between battery recharging, and their top speed was 20-25mph – fine for buzzing around town.  

They were quieter, smoother, and easier to drive, with tiller steering, a pair of pedals (brake and release) and a simple lever to increase the speed or slow the car.  And they required less maintenance than gasoline-powered cars, plus no stopping at gasoline stations for our 1921 ladies:

Yes, there was a downside – electric cars then, like now, were more expensive.

By 1921, Henry Ford had whittled the base price of his car down to $415 ($5,714 adjusted for inflation), but the Detroit Electric’s base price was $2,985 ($46,203).  And when Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, it eliminated the need for the hand crank and broadened the appeal of gasoline-powered vehicles.

In the 1910s, the Detroit Electric Car Company was producing 1,000-2,000 cars a year.  Production slowed in the 1920s, and after the stock market crash in 1929 the company filed for bankruptcy.  They continued to build special-order cars, until the last Detroit Electric was shipped in 1939.

There are still a few Detroit Electric cars around today, mostly in museums, including these:

1911 Detroit Electric
1917 Detroit Electric Brogham

And this one, a 1914 Detroit Electric driven by Clara Ford, who apparently didn’t care to drive the Model T made by her husband Henry!

My research also led me to the website of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation in Kingman, AZ where I read this:

At the beginning of the 20th century the U.S. had almost twice as many electric cars registered as gasoline ones.  There were around 300 manufacturers of electrics.  By the beginning of World War II, they were almost all gone. 

And I saw pictures of the restoration of a 1930 Detroit Electric, including red drapes in the windows to match its luxurious interior:

Even as Detroit Electric cars are museum pieces now, perhaps someday we – or our descendants – will visit museums to see other old, no-longer-produced cars.

Someday – when those old gasoline-powered cars have been completely replaced by clean, quiet, lower-maintenance, environment-friendly, affordable electrics:

Movie Review:  This Was An Eye-Opener

Release date:  December 2020

Review, short version:  All thumbs up.

Review, long version:

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on American Masters’ Laura Ingalls Wilder:  Prairie to Page.

Laura Ingalls Wilder!  Author of the Little House books!  Hero of my childhood reading!

I devoured those books, all of them. 

Or at least, I thought I did.

Then I watched Prairie to Page, and realized my belief that I’d read all the Little House books was a myth.

Just like, as the film reveals, much of what Wilder wrote in her books.

There are nine Little House books:

Little House in the Big Woods
Farmer Boy
Little House of the Prairie
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Not only had I not read them all, I hadn’t even heard of a couple of them.

So that’s my myth.  What was Wilder’s?

Wilder (1867-1957) wrote about her family living the pioneer life in the vast, open spaces of the Midwest in the mid-to-late 19th century.  Yes, there were many challenges, wrote Wilder, but the family survived.

The family was Ma, Laura and her sisters, and Pa, whom Laura clearly idolized.  Or perhaps a better word is idealized, as the ultimate pioneer – strong and brave and resourceful and kind and patriotic, and a wonderful father who played the fiddle to serenade his family.

And when I was reading the books – when I was nine and 10 – Pa seemed like the best dad ever.

After watching Prairie to Page, I’ve revised my opinion.

“Pa” was Charles Ingalls, born in 1836.  He’s pictured here with his family in 1894:

Left to right: Caroline (Ma), Carrie, Laura, Charles (Pa), Grace and Mary.

Revised my opinion…why?

Prairie to Page was an eye-opener about good ole Pa.

Ingalls would have been 25 in 1861, the year the Civil War began.  In 1863 the U.S. Congress passed the Conscription Act, requiring all men between the ages of 20 and 45 to register for the draft.  Yet as we see in the film, according to Wilder biographer Caroline Fraser, Ingalls never served his country, was never in the military.

Doesn’t sound all that patriotic to me.

And despite all the other glowing ideals that Wilder attributed to her father, it becomes very apparent in Prairie to Page that Pa Ingalls was…

A flake:

He got jobs, but somehow they didn’t work out.  He tried farming, repeatedly, but that didn’t work out, either.

And he moved around – a lot – dragging his family with him. 

He’s quoted in Wilder’s books as saying, “My wandering foot gets to itching,” and sounding proud of it.  Ingalls’ “wandering foot” eventually took the family more than 2,000 miles, most of it by horse-drawn covered wagon and on foot.  Here, according to mprnews.org, is a map of their “wandering” before Laura, 18, married Almanzo Wilder in 1885:

And poverty followed the family’s every step.

One story that never appeared in the Little House books was Ingalls having to sign a document in front of county officials declaring that he was “wholly without means.”  This earned the near-starving family a barrel of flour.

Wilder also didn’t write about the time when she and her sisters were hired out for domestic work at a local hotel to help support the family.  

The first known photograph of the three eldest Ingalls sisters, taken around 1879 or 1880. Left to right: Carrie, Mary and Laura.

Or when Ingalls woke up everyone in the middle of the night, packed their meager belongings into a wagon, and left town to avoid his unpaid debts.

Then there were Ingalls’ bad decisions, like building a cabin on land in Kansas, ignoring the fact that the land belonged to the Osage Indian Reservation.  It was not open to settlers – or “squatters,” as they were called – but he built there anyway.  When rumors circulated that U.S. soldiers were going to sweep illegal homesteaders off the land, Ingalls packed up the family and wandered on – again.

“By the time Laura was 15,” said a film interviewee, “she’d lived in 14 different homes.”

As the American Masters’ synopsis put it,

“Though Wilder’s stories emphasized real life and celebrated stoicism, she omitted the grimmer and contradictory details of her personal history:  grinding poverty, government assistance, deprivation…”

Doesn’t sound like an idyllic “Little House ” childhood to me.

There’s much more in Prairie to Page, including Wilder’s racism (“There were no people; only Indians lived there”); the death of her younger brother, Freddie, never mentioned by her; and the extensive involvement of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, in the Little House books, the first of which was published in 1932.  Wilder wrote, but Rose edited, added, deleted, and coached Wilder throughout the process.  To the point that, as another interviewee put it, “Without Rose, there would have been no Little House books.”

The mother/daughter collaboration is widely known now, but back then, it was a secret.

Laura Ingalls Wilder had a lot of secrets.

Wow, Does This Look Good!

I happened across the above photo online.

This dish did look good.

And it wasn’t complicated, though it contained an ingredient I’d never heard of:  Campbell’s Sweet Potato Cooking Soup.

I put together my list – the soup, chicken, frozen southwest vegetables, black beans, siracha hot chili sauce…

I couldn’t wait to smell it cooking.

I couldn’t wait…

Wait.

Go back and look at the soup can.

Notice anything?

“Potato” is misspelled.

No, Campbell’s didn’t do that – I did.

That “e” on the end of “potato” doesn’t look all that wrong, does it?

Vice President Dan Quayle didn’t think so, back in mid-June 1992.

It was an election year, and Quayle was on the campaign trail, as was his running mate, George H.W. Bush.

One of Quayle’s stops was an elementary school in New Jersey, and the setup was Quayle leading a sixth-grade student spelling bee.  He called on one of the kids, and asked him to write “potato” on the blackboard.  The kid did, and put down the chalk.

Then Quayle suggested the kid to add an “e” to the end of the word:

It was the “e” heard around the world.

The vice president, the person whose primary function is, if needed, to assume the role of president of the United States…

Couldn’t spell “potato.”

The media had a field day:

And this story has followed Dan Quayle around ever since.

Why am I writing about this?

In part, because I can sympathize with Dan Quayle.

I, too, have misspelled “potato,” adding an “e” to the end.

I have also misspelled “tomato,” adding an “e” to the end.

It doesn’t look all that wrong, and you know why?

Because we add an “e” at the end of “potato” and “tomato” to make them plural:

Potatoes.

Tomatoes.

Why do we add an “e” before that “s”?

For absolutely no logical reason at all.

That’s my conclusion, after visiting numerous websites trying to ascertain why.

The rule appears to be that we add an “es” to some words ending in the letter “o,” for example:

Potato/potatoes
Tomato/tomatoes
Veto/vetoes
Embargo/embargoes
Hero/Heroes
Torpedo/torpedoes

But we don’t add an “es” to all words ending in the letter “o” such as:

Auto/autos
Photo/photos
Memo/memos
Piano/pianos
Zoo/zoos
Taco/tacos

And there’s a bunch of words that end in “o” where I guess we just throw caution to the wind and spell them any damn way we choose, because both plural forms of spelling are considered acceptable, including:

Halos/haloes
Cargos/cargoes
Mottos/mottoes
Dominos/dominoes
Mosquitos/mosquitoes
Volcanos/volcanoes

No wonder English is known as one of the hardest languages to learn. 

It often makes no sense:  if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?  And there are so many rules, and then so many exceptions to those rules, like the “s” vs. “es” examples above.

Then there’s the order in which we put words – we’d say, “An interesting little book” but not “A little interesting book,” because it just sounds right.  And pronunciation is so tricky, like silent letters.  Why is there a “k” in “knife,” if we don’t pronounce the “k”?

And do not get me started on homophones:  A bandage is wound around a wound.  And to, too and two.

So…

How did I go from talking about a recipe to bemoaning homophones, with the Tale of Dan Quayle in between?

It’s to say that I have, once and for all, finally and forever…

…Assimilated the fact that there is NO “e” in potato or tomato.

Unless those words are plural.

Or unless you’re a vice president.

What Is It?

A paper accordion?

01_Accordian Cropped

Lots and lots of tiny printing:

03_Flat Fold words only

Oh, look – pictures!  I like pictures:

04_Spread Partial Fold With Boxes

Even more pictures:

06_Full Open With Boxes

Here’s the other side – not much in the way of pictures:

05_Full Open No Boxes

So, six views of the same thing, but…

What is it?

Let’s start with the basics.

It’s 12.5” high and 29” wide – suitable for framing.

I’m pretty sure it has more words than Rare Earth’s Get Ready, including the “fee-fi” and the “fo-fo-fum.”

It’s printed on something flimsy enough to be toilet paper, with lots of black ink.

What is it?

It’s the Medication Guide stuck inside the box of a prescription my doctor ordered for me.

Side Effects list with arrowIt includes a list of all sorts of bad stuff that can happen once I ingest this drug, including heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and pain in my bones, joints, or muscles.

And hives, or swelling of my face, lips, tongue or throat.

And something called taste perversion, and I don’t even want to guess what that is.

If I have one/any/all of these, I’m supposed to “tell your doctor if you have any side effect that bothers you.”

Disease Graph cropped with arrowWhich of these, I wondered, would not bother me?

Here’s a spiffy graph entitled, Studies of One Effect on Serum Alkaline Phosphatase Blah, Blah, Blah.

And a chart that tells me if the likelihood of any of these side effects is Possibly, Probably, or Definitely Drug Related.  Which is possibly, probably and definitely not helpful.

However, the guide was helpful with great words for the next time I’m playing Scrabble, including:scrabble_02

  1. Diaphyseal
  2. Glucocorticoid
  3. Pharmacodynamics
  4. Pharmacokinetics
  5. Subtrochanteric

OK, seriously.

Who does the drug maker think is going to read this stuff, much less understand it?

I only read it so I could make fun of it.

Plus, if I run out of toilet paper…

toilet_01.jpg

Movie Review:  Any Resemblance Between This And The Truth Is Purely Accidental

Broadcast date:  2019

Review, short version:  All thumbs down.

Review, long version:

The Spanish Princess, a STARZ production, supposedly tells the story of Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain), who became the first of Henry VIII’s six wives.

I can’t figure out who would watch The Spanish Princess.

If you’re interested in Tudor history, it’s hard to watch the egregiously inaccurate events, costumes, hairstyles and pretty much everything else:

Left, Catherine as a young woman.  Unlike in “The Spanish Princess” (right), respectable women covered their hair with headdresses.

If you’re not interested in Tudor history – why watch?

Unless the point for the not-interested viewers is the nudity and sex?

If so, those viewers are going to be disappointed:

Episode 1:  We briefly see Catherine getting out of the bathtub; above-the-waist frontal nudity, full rearview nudity.

Episode 2:  We briefly see Catherine’s breasts; sex is alluded to.

Episode 3:  No sex, no nudity.  But Henry and Catherine engage in swordplay, which appears to be a form of foreplay:

Episode 4:  Henry and Catherine engage in bird hunting with crossbows, which also appears to be a form of foreplay.  Henry does a scene bare-chested, and he’s buff, but no sex, no nudity.

It may be that the sex-and-nudity thing heated up in episodes five through eight, but I was too bored to watch them.

The problem is that the accurate history of the Tudors as monarchs of England, though short (1485-1603), is fascinating.  A lot is known about this era, and there was no need to gussy it up with inaccuracies, exaggerations and flat-out that-never-happened stuff.

One example:  Sixteen-year-old Catherine arrives in England from Spain, and meets her intended, Prince Arthur, age 15 and oldest son of King Henry VII.  She also meets Arthur’s younger brother, Henry.

While Arthur is portrayed as a pale, skinny wuss – which he wasn’t – Henry is a tall, handsome, muscular young man in his late teens, witty, articulate, horny, and prone to sexual innuendo:

Henry, age 10? I think not.

Sexual sparks fly between Henry and Catherine.

The that-never-happened? 

When Catherine arrived in England in 1501, Henry was 10 years old.

Another example.  I didn’t see this – I read about it online.

The Battle of Flodden was fought between Scotland and England in 1513.  Henry VIII was in France, and Catherine was his regent.  The Spanish Princess portrays Catherine leading the troops into battle…

Catherine leading English troops in the Battle of Flodden.  Just one problem:  Catherine didn’t.

The that-never-happened?

Catherine didn’t lead troops into battle.  Not at Flodden, not anywhere.

Just two of the myriad reasons for the disclaimer at the end of each episode stating that there were changes for dramatic purposes.

I guess the first eight episodes of The Spanish Princess got decent ratings, because eight more episodes followed in 2020.  Amazon has a short summary of each episode, and they all sound pretty insipid, including this one:

Episode 13:  1517-June 1519:  When the plague hits London, the court flees to Hampton Court, but Margaret “Maggie” Pole and Thomas More remain in an empty and surprisingly romantic palace.

While the suggestion of anything romantic happening between Thomas More and Maggie is ludicrous – even for “dramatic purposes” – the one good thing that came out of this mess is that Maggie is played by actress Laura Carmichael. 

Remember whiny Edith from Downton Abbey

One and the same! 

And good for Carmichael – she gets plenty of opportunity to display her whining chops in Spanish Princess:

My Fantasy Future Posts On Craigslist – And My Hoped-For Results

I’ve never tried to sell anything on craigslist, but I’ve started fantasizing about it.

Here are my fantasy ads, and my hoped-for results:

Hand Sanitizer Gel – Three for $3

  • SupplyAID 80% Alcohol Hand Sanitizer Gel w/Soothing Aloe, two 16 oz bottles      
  • I bought this stuff when people were hoarding Purrell and even Amazon was out of it.
  • Costs $17.16 on Amazon, here just $2!
  • PURRELL Advanced Instant Hand Sanitizer, Refreshing Gel, 8 oz, Tabletop Pump Bottle
  • This is the good stuff – Dr. Fauci mentioned it by name!
  • Costs $8.63 on Amazon, here just $1!
    • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

Rubber Gloves – One Pair for $2

  • Mr. Clean Premium Bliss Latex-Free Gloves, One Pair Medium Size 
  • White – they go with any outfit; perfect for formal dinner parties, theater and the opera!
  • Cost $7.99 on Amazon, here just $2!
    • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

Face Masks – Two Boxes, $3

  • These are the masks you see everyone wearing on TV!
  • Total 99 masks, I tried one but it just wasn’t “me.”
  • Costs $21 on Amazon, here just $3!
    • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

Premium Pandemic Package:  Hand Sanitizer, Rubber Gloves, Face Masks, $5

  • Great stocking stuffers!  Your kids will love playing “Pretend Pandemic” with these!
  • Years from now, when your grandchildren ask you, “What was the pandemic?” you can use this premium package for show ‘n’ tell!
  • Items cost $8 individually, premium package is just $5!
    • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

My craigslist hoped-for results:

No sale – nobody needs this stuff anymore!

My Pandemic Pledge: A Little Less Whining And A Little More Appreciating

Since President Biden took office, he’s likened the fight against COVID to a “wartime undertaking.”  He’s suggested that wearing facemasks and following other guidelines is “patriotic,” and asked us to “Do it for your country.”

I wonder how many of us – including me – would whine a little less about pandemic restrictions if we knew a little more about what Americans began experiencing 80 years ago?

Biden’s words harken back to language Americans were hearing during World War II, when American civilians were asked to make sacrifices we can’t begin to imagine.

To better educate myself – and pull the plug on my whining – I started researching what our civilian parents or grandparents or great-grandparents were asked to do back then in the name of patriotism.

A quick reminder:  The U.S. entered World War II in December 1941.  The war ended in September 1945.  We’ve dealt with the pandemic for about 14 months.  Americans experienced what I describe below for almost four years.

Blackouts

The word “blackouts” doesn’t sound like much – until you live with them on a regular basis.

Blackouts began on the West Coast even before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, with the goal of keeping the public from being a war target.  The idea was that enemy planes couldn’t target what they couldn’t see, and that any light visible from above could attract bombs and gunfire.

When the air-raid alarm sounded, not only were lights turned off; families were also required to shut off appliances, disconnect electricity, and turn off water and gas lines. 

Blackout curtains behind regular curtains.

People were told to install blackout curtains on every window, always tightly closed at night, and closed when the alarm sounded.  An alternative?  Paint your windows black.

To make sure everyone was following the rules, the Office of Civilian Defense was set up and wardens drove the streets, shouting “Put that light out!” if you transgressed.

In addition, there were drills that required residents to practice their response to an air-raid alarm and could include moving to a public shelter, bomb shelter, or one’s basement until the blackout ended.

By 1943, about six million wardens were out all across the country, checking to ensure no light was visible, and there were legal penalties for noncompliance.

And it wasn’t just at home – streetlights were off or dimmed.  When the air-raid alarm sounded, anyone outside had to take cover inside.  People in cars were to pull over and find shelter in the nearest building.

And that car you were in? Here are just some of the restrictions:

A slit headlight cover.
  • Use only one headlight fitted with a slit covering.
  • No inside light.
  • Reduced brake lights.
  • To be seen more easily from the ground but not from above, the back bumpers and running boards were painted with white matt paint.

Think for a moment how dangerous this was.  The streetlights are off.  Instead of two bright headlights, you have one headlight and that’s almost totally covered.  Predictably, blackouts increased the danger of night driving, and consequently, fatalities increased.  The increased darkness also increased crime and murder in some locales.

But – you probably weren’t spending much time in your car, because gasoline was limited, for many to just three gallons per week.  Due to…

Rationing

After we entered WW2, the government created a system of rationing, limiting the amount of certain goods that a person could purchase because those items were diverted to the war effort.   

The government created the Office of Price Administration (OPA), and one of OPA’s responsibilities was to manage the rationing process.

OPA created ration books that went into use in May 1942, and every American was issued a series of ration books:

The books contained removable stamps for rationed items, and you couldn’t buy a rationed item without giving the grocer the right ration stamp.  Once your ration stamps were used up for a month, you couldn’t buy any more of that item. 

This is assuming the store had the item you wanted which it often didn’t, given the local and national shortages.

Housewives were encouraged to have “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Tuesdays,” and to do more with less.  One example is Chicken Croquettes from The Modern Hostess Cookbook – Patriotic Edition, published in 1942.  This, like many recipes, supplemented rationed meat with filler – in this case, one cup of breadcrumbs or rice for each cup of chicken.

And don’t Chicken Croquettes look appetizing?

People over 12 were allotted 2½ pounds of meat a week.  In today’s terms, if you cruised into Wendy’s and ordered a couple of Pretzel Bacon Pub Triples, you’ve pretty much eaten your entire week’s meat ration in one sitting.

And it wasn’t just meat and gasoline that were rationed – here’s a partial list of additional rationed items:

Butter, sugar, canned milk, canned fish, dairy, cheese, coffee, dried fruits, jams, jellies, lard, shortening, and oils.

Let’s talk about coffee for a moment.

Could you make one pound of coffee last for five weeks?

Coffee rationing meant a meager one pound for five weeks for everyone over 15.  One pound isn’t much, and five weeks is a long time – you don’t want to get to the bottom of the coffee can and still have two weeks left to go.

So you limited your daily consumption of coffee at home – anathema to serious coffee drinkers.  Lots of people resorted to reusing coffee grounds. 

Used coffee grounds make a good plant fertilizer.  Used coffee grounds for another pot of coffee?

Blech.

The list of rationed items, continued:

Typewriters, stoves, bicycles, automobiles, tires, fuel oil, coal, firewood, silk, nylon, and shoes.

Shoes?

The military had a high need for leather, for shoes and combat boots and leather flight jackets.  Once leather rationing began in February 1943, each man, woman and child was allowed to purchase up to three pairs of leather shoes a year.  A year later that was decreased to two pair, and that continued through the end of the war.

You’re thinking, “I could get by with two pairs of shoes a year,” and yes, you could.  But what about kids, and their ever-growing feet? 

Families pooled their ration stamps, and adults made do with fewer shoes to provide shoes for the kids.  If you could find the shoes – shipments were limited, and people often stood in line for hours, only to find the supply had sold out before they reached the store door.

And how about rationing nylon? 

For centuries, women – and in some eras, men, as well – wore silk stockings.  Silk was expensive, hard to clean and ripped easily, and silk stockings were an item only the wealthy could afford.

Then in 1939, nylon stockings made their debut.  They were sheer, light brown, and had a dark seam running up the back of the leg.  Nylons were durable, washable and affordable, and became an instant success, the must-have for women in all levels of society.

But then the war started – and nylon was permitted only in the manufacturing of parachutes and other military items.

So women started applying liquid makeup (above, right) to their legs to give the illusion they were wearing stockings, and even drew a line up the backs of their legs – with an eyebrow pencil – to simulate the stocking’s seam.

Can you imagine the time it took to apply liquid makeup to both legs, from your feet up to above your hemline?  And then drawing a straight dark line up the backs of both legs?  What if you sneezed while you were drawing the line?  Would you have to clean off your leg and start all over again?

Yes, it seems bizarre now, but back then many women considered it a viable workaround, and they did it until nylon rationing ended when the war ended.

Scrap Drives

Throughout World War II, civilians were impacted by what the government was taking away – rationing – and also impacted by what the government was asking for.

The government asked Americans for donations – products made from rubber and most types of metal, clothing and rags, nylon stockings, kitchen fat, and paper, among other items.  The collection of these items was called “scrap drives,” and many Americans considered it patriotic to collect and donate these items.

For metal, housewives threw in their aluminum pots and pans, farmers sacrificed their old tractors, cities and towns ripped up wrought iron fences and trolley tracks, and melted down historic Civil War cannons.  Children sacrificed metal toys, and people even removed bumpers and fenders from their cars.  Americans were encouraged to imagine these items being transformed into armor and weaponry for their soldiers and sailors in harm’s way. 

Donated rubber, said the government, could be used to make jeep tires, clothing to make cleaning rags, and please give up your only pair of nylon stockings to make parachutes.

Salvaged paper could be used by the military for blood plasma containers, K-ration cartons, shell casings, vaccine boxes and bullet cartons.  People were asked to sort and bundle brown paper, brown paper bags, corrugated boxes, wastebasket scraps, old newspapers and magazines, and paperback books to help support the war effort.

Perhaps the greatest item collected in scrap drives was kitchen fat, an item necessary to produce glycerin – glycerin was a vital component of bombs and other types of explosives.  Conscientious housewives would keep a can on the top of the stove, and every time they cooked bacon or other fatty meat (IF they were lucky enough to find meat at the store and IF they had the right amount of meat coupons), they’d pour the leftover grease into the can.  When the can was full, it went to the scrap drive.

And through it all, everywhere Americans turned they saw posters exhorting them to do their part in this “wartime undertaking” to help America and the Allies win the war:

This has been a long-winded post, yet it doesn’t begin to cover the sacrifices Americans were asked for to support the war effort.

And I haven’t touched on the sacrifices made by 16 million Americans in military service, and the loved ones they left at home to wonder, and worry – and wait.

So, what’s it all mean?

It means that for most of four years, Americans were asked to make do, do without, and give, give, give.

Almost four years.  That’s a helluva lot longer than the pandemic has lasted.

*****

The catalyst for this post was a recent headline in a pandemic-related story:

“People are pretty depressed and fed up.”

And it’s true – people are pretty depressed and fed up with the pandemic restrictions.

I know I am.

So this is a reminder for me – and for any who care to take it as such – that Americans have been through very tough times before, and come out the other side, better for it.

Here’s hoping that someday, the same will be true for us.

Who Knew?

If I confined my blog posts to writing only about subjects about which I knew nothing…

I’d never run out of subjects.

The depth and breadth of my lack of knowledge could fill all the books in the Library of Congress, and that’s around 39 million books.

All those, and then some.

Case in point:

The rhebok.

I’d never seen the word “rhebok” until I recently read in it a novel.  The reference was the narrator’s dog “bounding around like a rhebok.”

What the heck, I thought, is a rhebok?

I’d seen and heard the word Reebok a million times.  Who hasn’t? 

Those famous logos…

That you see on famous people in those famous shoes…

And other logoed clothing…

The brand has been around – in the U.S. – since 1980.

So I knew what Reebok was.

But…rhebok?

Rhebok:

Meet the rhebok, a medium-sized antelope weighing 42-66 pounds with a long neck and narrow ears.  Only the males have horns, which are six to 10 inches long.  Rheboks are described as “good jumpers,” hence the book referring to the narrator’s dog as “bounding around like a rhebok.”

Rheboks live mainly in Southern Africa, and Southern Africa was colonized mainly by the Dutch.  Their spelling of rhebok was reebok.

Ah!  A connection!

But how did reebok get connected to Reebok?

For that we need to meet Joseph William Foster, born in 1881 in England and trained as a cobbler.  At the age of 14 in 1895, he was a member of the local harriers – “harriers” was another name for cross-country runners.  Joe started working in his bedroom above his father’s sweetshop in Bolton, England, designing some of the earliest spiked running shoes.  

Joe founded his shoe business, J.W. Foster, in 1900.  Eventually his sons joined him, he changed the company name to J.W. Foster and Sons…

…and they gradually became famous among athletes for their “running pumps,” pioneering the use of spikes:

Foster’s shoes were made famous by 100m Olympic champion Harold Abrahams (pictured) in the 1924 Summer Olympics held in Paris. (Abrahams would later be immortalized in the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.)

In 1958, in Bolton, two of the founder’s grandsons, Joe and Jeff Foster, formed a companion company, “Reebok,” having found the name in a South African dictionary won in a running race – by Joe Foster as a boy. 

Serendipity!

They chose the name because of the rhebok’s ability to expertly move in its natural habitat – mountainous terrain – sometimes at speeds up to 37mph.

And while I doubt that today’s celebrities who wear Reeboks are doing much running around in mountainous terrain…

Bella Thorne (left) and Scott Disick (right) in Reeboks, in an airport – no mountainous terrain here!

And I doubt that they know the connection between rhebok and Reebok

Now I do, and so do you.

And someday, when the pandemic is over and armed with this new knowledge, we’ll wow ‘em at work with the story of rhebok and Reebok and…

Will The Pandemic Become the Excuse Du Jour?

We’ve been in the pandemic for over a year, and it’s been horrible.

But…

I have a sneaking suspicion that – for some – the pandemic may become a very easy excuse.

For example,

“We’re out of that because I screwed up and forgot to order it” replaced by, “We’re out of that because of the pandemic.”

And when we hear, “…because of the pandemic,” we’ve become accustomed to nodding and accepting the explanation.

Here’s another one:

“We can’t do that for at least three weeks because we’re working from home and I’d rather play Minecraft” replaced by, “We can’t do that for at least three weeks because we’re working from home due to the pandemic.”

Seriously – here’s what I expect future conversations to sound like:

Customer:  I’m calling to see if my order has been processed?
Customer service person:  Processing orders has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Customer:  Ma’am, the pandemic was declared officially over in 2022.  This is 2024.
Customer service person:  Processing orders has been delayed due to the pandemic.

Case in point – the California DMV, which I consider the Asshole of California.

Though the California Employment Development Department (EDD) is a serious contender for that title:

But based on recent and ongoing experience, I think the DMV has a solid hold on “Asshole.”

Here’s how they started out handling the pandemic, in April 2020:

So to “put their best foot forward,” as the DMV says on their website, someone came up with the idea of a virtual assistant named “Miles.”

I needed help from the DMV, and after many calls and copious amounts of time on hold but never actually talking to someone, I was desperate.

I decided to try their online options, “Ask DMV”:

This is where I met “Miles.”

Miles is a “chatbot,” the definition of which is, “bots that simulate human conversation by responding to certain phrases with programmed responses”:

Of course, none of the selections offered were relevant to my issue – a possibility that clearly never occurred to the DMV chatbot makers – so I typed in my question, as Miles suggested. 

That flummoxed Miles:

I clicked “Chat with an Agent” and got this:

Progress:  I now had a case number!

But after a lengthy wait, up popped another message, above – no agents were available. And it was my fault, because I “didn’t respond to the agent.”

Who hadn’t responded to me.

I took a few days’ break, then I went on the DMV website to see what was happening with my case.  I typed in my case number and got this:

Whaddaya mean, “The case was not found”???????

Ask Miles, damnit!

Still desperate – obviously – I decided once again to call the DMV. 

To my astonishment, this time around I was offered the option of leaving my number for a callback, and I did.

About two hours later a human from the DMV called! 

His name was George!

I told George I was following up on paperwork I’d mailed on March 2 – six weeks earlier.  And without bothering to ask me anything else – not even my name – his excuse was immediate, and creative:

“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”

See?  Creative!  Why let the DMV shoulder all the blame, when you can blame the Post Office as well?

Yes, we’re all aware that the Post Office is having problems:

But, c’mon.  If you’re going to blame the Post Office for stuff being delayed, why not also include that long traffic signal that made you late for work, and that guy at McDonalds at lunchtime who forgot to ask if you wanted fries with that, and you had to circle around and get in line again to get them?

I asked George if he could verify that the DMV had at least received my paperwork.  Now he did ask my name, and after a very lengthy wait he said, “Yes, we received that on March 27.”

I’d mailed my paperwork on March 2.

I’m in San Diego, and the DMV is in Sacramento, about a 500-mile journey:

George is telling me that it took the Post Office 25 days for my paperwork to go from San Diego to Sacramento?

I could walk from San Diego to Sacramento in less than 25 days, and I’m no speed walker.

That received-on-March-27 date isn’t when the DMV received my paperwork.  It’s when some slouch at the DMV got around to bothering to open it and start processing it.

While I was digesting this information, George again said,

“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”

I asked if he could estimate about when my paperwork might get some results.  His response was,

“Due to the pandemic and the Post Office, everything at DMV is delayed.”

(Yes, he’d now said this three times.)

Then after a pause he added, “In six to eight weeks.”

That’s not six to eight weeks from the day I mailed the paperwork – it’s six to eight weeks from March 27, the day George says the DMV received it.

I’m imagining George and a group of his colleagues at the DMV Charm School, getting their monthly Customer Service Sensitivity Training:

Instructor:  Listen up, people!  We’re expanding DMV Excuse #678.  It’s now Excuse #678 R-1, and I want everyone to repeat after me:  Due to the pandemic…”

(The class repeats this.)

Instructor:  …and the Post Office…

(The class repeats this.)

Instructor:  …everything at DMV is delayed.

(The class repeats this.)

Instructor:  Good!  Now, everyone, let’s say the entire Excuse #678 R-1!

(The class does – they’ve got this one nailed!)

“Asshole of California,” definitely.

I’ll close with another imaginary conversation.

The year is 2023:

Child:  My Grandpa’s too sick to come to the phone, so I’m calling about the paperwork he mailed to you.
DMV:  When did he mail it?
Child:  Well, I’m 17, and he mailed it before I was born.
DMV:  Due to the pandemic…

I Hate That This Happened

Very early on this past Tuesday morning, when I was sound asleep…

Something woke me up.

My bedroom has a sliding glass door and screen door, and faces our backyard.

It was dark, but there was enough ambient light to clearly see:

A person standing on the other side of the sliding door.

My heart started pounding.

Otherwise, I was so stunned, I just laid there at looked at him.  Or her.

What registered:

Dark hoodie.

Dark tights, rather than pants or jeans.

The person had something in their hand, and appeared to be trying to open the screen door.

It’s the middle of the night, and there’s a person five feet away from me, trying to break into our house.

It was unreal.

After a few seconds, my blank mind unfroze a bit.

Call 911.

I kept my eyes on the intruder as I started slowly edging toward the nightstand, to reach for the phone. 

I glanced over to see how far away I was from the phone.  When I looked back toward the sliding door, the intruder was gone.

Pounding heart.  Tight throat, so tight I know I couldn’t have screamed.

I woke up my husband, and we called 911.

We pulled on our bathrobes and turned on the lights – inside, outside, many lights.

I was still stunned.  Add to that shock, fear, horror and yes, anger.

Someone had just tried to break into our home.

The police arrived quickly, drenching our house with flashing red and blue lights.  Two flashlights swept across our property and the surrounding area.

I made coffee, and my hands shook a bit as I drank it.

One of the officers asked us some questions – could I identify the person?  No, I couldn’t see their face.  Could I describe the person’s clothes?  I did.  Height and weight?  Average and average.   He gave us a card.  The officer’s name was on one side, and the case number written on it on the back. 

We’d become a case number, and that case had a one-word, handwritten description:

“Prowling.”

We’d had a prowler.

Prowler:  a person who moves stealthily around or loiters near a place with a view to committing a crime, especially burglary.

Or perhaps more than one prowler.

We discovered that the prowler outside the bedroom had opened the screen door about three inches.  We have another sliding door in our family room, and that screen was open about two inches.

We knew we hadn’t left the screen doors open.

Were there two prowlers?  More?

And…

What would he or she or they have done if they’d gotten into our house?

Grabbed a purse and wallet and run?

Asked us for jewelry or drugs or…what?  And when we said, “We don’t have any jewelry or drugs,” would they have believed us?

Threatened us?

Did they have weapons?

Killed us?

I’ve got a vivid imagination, and it’s been running full-time since around 12:30am Tuesday morning.

And I’ve been doing some research, as well.

Said one website,

According to the FBI statistics, a burglar strikes every 30 seconds in the U.S.  That adds up to two burglaries every minute and almost 3,000 burglaries per day.

We get into a fine distinction here.

Burglary:  Entry into a building illegally with intent to commit a crime, especially theft.

A burglary is when the person actually gets into the building illegally.

I couldn’t find statistics on attempts to enter a building illegally.

We didn’t have a burglar, we had a prowler.

And I know that makes us damn lucky.

She or he or they didn’t enter our house that night.

But I’m still damn mad, and sad.

Mad, because though our home wasn’t entered, it was still an invasion.  They chose our house.  Had they been watching us, prior to that night?  Making a note of our usual bedtime, and the best places to break in?

Mad, because I feel victimized, and we were victimized, and I hate that.

Sad, because I’ve never felt unsafe in my home, and now I do.  My home, my sanctuary, my favorite place. 

Still favorite, but no longer safe.

I know that makes me naïve, when you consider how often home break-ins, or attempted break-ins, happen.

When you consider that there are almost 80,000 security alarm services business in the U.S., with revenues of $27 billion annually – a thriving industry.

When you consider that there’s nothing special about us, and why would be exempt?

So instead of my wondering “Why us?” I should accept, “Why not us?”

We know the prowler or prowlers will never be caught.

We know we’ll never get answers to our who and why questions.

We know we’ve simply become another statistic.

We know this has changed us forever.

And I hate that this happened.

*****

We let our neighbors know about the prowler, and we’re taking the steps to make our home more secure.

This does not include buying a gun, but oh…I better understand why many people do.

I’ve moved the bedside phone so it’s now within immediate reach.

We count ourselves lucky, and know this could have been much, much worse.

And eventually, someday, the memory of that person in the dark hoodie and tights, standing five feet away from me, trying to break into my home…

Won’t haunt me before I go to sleep.

Unless he, she or they…

Come back.

Book Review:  Hope You Like Drama Queens

Publication date:  March 2019book

Review, short version:  One rose out of four.

Review, long version:

Who is or was the “American Princess?”

She was a pain in the ass, is who she was.

She was Alice Roosevelt (1884-1980), oldest child of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice.

She’s the focus of Stephanie Marie Thornton’s American Princess.

There were already of number of books about Alice – her memoir Crowded Hours, biographies, and she always appears in Roosevelt family sagas along with her famous father, even more famous cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But, says Thornton in her Author’s Note,

“I was shocked – and more than a little delighted – to discover that no one had novelized Alice’s story.”

alice-roosevelt-longworth-1884-three-quarter-length-portrait-seated-in-chair-640
“I’d become the talk of Washington by becoming the most successful, witty, and lively debutante of the season.”

So Thornton did, and her book is easy to read, and the history aspect held my interest.  It’s written in the first person, so we learn what Alice is thinking as well as what she’s doing.  That helps in understanding why she did what she did.

Such as smoking cigarettes in public, riding in cars with men, staying out late partying, keeping a pet snake in the White House named Emily Spinach, and placing bets with a bookie.

That seems silly now, but it was shocking in the early 20th century.

I came to think of her as “Anything-For-Attention Alice.”

And I found her hard to like.

True, she had a rotten start in life.  Two days after her birth, in the same house, her mother died of undiagnosed kidney failure.  Eleven hours earlier that day, Roosevelt’s mother had also died, of typhoid fever.

Theodore_Roosevelt_and_family,_1903
Alice (center, in hat) with her parents, and the competition.

Distraught, Roosevelt unloaded Alice on his sister Anne, and headed west, where he spent two years traveling and living on his ranch in North Dakota.  Alice was raised by her aunt until Roosevelt remarried in 1886, to Edith Carrow.

Any attention Alice might have been getting from her father and new stepmother was soon divided when Alice’s half-siblings started arriving a year later – and divided even more in 1889, 1891, 1894 and 1897 as babies kept arriving.

Thornton’s Alice says,

“As always, I tried not to let it bother me that all my younger half-siblings were granted whatever pets and toys they set their hearts on, further evidence that I would forever be other when it came to our family.”

So to feel less other – and to get the attention she craved – Alice pushed the behavior boundaries.

And she never stopped.

Paulina_&_Alice_Roosevelt_Longworth
“It was generally accepted knowledge in D.C. that she also had a long, ongoing affair with Senator William Borah and that Borah was the father of her daughter, Paulina Longworth.”

Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th president in 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley, and Alice thrived on the attention she received from being the “first daughter.”  Soon the press – and she was, by choice, in news a lot – began referring to her as our “American Princess.”

Alice says, rather smugly,

“There was no denying that I was the second most popular Roosevelt in the world.”

When Alice’s debut takes place in the White House with 600 of her closest friends, she’s elated – all the attention is on her.  Says Alice,

“I’d become the talk of Washington by becoming the most successful, witty, and lively debutante of the season.”

Alice can get rather wearying after awhile.

alice
How about a picture of yourself with a picture of…um…yourself?

She is credited with being witty, saying things like, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.”  And some (in my opinion) very narcissistic things:  “I pray for a fortune.  I care for nothing except to amuse myself in a charmingly expensive way.”

And Alice could also be cruel.  When her cousin (and Democrat) Franklin was running again for president in 1940, Alice – a Republican, just like Daddy – said publicly, “I’d rather vote for Hitler than vote for Franklin for a third term.”

Really cruel.

American Princess is – like Alice’s life – full of high drama, much of it created by Alice.

If you read it, keep this in mind:

drama queen ahead cropped

i can cropped

I Wish We Were Smarter Than This

In my Friday post I talked about San Diego County moving into a less restrictive phase, allowing for more people to eat in restaurants and visit public attractions.

Our governor had emphasized that we were still in the middle of a pandemic, and we all needed to continue wearing face masks, washing our hands frequently, and social distancing.

But this was a positive sign, and I was feeling cautiously optimistic about this small but significant step toward normalcy.

To celebrate, my husband and I went out to eat on Saturday – the first weekend with eased restrictions. Our first time out to eat in I can’t remember how long.

YES!!!  WE WENT OUT TO EAT, INSIDE THE RESTAURANT!!!

We sat by a front window, which looked out onto a busy part of downtown.  It’s a great spot for people watching.

But on this Saturday…

Not so great.

Because so many of the people I was watching were doing this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

I saw this – the face mask hanging from the ear arrangement:

And this – hanging from the wrist:

Yes, I saw all this, plus plenty of people with no face mask at all. 

And my cautious optimism?

In San Diego, Orange Is The New Happy Cautiously Optimistic

For what seems like forever, California has had a tiered, color-coded plan for safely reopening counties during the coronavirus pandemic – see image above.

I actually saw nine versions of the plan – here’s another one:

And I’m glad you don’t want me to explain this or any of them, because I couldn’t even begin to pretend I understand them.

What I – and everyone in San Diego County – does understand is that the levels of bad go from purple (worst) to red, to orange, and then yellow.

And that on May 7 – after what seems like forever – San Diego County moved from the red tier to orange:

According to San Diego County Chair Nathan Fletcher,

“The combination of a low case rate plus the state hitting vaccine milestones allows us to continue moving forward.”

“Low case rate” in California?  The state that leads all other states in deaths and confirmed cases?

Yes. 

And not only that, on April 6 Governor Newsom announced that California has the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation.

Gosh, it’s nice being last at something.

And what’s it all mean?

It means a step toward normalcy, with many “ifs” attached.

First, some of the steps toward normalcy:

More people allowed in restaurants to eat outdoors and indoors.

More people allowed in museums, zoos, aquariums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, amusement parks, and outdoor live events with assigned seats.

The latter for in-state visitors only.

And large-scale indoor events, such as conventions, will be allowed, but only with testing or vaccination verification requirements.

The governor also said that California was aiming to fully reopen its economy by June 15 – meaning most businesses and activities would be able to return to their pre-pandemic operations…

Now for some of those “ifs”:

That June 15 date? 

If there’s enough coronavirus vaccine supply for Californians age 16 and older who want to be vaccinated.

If Californians continue to get vaccinated.

If hospitalization rates remain low and stable

If Californians continue to wear masks, social distance, and wash their hands frequently.

If Californians remember that the pandemic is far from over.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” especially when recent images of local gatherings like this are not uncommon:

And California still has so many counties that are red (bad), and two that are still purple (worst):

That’s why, in this post’s title, I crossed out “Happy.”

It’s too soon to be “happy.”

But I am…

Book Review: Liked Her, Then Didn’t, Then Did, Then…

Publication date:  June 2019Book

Review, short version:  Three roses out of four.

Review, long version:

Meet Evvie Drake.

Evvie rhymes with “Chevy,” not “greevy.”

It’s short for Eveleth, which is a pretty rotten name, considering her mother – who abandoned Evvie when she was 10 – gave it to her because Mom was miserable in her small-town Maine home, and pined for the dreams she’d once had in her hometown of Eveleth, Minnesota.

“I am named after my mother’s unhappiness,” says Evvie.

pitcher_02Meet Dean Tenney, a big-time major league pitcher until suddenly – he couldn’t pitch anymore.  The fans and sports writers who cheered him one day now consider him the personification of “failure.”

Dean needs a low-profile place to figure out what’s next.

Meet Linda Holmes, author of Evvie and Dean’s story, Evvie Drake Starts Over.

I was first intrigued by Holmes because she’s on National Public Radio – NPR – a station I listen to a lot and greatly respect.  When I learned she’d written her first book, I wanted to know more.  Evvie came out in late June 2019 and hit The New York Times best seller list on July 13 – pretty impressive for a first-time author!

There’s a third character, Andy, a mutual friend of both Evvie and Dean, though they’ve never met.  Andy knows that Dean is looking for a place to lick his wounds, and that widowed Evvie has a small apartment at the back of her house.  It’s obvious where this is going, and that’s OK.

I found Dean easy to like – he’s smart, sensitive, and really suffering from losing theear_candle-1cropped career he loved and now appears to have lost.  And he’s tried everything to fix it; he tells Andy, “I went to eight sports psychologists and two psychiatrists…I did acupuncture, acupressure, suction cups on my shoulder, and candles in my fucking ears…I quit gluten, I quit sugar, I quit sex, I had extra sex, I ate no meat, just meat…”

The list went on, and my heart went out to him.

But Evvie – sometimes not so easy to like.  She could be funny, but also do some major Pity Party.  She has a lot of baggage and knows it – “Baggage.  So goddamn much.  I pity-party-time-croppedshould have my own cargo plane” – but can’t acknowledge that she needs professional help.

Until, toward the end, a friend says, “Your head is the house you live in, so you have to do the maintenance.”

I started out liking Evvie, but then I got annoyed, then exasperated, then back to liking her, then I got pissed at her, and then…

Tears?

Yup – twice.  The good kind.

So I’d have to say that the author did a good job of keeping me engaged in her story.

I did have trouble liking Evvie at times, but I had no trouble liking Evvie.  It’s well-written, easy to read, a good story with complex characters that I cared about all the way through.

Evvie is Holmes’ first novel – and I hope, not her last.

linda_01
Linda, go home and get writing!

If This Doesn’t Make You Mad And/Or Sad – Please Check Yourself For A Pulse

The pandemic has been and is a lot of tragic, terrible things.

It’s also something very ordinary:

And if you’re not a person accustomed to entertaining yourself, it can be very boring indeed.

Without labeling all teens as such, I suspect that many aren’t adept at entertaining themselves.

That’s why articles abound on the internet, like this one:

Though how teens can get bored when they have, on their phones at their fingertips, endless access to Snapchat, Tik Tok, Instagram, WhatsApp, Kik, Telegram and more to search, and share, and star in their own lives…

Apparently some teens still do get bored.

Bored is the only reason I can think of for a 13-year-old to take her mother’s SUV – without permission – pick up a friend, and head out for a joyride sometime after 11pm on February 12.

And if she wasn’t bored, then what was she thinking?

Thinking.  Well…

According to this article from American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:

Thinking – that is, thinking logically – isn’t something teens generally excel at:

Many parents do not understand why their teenagers occasionally behave in an impulsive, irrational, or dangerous way.  At times, it seems like teens don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions.  Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions.  There is a biological explanation for this difference.  Studies have shown that brains continue to mature and develop throughout childhood and adolescence and well into early adulthood.

Scientists have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala that is responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior.  This region develops early.  However, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later.  This part of the brain is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.

The article goes on to say,

Pictures of the brain in action show that adolescents’ brains work differently than adults when they make decisions or solve problems.  Their actions are guided more by the emotional and reactive amygdala and less by the thoughtful, logical frontal cortex. 

When it comes to making good decisions, teens are at a distinct disadvantage.

As was the 13-year-old driver. 

She isn’t named in the news stories, so I’ll call her X.

Shortly before 11:30pm, X’s joyride was interrupted when she was pulled over in Escondido, about 30 miles north of San Diego, for a traffic violation. 

If you’ve ever been pulled over by the police – and I have – it’s an unnerving situation.

Those flashing red-and-blue lights in your rearview mirror…the knowledge that you must have screwed up, even if you don’t yet know how…or maybe you know exactly how…but either way, as that police officer approaches, you know you’re in Big Trouble. 

The news stories don’t detail what traffic violation the was, and it probably doesn’t matter.

What matters is that X didn’t sit meekly in her driver’s seat, awaiting her reckoning, like most of us do.

Instead, as the Escondido police officer approached the SUV, X allegedly sped off.

That lasted for six blocks, then she lost control of the vehicle, and careened off the roadway:

Two homeless men were laying in a patch of shrubbery next to a concrete-block wall.

The SUV slammed into both men… 

Both teens then allegedly got out of the damaged vehicle and made a failed attempt to escape on foot.

One man died at the scene, and one died later in the hospital.

The men were Mateo Salvador, 33, and 51-year-old Sofio Sotelo Torres.

The girls weren’t injured, but the two men were dead.

After being caught and questioned by police, X and her friend were released to the custody of their families pending completion of investigations.

Weeks passed, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through X’s mind.  Was she upset?  Remorseful?  Ashamed?  Or perhaps just regretting that her little joyride may have gotten her into some serious trouble?

On March 24, X was jailed on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and evading arrest.  She was booked into Juvenile Hall in San Diego:

Her passenger wasn’t facing charges or mentioned in the police department’s statement.

If the case moves forward, according to CBS 8 TV,

“It means she will have proceedings in juvenile court which is closed to the general public, before a judge only.  Meaning she won’t have a jury trial and her identity will remain sealed,” said San Diego defense attorney Gene Iredale, who is not representing the teen. 

If convicted, the maximum sentence for the teen would be juvenile detention until her 21st birthday.

Iredale added,

“Her parents could also face consequences, but not in criminal court.  The parents, assuming the girl stole the car without their knowledge, are not criminally liable for anything.  There may be civil liability on behalf of the parents.”

On March 26, X pleaded not guilty:

Our law says a 13-year-old is not an adult.

And yet…

X took on the responsibility of an adult when she decided to drive a vehicle.

X took on the responsibility of an adult when she invited a friend to join her in the vehicle, taking on the responsibility for the friend’s safety.

X behaved like an adult when she realized the police were telling her to pull over – she pulled over.

X behaved like some adults, fleeing in the vehicle from officers. 

X behaved like some adults when she lost control of the vehicle.

X behaved like some adults when she fled the crash scene on foot.

X behaved like an adult, but our law says she must be considered a child.

Am I disagreeing?  Am I suggesting that X should spend a long time, perhaps the rest of her life, in prison?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that two men are dead, and even if X gets the maximum sentence, she’ll walk out of juvenile detention a free person at age 21, records sealed.

I don’t know what’s right.

I do know that I’m mad…and sad.

Book Review: Grace Was Amazing – But Not In This Book

BookPublication date:  February 2020

Review, short version:  One skunk out of four.

Review, long version:

Is this a not-very-interesting novel about an interesting subject, or a not-very-interesting novel about a not-very-interesting subject?

The author is Kerri Maher, the book is The Girl in White Gloves, and the subject is film actress Grace Kelly (1929-1982).

And since Grace Kelly is the subject of more than 30 books, two biopics, and countless print and online articles – and the fascination with her continues to this day – I’m going with the former:

A not-very-interesting novel about an interesting subject.

Worse:  Not only a not-very-interesting novel, Maher managed to make Grace Kelly boring.

grace-kelly-wedding-4
Grace weds Rainier, 1956.

Kelly was many things, some rather sad, but she was not boring.

Kelly was an A-List award-winning actress who began performing in 1950, and appeared in theatrical productions, more than 40 episodes of live TV drama productions, and 11 movies, one of which – The Country Girl in 1955 – earned her an Oscar.

She appeared in movies with some high-profile leading men:  Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Ray Milland, Bing Crosby, Alec Guinness and William Holden.

She had a number of lovers – high-profile and otherwise – before marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 and becoming Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace.  Their wedding was estimated to have been watched by over 30 million viewers on live television

She and Rainier raised three children, and she established herself as a gifted philanthropist and humanitarian, dedicating her public life to charities and fundraising.

family cropped
Monaco’s royal family.

Yet…somehow, Maher managed to make Kelly boring.

And make the book confusing.  One problem I had was the time period switches:  The book starts out in 1955 and jumps as follows:  1969, 1949, 1951, 1974, 1952, 1954, 1975, 1955, 1956, 1976, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1978, 1981, and then 1982 with Kelly’s death following a car crash.

I’ll admit I tend to be a linear person, but that has to be too many jumps for even the least linear.

Another issue I had was the author giving us a situation, but giving no reason for it.  For example, Maher tells us that after their marriage, Rainier banned all of Grace’s movies in Monaco – yet she doesn’t tell us why.

but why croppedRainier’s initial attraction to Kelly was the fact that she was a movie star, and then he bans her movies?

I realize the book is a novel, not a biography, but I thought that, and other unanswered questions, left gaps that needed to be filled.

There are other novels out there about Grace Kelly, though I haven’t read them so can’t recommend them, but only for that reason.

I can’t recommend The Girl in White Gloves, either.

country girl cropped grace oscar
Grace, glammed-down in “The Country Girl,” and glammed-up to collect the Oscar she won for it (with co-star William Holden).

 

Pass The Forks, Please!

When I’ve been in Asian restaurants (pre-pandemic, of course) and seen people using chopsticks with great dexterity…

chopsticks incorrect_02 cropped
Yes, I am chopstick challenged.

I confess to more than a twinge of envy.

I have never managed to master chopsticks.

When I try to use them I’m as likely to get a chopstick in my nose as any food in my mouth.

I do just fine with a fork, but chopsticks…not so much.

Chopsticks have been around for a long time.

Forks…not so much.

Estimates place the use of chopsticks as eating utensils at around 5,000 years ago in China, and spreading to Japan, Vietnam and Korea by 500 AD.

banquet_01
Medieval banquet:  No forks on this table.

Forks were in use for eating by the fourth century in the Eastern Roman Empire, but didn’t become common in Europe – specifically, Italy – until the 14th century.

And then a forking scandal ensued.  “Shocking!” exclaimed some.  “Unmanly,” sneered others.  And the Catholic Church disapproved of forks, seeing it as “excessive delicacy.”

Most of Europe didn’t adopt the fork until the 1700s, which begs the question:

Without forks, how did medieval Europeans transfer the food from their plates – to their mouths?

With knives.

Very sharp knives.

The process was simple:  Poke, tear, stab or spear a piece of food from the plate with your knife, transfer the food to your mouth.  Chew, swallow, repeat.

I probably would have sliced my nose trying to get the food in my mouth.

knife
Used for eating, this medieval ballock knife was also called a “kidney dagger.”

When you were a guest in someone’s home, you did a BYO – bring your own knife.  Then, if you were attacked by a ne’er-do-well on your way home, you’d use the same knife to defend yourself.

As I said – sharp.

As I said – slice my nose.

So – in terms of table utensils, at least – I’m glad I don’t live in the Middle Ages.

I’ll stick to my trusty fork, yes, even in Chinese (or Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese) restaurants.  I’ll be the one mumbling to the waitperson, “Can I have a fork, please?” while my fellow diners display their “Why did we invite her?” looks.

Better that, than a chopstick in my nose.

Today there are many types of forks – in one article I counted 35, including one for ice cream.

Then there’s perhaps the most famous fork of all, thanks to Yogi Berra, who famously said:

Yogi when-you-come-to-a-fork-in-the-road-take-4081880 cropped

I Am In Search Of The Absurd

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is the opportunity it presents to enjoy the absurd.

I love funny stuff, but I love the absurd even more. 

You know – those human behaviors that make you pause and say…

“Is this the truth?” you wonder, “or is someone making this up?”

Usually, it’s the truth.

That’s the beauty of the absurd.

One blog I posted about the absurd was June 2018, when the United States Postal Service (USPS) came up with the brilliant idea of selling scratch-and-sniff stamps:

The postal service, which has been in financial trouble since Ben Franklin founded it in 1775, apparently decided that scratch-and-sniff stamps would help turn things around.

USPS predicted – incorrectly, it turned out – that hordes of us would welcome the opportunity to scratch and sniff something that had been mangled in machines, spilled on floors, and touched by how many who-knows-where-those-hands-have-been.

Then there was the very first post I did, back in May 2017:

I talked about how I hated having houseguests, how most people hate having houseguests, but that we do it anyway.

Absurd, yes?

I recounted several houseguest experiences, including the time my friend and her husband came to stay for just one night. 

One night – that was doable, right?

Wrong:

After a nice day together, we all turned in.  Then, when I was almost asleep, I heard a noise from the bedroom next door that was instantly recognizable though almost indescribable.  It was female, it was loud, and it began with “oh, oh,” followed by, in an equally loud male voice, “oh, god,” followed by a duet:  “god, oh, oh,” followed by – well, you get it.

But never was the absurd easier to find than after Trump and his parasitic family moved into the White House. 

The absurdity was non-stop, and for absolute absurdity, no one could beat Melania Trump.

March 2020:  Our country had started its miserable slide down into the pandemic.  Was Melania focused on where our country was headed, and what she could do to alleviate the suffering?

No.

She was focused on this:

Building a tennis pavilion at the White House.

So I love the absurd, but – sadly – over the past year I’ve realized that my enjoyment of the absurd had gotten…frayed around the edges. 

My enjoyment of life in general had gotten frayed around the edges.

A daily increasing pandemic death toll will do that.

Oh, I had it better than most, and I knew it.  I hadn’t lost anyone I loved, I didn’t know anyone who’d been infected, and if I hated wearing a face mask, well – just suck it up and do it.

Recently, writer Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times summed up her – and my – situation perfectly:

“Knowing how little I’d lost compared to others didn’t lessen my misery, it just added a slimy coating shame to it.”

So here I was, wondering if I’d ever find anything absurd again.  Wondering if I’d ever again have another one of those “What.  What?” moments.

Salvation came on March 24, with this big announcement:

Who? I thought.

Who the hell is Chrissy Teigen?

And who cares if she deleted her Twitter account?

Well, if the Associated Press (AP) – a respected, credible media outlet – considered her newsworthy…

Perhaps I was onto something.

Something absurd.

It turns out that Teigen, 36, is “an American model, television personality, author, and entrepreneur.”

Which is another way of saying she doesn’t really do anything, but is, instead, famous – for being famous.

She has – had – 13.7 million followers on Twitter, who apparently couldn’t wait to lap up pearls of wisdom like this:

“john” being her husband, singer John Legend.

And this:

The couple have two children, one of whom appears in this image with Teigen, which Tiegen posted:

In addition to posing for photos with her son, Teigen noted another activity the two share:

“Wait til the find out we take baths together.” 

I think she meant till rather than til, and they find out, but who am I to question such eloquence?

Teigen’s eloquence was again on display in this treasure:

Teigen’s husband had been invited to perform at President Biden’s inauguration, and Chrissy accompanied him, taking note of the “literal fucking heroes” i.e., National Guard members.

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

My search to find out who Chrissy Teigen was didn’t uncover any Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes or even door prizes, but it did lead to my discovering these important items on her website:

If you, like me, have been craving some basic b*tch hair thingies – problem solved.

And her 13.7 million former Twitter followers?  If these examples are anything to go by, they are bereft:

So all this explains the attention paid to Teigen in the national and international news – in addition to the Associated Press, I found her dumping-Twitter story on CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Variety, People, the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, ABC, CBC…

And Glamour, which boasts “1115 Stories about Chrissy Teigen”:

I, and I’m certain that you, want to know in which public places Teigen and her husband have had sex.  Ms. Eloquence said:

“One time, at the Grammys, I said that we had sex at ‘that Obama thing,’ and that came out wrong.  Because what I actually meant was…it wasn’t with them or near them…I believe it was at the DNC, actually.”

The story goes on to say,

Teigen also said she and Legend have done it at the Los Angeles boutiques Ron Herman and Fred Segal (“right in front of the juice bar”).  They’ve had sex on a plane too – and not a private jet. 

As for the burning question, Why, oh why did Teigen close her Twitter account?  According to the Washington Post,

Her departure from Twitter came on the heels of her announcing her partnership with Kris Jenner to create a line of plant-based cleaning products, which drew criticism online.

Teigen (left) and Jenner with their brand-new line of cleaning products; Jenner is the matriarch of the Kardashian Klan, who are also famous for being…famous.

Apparently some people were trolling Teigen and Jenner, like this example:

“Seems pretty tone deaf.  Two wealthy women with housekeeping staff, marketing cleaning products to the middle class in the midst of a pandemic.”

Apparently this isn’t the first time Teigen was trolled.

Teigen’s last tweet included this:

“But it’s time for me to say goodbye.  This no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively, and I think that’s the right time to call something.”

Teigen didn’t specify what “something” it was the right time to call, but…a mere bagatelle.

So…those 13.7 million former Teigen Twitter followers are sad.  They miss this epitome of eloquence, this model of motherhood, this…this…

Let’s leave the monikers to Glamour, which said it best:

Chrissy Teigen is a national treasure – this is not up for debate. 

As for me?

I’m a happy camper.

Thanks to Chrissy…

When it comes to the absurd…

A Stern Talking-To…From A Book Lover To Book Damagers

Nothing will ever replace the pleasure of holding a book in my hands.

No eReader or whatever other technology comes along next week will ever replace the tactile experience of holding a book and turning the pages, while I’m immersed in the world captured between a book’s hard or soft covers.

I know eReaders have their upside, and I’m not saying I’ll never use one.

But having a book in my hands – no eReader can compete with that.

I love books.  All books.

That doesn’t mean I read all books, or love all the books I read.  But books have been my constant companions since I was a kid, and I mean the walk-into-the-library-and-take-a-book-off-the-shelf kind of book.

And speaking of library books…

This is directed toward the – sadly – many people who, for reasons I can’t comprehend, deface library books.

You deface them with pen, pencil and/or highlighters.  You dog-ear corners and/or tear out a page, or pages.  You bend and then break the spines. 

Then you return the book to the library.  Sometimes a book is so damaged that library staff must remove it from circulation and, hopefully, have the budget to replace it.

Otherwise, staff will make an effort to ameliorate the damage, and return the book to circulation.

The latter is the case with this library book, Potshot by Robert B. Parker:

When I first picked up the book, I glanced at a mark on the cover and thought it was part of the design – the title is Potshot, it’s a detective story, and there’s what looks like a gunshot hole as part of the cover image.

But I immediately realized – no.  That mark was not part of the cover design.

The mark was…a cigarette burn:

What angry or frustrated or I-don’t-know-what-kind-of person would deliberately press a cigarette into the cover of a book and burn a hole in it?

Was it the same person who did this to the book:

And this:

And this:

Or did several sick, sad people contribute to the book’s sad state?

This is far from the first damaged library book I’ve seen, but by far, it’s the most egregious.

A cigarette burn?

So here’s my message to you book damagers:

The book you’re holding is an inanimate object.  It has nothing to do with the rage or frustration or whatever it is you’re feeling.

The book you’re holding doesn’t belong to you.  It belongs to the taxpayers whose hard-earned dollars support the library.

The book you’re holding – and damaging – isn’t conveying your message to its subsequent readers.  All it’s conveying is that a sick person – you – was allowed to get a library card, and has abused the privilege.

Stop taking your problems out on our library books.

Take your problems somewhere else.

This would be a good place to start:

Here’s An Envelope You Don’t Want To See In Your Mailbox:

Unless you’re expecting an income tax refund or an Economic Impact Payment (EIP), an envelope from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not something you want to see in your mailbox.

Maybe you did your own taxes and made a mistake.  Maybe someone else did your taxes and they made a mistake.

Or maybe you’re a criminal, and…

So it was with great trepidation that I opened the envelope from the IRS.  I could feel the tension knotting up my shoulders.  My vision got a bit blurry.  My heart was pounding.

And I didn’t think even I’d done anything wrong!

I started to read.

And then…

The letter turned out to be not only innocuous, but helpful.  The topic was the second EIP, and what to do in case I hadn’t received it yet.  The suggestions included the “Get My Payment” option on the IRS website; the “Where’s My EIP” app on my smart phone; and a toll-free number to call.

The letter also offered this helpful information: