For a number of years, on its last page Time magazine has published a 10 Questions interview with someone they consider, well…Time-worthy.
I usually read this article, and one October day five years ago I reached that last page and began reading.
At first, I didn’t recognize the person being interviewed. But I was barely into the article and already thinking, “Who is this twit?” When I finally realized who I was reading about, I was inspired to write a response.
The person featured in the interview was author Elizabeth Gilbert, who in 2014 was promoting her new book, The Signature of All Things. Ms. Gilbert has a new book due out in June, so it seemed like an appropriate time to revisit my response:
Dear Ms. Gilbert:
I read your 10 Questions interview in the October 14 issue of Time.
I also heard your interview on NPR, so I’m inferring that you’re doing an author’s tour, which I understand has become an event…
As rare as a Loch Ness Monster sighting.
Of course, your status as an author of – well, status – is without doubt.
According to Wikipedia, your book Eat, Pray, Love spent something like seven million weeks on the best seller list…
And was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.
Talk about status!
And you were included on a Time 100 list the of most influential people in the world –
not just the United States, mind you, but the world –
along with other movers and shakers like Sarah Palin,
and Larry the Cable Guy.
With regards to the Time article, I couldn’t help but notice – and can’t help but comment on – the following:
Your statement: “I was late [to this interview] because my hairdresser wanted to tell me about…”
Ms. Gilbert, regardless of your status, it is not OK to be late – to an interview, a lunch date…
A sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
It’s a tacky power play sending the message that you’re more important than the person you kept waiting.
And you kept Time magazine waiting. Who’s next?
Your sweater: It looks like you were on your way out the door and thought, “Gosh, I need a sweater.
“Oh, look, here’s the pile of stuff I’ve been meaning to give to Goodwill for the past eight months. I’ll just dig down here and…
“Oh, that beige thing! Perfect!”
Wow, is that an actual A-Line from the late 60s? Judging by its lack of style and shape I’m guessing…Yes!
Your knees: Are ugly. We women reach a point when it may be prudent not to reveal certain body parts except in the privacy of our bedroom or gynecologist’s office. Knees are on that list…
Along with the stuff that accumulates on the underside of our upper arms and keeps moving even when we’re standing still.
You’re 44 and your knees show it. Stop showing them.
Your ankle boots: Are you serious? Ankle boots with a dress?
If you’re 24: Hot.
If you’re 44: Not.
Your new book: The Signature of All Things.
I haven’t read it and I’m doubtful I’ll tackle a 512-page tome about… moss.
And speaking of moss, have you read Kate’s book?
Now, she’s got some nice knees!
Ms. Gilbert, your new book, City of Girls, comes out in June.
But forget your newborn baby and leave it in a taxicab?
Earlier this month a couple in Hamburg, Germany were traveling home from the hospital with their new baby. The dad had brought along their one-year-old, Emma, to meet her new sibling.
The taxi arrived at the family’s house, they paid the fare, gathered up Emma and exited the cab, which drove away.
Then the parents realized they’d left their newborn in the cab.
I’m imagining the conversation just before the couple’s cab arrived at their home:
Wife (to husband): You forgot to bring my purse to the hospital even though I told you three times! So you’ll have to pay the cab driver. Husband: I didn’t forget! You forgot that I told you I didn’t want to walk around with your purse. And I was busy getting Emma ready to go!
Wife: And that’s another thing you forgot – Emma’s bottle. I told you to bring her bottle! Husband: And I told you we’re out of formula, because you forgot to buy it! And she’s fine, so forget about it!
Wife: Well, excuse me for forgetting to buy formula when I’m nine months pregnant and taking care of a one-year-old! Husband: And why do we have a one-year-old? Because you forgot to take your pill!
Wife: I didn’t forget! You forgot to pick up my prescription! Now pay the driver!
The newborn slept through all this.
And continued sleeping as the taxi departed, father chasing the cab and shouting. The baby slept on as the driver went to a parking garage, left (slamming the cab door) to go eat lunch, returned to the cab (another door slam), and drove to the airport.
That kid was one sound sleeper.
It was only at the airport that the taxi driver picked up another fare, who discovered the baby and was annoyed that the taxi already had a passenger.
A now awake and crying passenger.
Parents and baby were reunited, no harm done.
Mother: You forgot the baby! Father: No, I was paying the cab fare, you forgot the baby…
Thus are headlines made:
Speaking of parents…
Here’s a parent I’ll bet never forgets about a newborn:
Hard to overlook a newborn that’s 6 feet tall and weighs 154 pounds.
This is the newest Masai giraffe at the San Diego Zoo and her mother Domibella. The baby was born May 19 and both are doing well.
Which I find amazing, considering the mother endured a 15-month pregnancy, and then gave birth standing up.
Which meant the baby had a head-first six-foot drop to the ground.
Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it began in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades.
And this was nothing like father and son bonding time.
Last month Joseph Tilton, 39, of Lewiston, ME asked his dad to drive him to the bank to cash a check.
The dad, Keith Tilton, agreed, and drove Joseph to the Androscoggin Bank in Lewiston.
Joseph was inside the bank just a few minutes, then got back in the car and asked Joseph to drop him off in another part of town.
Dad agreed, and did so.
Dad’s homeward route took him back past the bank, where he noticed a number of police cars.
When Dad was about a block past the bank, the police pulled him over.
A bank teller had recognized the car and identified it to police.
It turns out that during those few minutes Joseph was inside the bank, he’d robbed it.
And then Dad, unknowingly, drove the getaway car.
Now, this is a story with a sad background. According to prosecutors, Joseph has a lengthy criminal record and had recently been released after serving time at a Maine prison. He’s described as a transient, has a drug problem and is suspected of dealing drugs.
Joseph is in jail facing felony charges of robbery, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and theft, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
To con your dad into driving the getaway car after you rob a bank?
Grand Haven is a nice town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The population is around 10,000.
The town has one zip code, and one highway runs through it – US 31.
It was on that highway, late last month, that a box with $30,000 in cash fell off the back bumper of a truck and brought people together with one shared goal:
To steal the cash.
Let’s pause for a moment because this scenario begs the questions:
Why was this still-unidentified man driving around with $30,000 in cash?
Why has he chosen to remain unidentified?
What had so befuddled his brain that he forget he left the box full of cash on the truck’s bumper?
Back to our scenario.
I’d like to think the people who suddenly appeared en masse to grab the $20s and $50s flying through the air were driven by desperation:
A single mom who’d just lost her job.
A recent college grad, drowning in debt.
A parent of a child with a terrible disease who couldn’t afford the child’s lifesaving medication.
Maybe. I think not.
Sometimes, when we humans have a chance to get something for nothing – even at someone else’s expense…
We get it.
As it rained cash, people abandoned their cars and caused a traffic jam on Highway 31. The Grand Haven Department of Public Safety was called, and they and some witnesses retrieved $2,470.
The truck’s driver eventually returned to the scene and told police what happened.
And it appears that a few people had grabbers’ remorse:
So far, one woman has returned $3,880 and two 17-year-olds handed in $630.
As worldly-wise as I sometimes think I am, I’m delighted to say that I can still be surprised. Here are two recent instances:
Surprise #1: I’ve Heard Of Ants In Your Pants, But…An Alligator?
Michael Clemons, 22, and Michelle Marchan-Le Quire, 25 may not be what you’d call nature knowledgeable.
On a recent date night, instead going to a boring old restaurant, they decided to go find a nice underpass in Punta Gorda, FL and collect some wildlife.
No ho-hum restaurant food for them!
At around 3:15am, collecting complete, the couple were enroute to somewhere else when they were pulled over by police for running a stop sign. They told the deputies they’d been collecting frogs and snakes.
There were several bags in the car, and after asking Michael for his license and registration, one of the deputies asked if they’d mind opening their bags so he could see what wildlife they’d collected. Michael opened his bag – just clothing and personal items.
Then Michelle opened her backpack and – here’s the evidence that these folks are not nature knowledgeable. Instead of frogs and snakes, Michelle’s backpack contained…
Dozens of little turtles!
The deputy asked Michelle if she had anything else…
And she pulled out a small alligator…
From her pants!
Clearly Michael and Michelle don’t know the difference between “frogs and snakes” and “turtles and alligators.”
The collected animals are native to Florida but are regulated, so Michael and Michelle were cited for having them and for violating bag limits, and got a warning for the stop sign violation.
I do wonder about the conversation after they were stopped, those blue and red police lights flashing in their rear window, police about to approach their car:
Michael: Shit! Busted! Michelle: I gotta zip up my backpack. Here – take the alligator! Michael: The alligator was your idea! YOU take the alligator! Michelle: I’m not taking it! What am I gonna do with it? Michael: I don’t know! Put it in your pants! Michelle: I’m not putting no gator in my pants! Your put it in YOUR pants! Michael: Geez, here come the cops! Put it in your damn pants! Michelle: Bite me! Alligator: OK!
Surprise #2: I’ve Heard of “Staycation” But…Fakecation?
Here’s the perfect idea for those:
Whose lives begin and end with social media on their phones.
Who’ve lost their jobs because they spent so much work time on their phones.
And cannot, therefore, afford to go on vacation.
That’s right: Fake a Vacation.
On the level: This is a Nebraska company whose website says,
Fake a vacation with pictures. Make your friends envious of where you were and have them thinking of being where you are. Fake vacation is a perfect Meme for bragging to your friends. Select from destination packages available or we can create a custom package just for you. Ready to the excitement.
I’m not sure what that last sentence means, but I am sure of this:
Now, instead of your social media buddies (and I know you’ve got thousands!) feeling sorry for you because you’re an unemployed loser, they’ll be green with envy because you went on a fabulous vacation – and they didn’t!
Just upload a few photos of you to Fake a Vacation, choose your destination – Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, Hawaii and others – and in no time at all you’ll be on Instagram and Facebook with pictures of you having the time of your life:
Without the bother of all that fun and relaxation.
The packages also include some facts – a cheat sheet – about each destination to help you concoct the story of your fake vacation.
So when your friends tweet, “Wow, your vacation in the Grand Canyon – very cool!”
You won’t tweet, “We had a blast! We went on every ride, and had our picture taken with Mickey Mouse!”
Here’s another good reason to go with Fake a Vacation:
Lots of people do it. And isn’t that always the best reason?
It’s a fact, according to TechTimes.com. In April they reported that a new study surveyed more than 4,000 adults from the United States, and revealed that 10 percent of the respondents have already posted fake travel photos on their social media accounts.
So what are you waiting for?
Fake a Vacation is ready to fake you into your dream destination, without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
My first thought when I saw this headline on the splashy, full-page story in the Arts section of the Sunday Union-Tribune was:
“The Rise of Spain” – on the backs of how many?
This was the San Diego Museum of Art announcing its new exhibition, “Art & Empire: The Golden Age of Spain.”
My next thought:
“Golden Age” – for whom?
Certainly not for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in South America, Central America, North America and elsewhere.
People the Spanish conquered, stole from, enslaved, raped, murdered, infected with diseases, and ultimately, in some areas, destroyed.
“Golden Age,” my ass.
I read the extensive article, curious to see what spin the museum put on glorifying Spain’s “Golden Age.”
To the newspaper reporter’s credit, she addressed this issue in the second paragraph:
“…the Spanish Golden Age, when Spain laid claim to land around the world, including vast swaths of North and South America, parts of Italy and the Netherlands, as well as the Philippines. Spain’s global expansion that began around 1500 brought a shift in the world order with the conquest of land, the subjugation of people and the demise of many societies.”
But then came…the “but.”
“But there was also a broadening of culture that led to a brilliant era in the arts, producing what are still considered among the finest works of art in history.”
So, what are we saying here? That “conquest,” “subjugation” and “demise” are fine, as long as we got some paintings along the way?
I read on.
“The Spanish empire marked the first major globalization in history.”
I think the correct word is “colonization.” Because that was Spain’s goal: To colonize as much of the New World as possible for the purpose of expanding its territory, filling its coffers with gold, silver and other treasure, and converting the “savages” to Catholicism – for their own good, of course.
And if this meant eliminating the native people who objected to being colonized and converted, well – it was all in the name of God.
Further along the article says,
“A gold cross with pearls and four large emeralds tells the story of conquest and conversion. The four emeralds were mined in Colombia before the Spanish arrived and would have been used in jewelry.”
That’s a way of saying, “The native Colombians mined the emeralds and owned them.”
“After the arrival of the Spanish, the gems were incorporated…”
Wait. Stop right there. “Incorporated”? You mean stolen, don’t you?
“…incorporated into a diminutive four-inch cross, made for a crown for a statue of the Virgin Mary.”
So the Spanish stole the emeralds, put them into a cross, and that made everything OK?
One of the exhibition’s five section is entitled “Splendors of Daily Life,” and I suspect this was not referring to the “splendors” in the daily lives of the people Spain was conquering and killing.
The article winds down with the quote I used in my title from the museum’s executive director, Roxana Velásquez: “We want to make the story as clear as possible.”
OK – let’s “make the story as clear as possible” about Spain’s “Golden Age.”
The Spanish Conquest of the Americas: This began in 1497 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean and continued for three centuries. The Spanish Empire would expand across the Caribbean Islands, half of South America, most of Central America and much of North America including present day Mexico, Florida, and the Southwestern and Pacific Coastal region of the U.S.
The indigenous population plummeted by an estimated 80% in the first century and a half following Columbus’s voyages, primarily through the spread of diseases.
The native populations were also decimated by superior Spanish technology and weaponry:
The Spanish Inquisition: Over these same three centuries, beginning in 1478, these same fine folks were conducting the Spanish Inquisition, “to purify Catholicism in all their territories.”
This “purification” included torture and execution, with a death toll estimated at tens of thousands of “heretics.”
California: In 1769 another great land grab began under order of the Spanish king. Sea and land expeditions departed Mexico for what would become California, meeting in San Diego where the first fort and mission were established to serve as frontier outposts. The King sent military troops and Franciscan missionaries to the new land to colonize the territory and convert its indigenous inhabitants to Catholicism.
Twenty-one missions were established between San Diego and Sonoma, mainly built by native populations under the threat of whippings and imprisonment and, according to one visitor in 1786, “whose state at present scarcely differs from that of the negro inhabitants [slaves] of our colonies.”
In the 65 years between establishment of the missions in 1769 and their secularization by the Mexican government in 1834, more than 37,000 California Indians died at the missions. Around 15,000 of those deaths were due to epidemics aided by the missions’ crowded conditions, while a significant number of the rest succumbed to starvation, overwork, or mistreatment.
Estimates place the pre-Spanish coastal native Californian population between 133,000 and 300,000. By 1890, thanks in a large part to Spain, it had fallen to under 17,000.
Transatlantic Slave Trade: As busy as the Spanish were, from the 1500s to the 1800s they still found time to capture an estimated half-million people from Africa and transport them, primarily to Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America. Those that survived the horrible conditions on slave ships faced brutal lives of captivity, enforced labor, beatings, disease and death:
Now let’s return to present-day San Diego and the museum’s “Art & Empire: The Golden Age of Spain.”
I’m sure visitors will flock to the exhibition, enamored by the works of Diego Velázquez, Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco and others.
While they’re there, I hope they’ll spend an extra bit of time with the weary young woman – “The Kitchen Maid” – and remember that for many, Spain’s “Golden Age…”
I enjoy reading a good book and learning something from it, too.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing is a good book and I learned a lot, but I can’t say I “enjoyed” it.
This isn’t a criticism of the writing – Say Nothing is very well-written. For all its many characters and complications, Keefe’s deft touch meant I had no problem keeping track of who people were, what they were doing and why.
So when I say I didn’t “enjoy” Say Nothing, I’m referring to the tragic subject matter: the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The book covers the time period of the late 1960s/early 1970s to the present, with the focus on the 30 years leading up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
If the words Northern Ireland, Belfast, IRA, Gerry Adams, paramilitaries, bombs, and murders resonate with you, then you know what I’m talking about.
If those words don’t resonate, and you want to know what the hell was going on in Northern Ireland and why, Say Nothing is where to learn more.
Say Nothing is about the conflict between Ireland and Great Britain and that, in itself, is not new. It had been going on for at least 800 years, with the Irish viewing the English as cruel conquerors, and Great Britain viewing the Irish as ignorant peasants in great need of civilizing.
That civilizing would, of course, include exploiting Ireland’s people and resources for the benefit of Great Britain, with little or no benefit at all to the exploited, from the Irish perspective.
Over the centuries the conflict led to rebellions, which led to suppression, which led to more rebellions, and eventually led to the partition of Ireland in 1920. Six counties in the north elected to remain part of Great Britain and became Northern Ireland, while the remaining 26 counties became the Irish Free State.
But many people in Northern Ireland were dissatisfied; they wanted a united Ireland, one country on one island, free of British taint. They wanted a republic of Ireland, and they were proud republicans, ready to fight, murder and die for their cause.
The lead characters in Say Nothing are rebels in their late teens and early 20s, brought up to believe as their parents and grandparents had: That the British were an occupying force and the Irish had the duty to expel the British by any means. That this was the year, and they were the new generation who would bring British oppression to an end forever. That a united Ireland was worth killing for, worth going to prison for…
Worth dying for.
And so began the Troubles.
Say Nothing starts with a mystery: Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1972. The 38-year-old widowed mother of 10 is abducted and vanishes. The “Why?” and “Who did it?” are woven throughout the book.
The abduction was just one of many in Northern Ireland, where people were “disappeared,” never seen or heard from again. Making people disappear was just one option in the toolbox of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), originally founded in 1919 but mostly dormant by 1969.
As the IRA was revived by the new generation of fighters, it developed other tools including bombings, especially car bombs – in both Northern Ireland and England – and murder, of both Irish and English people.
As Keefe put it, eventually the IRA
“…was carrying out a dizzying number of operations, often as many as four or five each day. You would rob a bank in the morning, do a ‘float’ in the afternoon – prowling the streets in a car, casting around, like urban hunters, for a British soldier to shoot – stick a bomb in a booby trap before supper, then take part in a gun battle or two that night.”
And the IRA didn’t limit itself to killing British soldiers on Irish soil. They killed British people in England. And they killed Irish people in Ireland, all in the name of a united Ireland.
Under the leadership of Gerry Adams, the IRA became very good at terrorism. Later on, Adams became equally good at denying he was ever a member of the IRA.
And the English government and military became very good at counterattacking and denying, as well.
In the end – though there is really still no “end” – it was, as Keefe says, “Three decades of appalling bloodshed and some 3500 lives lost.”
And after all the savagery, the bloodshed, the maiming, the deaths, the lives and property damaged or destroyed, today Ireland remains two countries on one island. Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.
And, says Keefe,
“…the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has seemed, at times, to have virtually disappeared. The soldiers and sandbagged checkpoints are long gone, and every day, tens of thousands of people and countless trucks full of goods crisscross the national boundary in one direction or the other.”
So the same old question: What was all the killing for?
And the new question: Brexit?
Will Brexit, postponed yet again until October 31, bring about a united Ireland?
Or will it spur yet another generation of young people to fight, kill and die?
And Jean McConville, the 38-year-old widow and mother who was “disappeared”? Keefe does offer his thoughts on the “Why?” and “Who did it?”
And his thoughts on Gerry Adams, as well. Adams, who transitioned from IRA leader to leader of Sinn Féin, the left-wing political party in Northern Ireland.
Adams, still very much alive, now retired from politics, and still denying he was ever a member of the IRA.
Adams declined an interview for Say Nothing, and Keefe closes with this:
“The downside of denying something everyone knows to be true is that the value of anything you say inevitably starts to depreciate.”
I’m hoping something much more scathing is carved on Adams’ tombstone.
The many lives of Gerry Adams (left photo, in glasses): As a 25-year-old “republican in 1973, forming part of an IRA guard of honour at an IRA bomber’s funeral.” And in 2018, age 70, as an author, touting his “Negotiator’s Cook Book.”
And in between…
In public and in private, Adams continues to deny he was ever a member of the IRA. He has repeated the same denial for presidents, prime ministers, even to the families of IRA hunger strikers.
If you were writing a history of the last 40 years of the IRA, Adams would appear on almost every page but he would have us believe he was somehow an innocent bystander who just happened to be in the room.
We lose things all the time: Our wallets, our keys, our phones.
Losing things is not unusual.
But losing a lawn…?
Well, what is a lawn?
It’s a habit:
I think both definitions are fair. We have lawns because all our neighbors have lawns, everybody has lawns, we’ve always had lawns.
And some people are addicted to their lawns:
They lavish them with attention: watering, fertilizing, cutting, edge trimming, weed killing, installing lawn decorations of questionable appeal, bragging when the lawn is lush, despairing when it’s dry and brown.
But what purpose does a lawn serve?
Other than soaking up your time, energy, and water?
If you like spending your time and energy on an expanse of vegetation that you can’t even eat, well – that’s one thing.
But the water – that’s another.
I live in a very dry state: California. But it’s not the only dry state – from Hawaii to Washington to the Southeast to New England, drought is part of our reality. In fact, in a 2013 survey the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said 40 states expect to see water shortages in at least some areas in the next decade.
That’s right now.
And if you live in one of the handful of states that don’t experience drought, watering a lawn is still a problem because…
That water costs money. And watering a lawn is just money down…
When did our love affair with lawns begin?
Up until the 1700s, most homes looked like this – no lawn:
If you actually had property around your house it was used for growing food and livestock.
But as the European upper class became more upper in the 1700s, the rich got richer and built magnificent country homes to prove it. To further display their wealth, they surrounded their homes with lush, green lawns, to show everyone they had so much land that this area was not needed for growing food or sheep. The lawn became the perfect status symbol of The Good Life:
1700s: Castle Howard, Yorkshire, England: They added a lake to go with their lawn.
1800s: Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England: The setting for the popular TV series “Downton Abbey.”
This “love my lawn!” was by no means limited to Europe – Americans built their share of big houses, with big lawns to go with them:
1800s: The Breakers, Newport, RI
1900s: Swannanoa, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Fast forward to 1945. American military are coming home from the Second World War, ready to settle down and raise families. That was the American dream. The dream included a home of their own, and that home included…a lawn:
There was a housing boom, and just about every one of those new houses had a front yard, a back yard, and lots of lawn:
Fast forward to 2014.
California was in its now-normal drought condition. I read an article that said, “The average residential customer spends about 60% of their water bill on outdoor irrigation.”
I asked my husband, “Honey, do you love our lawn?” When we agreed we didn’t, and considering the ever-increasing cost of water, it was easy to take the next step and think about parting with it. All of it.
And so we did.
We hired a landscaper who dug up the lawn, replaced sprinklers with drip irrigation, replaced lawn with mulch, and replaced most of the shrubs with drought-tolerant plants.
Here’s our front yard before:
Front yard after:
And our back yard, before:
Back yard, after:
I thought – and still think – our “after” yards look lovely.
So did – and does – our water bill.
The difference between our June 2014 and June 2013 water bill was 10 units of water. One unit is 748 gallons. That’s a decrease of 7,480 gallons of water:
Enough to fill the average above-ground swimming pool:
Plus, we cut our water cost by half.
And saving money is good, no matter where you live.
Saving more money is even better.
In 2014 California had a rebate plan: SoCalWaterSmart paid residents $1 for every square foot of lawn removed. Here’s our rebate check:
And guess what? BeWaterWise.com is now offering $2 per square foot for lawn removal:
If your area isn’t yet offering lawn removal rebates – it will. Remember that prediction above from the GAO?
We have seen the future.
And it is dry:
Life without a lawn: Less work, more money in your pocket, more time for other things.
Everybody dislikes commercials, but nobody dislikes these two like I do.
John Kennedy is president, gasoline costs 27 cents a gallon, and stretch pants promise women to “sharpen your figure to a leaner, smoother line.”
It was summer, school was out.
And everyone was dancing to Ricky Nelson’s #1 hit, Travelin’ Man:
And who wouldn’t? You could dance fast, dance slow, and even cha-cha-cha.
And those lyrics – well, they had every red-blooded male yearning to be just like Ricky: a “Travelin’ Man” with a girl in every port.
“At least one lovely girl,” no less: a Señorita in Mexico, an Eskimo in Alaska, a Fraulein in Berlin, a China Doll in Hong Kong, a Polynesian Baby in Waikiki…
Yup, that song was #1 in the summer of 1961.
In 1961: Hot.
In 2019: Not.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m pretty sure that today, the Travelin’ Man lyrics would offend, or annoy, or at least baffle a great many people:
I’m a travelin’ man
I’ve made a lot of stops all over the world.
And in every part I own the heart
Of at least one lovely girl.
I’ve a pretty Señorita waiting for me
Down in old Mexico.
If you’re ever in Alaska stop and see
My cute little Eskimo.
Oh, my sweet Fraulein down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn.
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return.
Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night,
When we walked in the sands of Waikiki
And I held you, oh so tight.
Seriously, this is what folks were listening to and loving in 1961.
Seriously, isn’t this like fingernails on a chalkboard?
These lyrics push all the buttons: fear of commitment, stereotyping, trivializing, racism, sexism, and claiming to “own” multiple female hearts?
And the nerve to brag about it in a song.
So I’m puzzled as to why Toyota chose this song for its new Corolla hybrid ad.
I suppose the ad is cute. A man and woman kiss good bye at a train station:
As she gazes wistfully out the window of the moving train, he’s racing like hell in his Corolla to – where?
To some further train station along her route, where she leaps out, they embrace, she reboards the train, and then he’s racing like hell somewhere else.
I guess that qualifies him as a travelin’ man.
Near the end, a male voice-over intones, “The first-ever Corolla hybrid. Let’s go places.”
And you can hear the lyrics about owning the heart of at least one lovely girl, and the “pretty Señorita waiting for me down in old Mexico.”
An article Ad Age magazine, which has been around since 1930 and certainly knows more about advertising than I do, suggested the commercial
“…portrays a light-hearted pursuit, backed by music from Ricky Nelson. The spot shows how the hybrid’s high fuel economy performance can take drivers farther than ever, to the point of chasing a loved one because you’re not a fan of goodbyes.”
Apparently somebody at Toyota’s ad agency thought this was a good idea. And somebody at Toyota thought this was a good idea.
They’re probably the same people who thought stretch pants were a good idea, too.
The cashier who’s ringing up my groceries suddenly turns, and says to a colleague, “If I hear this commercial one more time today, I’ll scream!”
I hadn’t been aware of anything audible coming from the store’s public address system.
Now, I can’t hear anything else.
The cashier, the entire store team, all the customers – and I – are a captive audience subjected to the following musical enlightenment:
My hiney’s so Charmin shiny
My hiney’s so Charmin shiny
My hiney’s so Charmin shiny
A breathy female voice is singing, accompanied by music that’s got an insistent beat that makes you want to…
Leave your groceries at the checkstand, rush home, fire up YouTube, and listen to this entire masterwork for yourself.
Which I did.
Here it is, in its entirety:
(Male voice-over:) They say you shouldn’t talk about going to the bathroom. So here at Charmin, we decided to sing about it.
(Breathy female voice, singing:)
No ifs or ands, just cleaner butts
Charmin Ultra Strong, oh yeah
Ultra Strong gives me the cleaner than average hiney,
It’s super shiny.
My hiney’s so Charmin shiny
My hiney’s so Charmin shiny
My hiney’s so Charmin shiny…
(Deep male voice:) My hiney.
(Male voice-over:) We all go. Why not enjoy the go with Charmin?
To think that I’ve been walking around with a hiney that’s only average clean, due to my lack of awareness.
I wonder if the ad agency that thought this was a good idea, and Charmin, which also thought this was a good idea, are aware that “shiny hiney” is a registered trademark…
Of a company that makes hygiene products for, well…
Let’s not go there.
Come to think of it, if we bought both Charmin Ultra Strong and Shiney Hiney, we’d really have a…
I recently read a book that was memorable only for this information:
For years, McCall’s magazine had been advertising Lysol as a “feminine hygiene aid for nervous wives,” and everyone knew what they were really promising:
No pregnancy and no disease.
Lysol, as in, what I use to clean my toilet?
Was advertised as birth control?
This called for further research. Naturally I started with Wikipedia which, though I’ve been known to knock it, is a place to start. I was assured that, yes:
In the late 1920s Lysol disinfectant began being marketed as a “feminine hygiene” product by maker Lysol, Inc. and distributor Lehn & Fink, Inc.
It was claimed that vaginal douching with a diluted Lysol solution prevented infections and vaginal odor, and thereby preserved youth and marital bliss. This Lysol solution was also used as a birth control agent, as post-coital douching was a popular method of preventing pregnancy at that time.
This led to further research, and I found plenty of information out there including this 2013 article from the estimable Smithsonian magazine:
Which included a link that led to this 2012 piece in MotherJones:
Both articles feature what they call “vintage ads” touting Lysol as the solution “if married love begins to cool,” and other euphemisms to that effect:
Well, an unintended pregnancy can certainly put a damper on love, “married” or otherwise.
And people have being trying to prevent unintended pregnancies since – well, one article suggested “15,000 B.C. in France; the first known depiction of people using a condom was found in a French cave drawing”:
Ever since we figured out how pregnancy happened, we’re been looking for effective birth control.
And birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965 for married couples, and 1972 for single people.
Shocking? I hope so.
So, during the time period of the book I referred to earlier – the late 1920s and into the 1930s – it’s no surprise that Lysol’s widespread advertising campaign made it “the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression,” according to another link in the Smithsonian article.
All Lysol did was find a need and fill it, disregarding facts including (a) Lysol did not prevent pregnancy and, (2) Lysol could cause serious damage and even death for women
By 1911 doctors had recorded 193 poisonings and five deaths as a result of douching with Lysol.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that douching with Lysol began to fall out of popularity, as more birth control methods became available for women to access. By then, Lysol had changed to a less toxic formula and began marketing itself as the common household cleaner we recognize in our cabinets today.
And in my toilet.
Here are more Lysol “vintage” ads.
Perhaps funny to us now, but back then – deadly.
Email: My preferred way of communicating with family and friends. I can write an email at my convenience, and save it for later edits, additions and deletions before sending. I spend time and thought on my emails, as opposed to telephone conversations which are in-the-moment and not necessarily thoughtful. Yes, I talk on the phone, but my preference is email.
Research and Writing: I’m a writer, and the Internet is a great resource for research. It’s rare that I look for something online and can’t find it. I don’t consider the information on the Internet infallible, but as a research tool – invaluable. Without the Internet I’d have to go to a library (when it’s open), or check the encyclopedia (remember those?), or try to contact subject matter experts by telephone, and wait for them to get back to me (never).
Lifestyle: On the Internet I can schedule a dentist appointment or plumber, buy anything from toothbrushes to furniture, rent a video, pay bills, and manage my finances. In my jammies and robe, if I wish.
Games: I have a few games I play regularly and enjoy them all.
So: Internet dependent?
No doubt about it.
And when my Internet connection fails, I’m reminded just how dependent I am.
Fails, as it did early on the morning of Sunday, April 14. One minute I had nine tabs open and was using all of them at different times.
And then, WHAM! My computer freezes and nothing – nothing – was available.
I was able to close the Internet, restart my computer, and open the Internet.
No email. No research. No writing. No bill paying. No games.
I called my service provider, Cox, more formally known as Cox Communications, less formally known as “Your Friend in the Digital Age.” They provide my Internet connection along with my cable TV and phone landline. Cox has millions of subscribers spread across 18 states, and around 20,000 employees, a number of whom I talked to over the next 10 days.
Why 10 days? Because April 14 wasn’t the last time I lost my Internet connection.
Just the start of it.
On April 14 Cox offered to send a technician to my house, but – of course – not until Monday. That left me with no Internet for 30+ hours, and it was, if not painful, then certainly a pain in the ass.
Helpless – there was nothing I could do to fix this.
Frustrated – there was nothing I could do online.
Angry – that I felt helpless and frustrated.
The technician finally got the problem fixed Monday afternoon. Normal life resumed.
Until a brief outage on April 16 and multiple brief outages on April 17. I called Cox and the customer service person (CSP) made some internal adjustments and my connection stopped disconnecting.
Then on April 24 the connection died, and so did my landline. And this time it wasn’t brief – it was more than three hours. I called Cox, and instead of getting through to a CSP, I got a recording that advised “service is not working in your area right now.”
Like I didn’t know that.
And there was no option to select so I could talk to a CSP, so there was nothing I could do but sit, wait – and hope my Internet and phone would start working again.
Which eventually they did.
But during that outage I felt:
More helpless – there was nothing I could do to fix this.
More frustrated – there was nothing I could do online.
More angry – that I felt helpless and frustrated.
Why did this keep happening? Was it going to continue happening? I thought those were reasonable questions, so…
On April 25 I called Cox. The CSP acknowledged the outages in my area, saying they were “unusual.” And this helpful tidbit: “There is nothing we can do to stop outages.”
Unsatisfied, I asked to speak to a supervisor. The CSP said she could send a “ticket” up the chain requesting a supervisor call me, and I’d get the call “within 72 hours.” However, when she clicked her “Send” button, she learned she “wasn’t authorized” to send that message.
This completely unsatisfactory call called lasted more than 30 minutes and she put me on hold five times. During the last one, I hung up.
I was still angry and frustrated, but I’d had enough of feeling helpless. Next time I’d insist on speaking to a supervisor, and this time I’d get some satisfactory answers.
I called Cox later that day. I told the CSP that I’d requested a call from a supervisor and he agreed to put me through to one, though later I realized that this “Lee” in Omaha could have been a supervisor or the janitor, for all I knew.
Lee was the ultimate in useless. He could see that there had been outages, but “didn’t know what the problem was.” He “didn’t know if it had been fixed.” If it had, Lee “didn’t know who fixed it.” But “the district manager would know,” Lee assured me.
I asked for the name and number of the district manager. “That person isn’t available to the public,” said Lee.
End of conversation.
Back to being:
And, according to Useless Lee in Omaha, I had no way of finding out if the cause of the frequent Internet disconnects had been addressed.
So much for my “Friend in the Digital Age.”
At this point you’ve tired of my whining and say, “Dump Cox. Cable is going the way of the dinosaur. There are plenty of other providers out there – just change companies.”
And you’re right. I’m on the Internet right now and I’m going to research companies and
I’ve done more than 30 book reviews on my blog and a half-dozen movie reviews.
I wrote one of those movie reviews – about Isn’t It Romantic – without ever seeing the movie because I knew I’d hate it.
But I did read every one of those books. The few I didn’t finish, I read enough to form an opinion.
Now I’m going to do a book review without reading the book.
I hadn’t even contemplated reading the book. The first time I read about it on Amazon, I thought “Nope,” and moved on.
Then I noticed that the book – Where The Crawdads Sing – was on The New York Times best seller list.
Week after week after week.:
That’s significant to me.
And I started wondering, “What am I missing here?”
Back to Amazon, where as of today, Crawdads shows five – FIVE! – stars, and more than 10,000 reviews.
Then on to GoodReads: 4.5 stars and more than 20,000 reviews.
I wanted some background, so I googled Crawdads and first up was this March 17 story on CBS Sunday Morning that described the books as “a phenomenon”:
And since the author, Delia Owens, is now 70 and had never written a novel before, I’d say “phenomenon” is not a stretch.
I encountered lavish praise is this March 29 New York Times article:
“Rules the Best Seller List”? Really?
And more praise in this January article in Britain’s The Guardian:
The article’s author gushed over Crawdad being “boosted by the cherished trinity of New York Times bestsellerdom, a frenzied foreign sales fight, and a film in development by Reese Witherspoon (her online book club picked the novel in September 2018).”
Did the authors of these articles read the book?
Because I know who did: Amazon reviewers.
Back to Amazon.
Here’s are excerpts from three recent five-star reviews:
And equal time for three recent one-star reviews:
To be fair – admittedly not a great concern of mine – only 2% of the reviews were one star. A whopping 86% were five-star reviews.
That 86% is an overwhelming number, and gave me pause: What’s the likelihood of them being wrong and me being right?
So maybe…shouldn’t I at least read an excerpt, to see what those reviewers are raving about?
GoodReads offered a slew of excerpts, including this one, apparently about firefly mating habits:
Suddenly Kya sat up and paid attention: One of the females had changed her code. First she flashed the proper sequence of dashes and dots, attracting a male of her species, and they mated. Then she flickered a different signal, and a male of a different species flew to her. Reading her message, the second male was convinced he’d found a willing female of his own kind and hovered above her to mate. But suddenly the female firefly reached up, grabbed him with her mouth, and ate him, chewing all six legs and both wings.
And this, I guess a bit of Kya’s overwrought wisdom:
I must let go now. Let you go. Love is too often the answer for staying. Too seldom the reason for going. I drop the line and watch you drift away. All along you thought the fiery current of your lover’s breast pulled you to the deep. But it was my heart-tide releasing you to float adrift with seaweed.
And finally – I guess an explanation for the book’s title:
“What d’ya mean, where the crawdads sing? Ma used to say that.” Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: “Go as far as you can – way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”
Tate said, “Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.”
Everyone has used a portable toilet at least once in their life.
OK – if you haven’t used them, you’ve certainly seen them.
Portable toilets perform a necessary role in our lives.
If you don’t know what I mean, just think of the alternative:
Thousands of people attending an outdoor rock concert with no place to relieve themselves except…
Construction crews working on the house next door with nowhere to go except…
You’re walking through the park and simultaneously realize that you didn’t use the bathroom before you left home and you need to go now…
In every instance, portable toilets are the much better alternative.
So we have multitudinous reasons to be grateful to the companies that provide this service.
And I am, especially when I think the challenges these companies deal with. They’re in the business of providing a place for, and then picking up and removing, and then disposing of…
Our human waste.
And there are guidelines for disposing of that waste. The portable toilets’ contents must be disposed of at authorized sanitation cleaning facilities that will treat the waste safely and sanitarily. Related fees are paid by the portable toilet providers.
With this exception:
Diamond Environmental Services (DES) in San Marcos, CA.
From 2009 to 2016, DES owner Eric De Jong and Chief Operating Officer Warren Van Dam used an alternative system they’d devised to avoid those authorized sanitation cleaning facilities and related fees:
They dumped the waste into municipal sewer lines.
At all five of their facilities in Southern California.
Of course, this arrangement was unknown to the municipal sewer districts. Which meant that for years, the districts (read: we taxpayers) were paying for the waste treatment, rather than DES paying.
How much illegal disposal was happening?
At just one of those facilities, on just four days in June 2016, DES employees dumped the contents of 15 to 19 900-gallon-capacity trucks of portable toilet waste each day into the sewer. Multiply that by five facilities and seven years and…
That’s a lot of shit.
And it’s some serious shit, because we’re talking about breaking a federal law.
Facing felony charges, in 2017 owner De Jong pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in federal prison. Van Dam pleaded guilty to similar criminal counts. In 2018 De Jong was ordered to report to federal prison in July, and was also handed a $15,000 fine and three years’ probation. Van Dam received five years’ probation and 250 hours of community service.
The two men and DES combined were ordered to pay a fine of $2.64 million and $2.25 million in restitution to five different sanitation agencies. The company also forfeited $2.2 million in illegal profits.
These guys were in deep shit.
But apparently not deep enough, because one week – just one week – after the sentencing, as many as two dozen FBI agents descended on two DES locations, searching for proof that the company was also skirting clean-air rules.
Yup – just as seen on TV: Men and women with “FBI” in big letters on the backs of their jackets, looking super-serious, hauling boxes and computers out of a building.
So that was May 2018. Fast forward to April 2019:
Specifically, on April 11 De Jong and Van Dam were indicted on “a slew of felonies” related to tampering with emission control devices on their fleet of diesel trucks.
Whew! Simultaneous felonies!
This time the felonies had to do with electronic control modules – ECMs – which have been required by the EPA in all heavy-duty diesel trucks since model year 2008. ECMs warn if the trucks’ emissions filters become too dirty.
And, our boys are charged not only with tampering – that is, removing the ECMs from their trucks and shipping them out of state to be reprogrammed, allowing the company to avoid the costs of removing soot and other particulate matter from the trucks’ filters.
They’re also accused of having employees punch holes in some of the trucks’ dirty filters to allow air to flow through without filtration, and prepare false smog test results to ensure trucks that were not operating properly could pass muster.
So, first – dumping their waste into our municipal sewers. Second – modifying their trucks to pollute our air.
I don’t know how the charges against DES came about. Perhaps there was – if you’ll excuse the expression – a stool pigeon in their midst?
I do know that when words like the “United States Department of Justice” and “a federal grand jury” and “six-count indictment” are involved…
I don’t know how the U.S. Supreme Court decides which cases to hear, and which to decline.
I do know that I would like to have been a fly on the wall when this august body discussed and then decided to hear a brand name trademark protection case.
I also know that when the case was heard on April 15, the justices declined to actually say the brand name in question.
The government’s attorney also declined, and the plaintiff’s attorney did likewise.
Chief Justice John Roberts described the brand name as the “vulgar word at the heart of the case.”
Justice Ruth Ginsburg said, “Suppose in the niche market that these goods are targeting, the – the name is – the word is mainstream.”
Justice Stephen Breyer called it “the word at issue.”
Justice Samuel Alito called it “the word your client wants to use,” and later referenced the word three times in one breath: “It’s not used to express what the word literally means. It’s just used to say, ‘I’m mad, I want to get attention.’ It’s like shouting.”
Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart referred to the brand name as a “profane past participle form of a well-known word of profanity and perhaps the paradigmatic word of profanity in our language.”
The plaintiff’s lawyer, John R. Sommer, got the closest to saying the brand’s name, but ultimately wimped out, using the phrase “the F word.”
And it wasn’t only the Supreme Court justices et al who wimped out; so did members of the media:
The word in question:
FUCT is a clothing line created by designer Eric Brunetti, mainly hoodies, loose pants, shorts and T-shirts aimed at 20-somethings, all with the brand name prominently displayed.
Brunetti opened the line in 1990, and he’s been trying to get the brand name trademarked ever since. He says it’s an acronym for “Friends U Can’t Trust.”
Brunetti claims that other manufacturers are counterfeiting his clothes and he can’t fight them because FUCT isn’t trademarked.
And FUCT isn’t trademarked because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to grant trademark protection to the brand name.
They were “Acting unconstitutionally,” said Brunetti. And kept saying, all the way to…
The Supreme Court.
The justices went back and forth – which is in their job description – always considering “if the case could have national significance, might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal Circuit courts, and/or could have precedential value,” which is also in their job description.
And they held, as one writer put it, “G-rated arguments over an R-rated word.”
But did they say FUCT in private, when they were deciding to hear the case? If that fly had been on the wall, would it have heard…
I don’t know how the Court will decide – a decision isn’t expected until summer.
I do know that in the 63-page transcript of the one-hour hearing not one participant said “FUCT.”