Bums in the News
Bums in the News
Quitters Never Win
Back at Northside Elementary School, taking up a musical instrument in the 6th grade seems like a great idea because . . . well, all the other kids were doing it. I wanted to play a lovely flute or that adorable clarinet just like all the other girls, but my orthodontist nixed that idea and suggested the trumpet---a decision made easier for my parents because my father still had his trumpet (which--I swear--belonged to his father, so heaven only knows the exact age of the instrument) and before I knew what was happening, the tattered case was shoved into my not-very-welcoming arms. Bottom line? I had volunteered an interest in joining the band, and my parents found a way for me to do that. So . . . despite the non-sexy instrument I was stuck with, I learned the play the trumpet.
In junior high, I switched to the French horn because the fingering is the same and . . . well, I forget exactly how I was convinced that carrying an instrument that weighed twenty pounds in a bulky case that's impossible to lug down the aisle of a public school bus would be much better than playing the trumpet. Whatever gambit was used, I fell for it.
I hated music lessons. I disliked practising. Getting stuck with the nerds in the trumpet section (I developed early, and my bra strap was nearly stretched beyond recognition from the attention of the two trumpeters behind me) didn't look nearly as appealing as the all-girl flute section did. And I made the lives of my family miserable because I was required to practice every morning from 7:15am to 7:30am when the school bus arrived. Who really enjoys hearing a reluctant teenager blatting away within moments of waking up?
But I was not allowed to quit. No way.
If you started something in my family, you finished it.
Thank God I developed a rattle in my sinuses, or I'd still probably be playing that damned horn every morning.
Years later, the first thing that struck me as odd about my future family in-law was that my soon-to-be husband's little sister wasn't doing well in high school, so they let her quit. They sent her to an astronomically expensive private school instead, but her performance didn't improve. And when she went to college, that didn't work out too well either, so they let her quit that, also--over and over again. I'm still not sure how many colleges she attended.
The point is, she was allowed--no, even encouraged to quit!
Unheard of! Blasphemy! I am still astonished by this.
My daughters didn't like playing T-ball very much. But, by gum, once they got into those uniforms, they were stuck. Same went for piano lessons, dance lessons and singing lessons and anything else they chose on whatever misbegotten whim. They started something? They had better see it to the end of the season.
So . . . What's with Sarah Palin? She decided being Governor of Alaska wasn't so much fun after all, so she took a powder? In whose book of life lessons does that make sense?
I know, I know, you can read all kinds of garbled justifications in the papers, but jeez, what does her mother say? That's what I want to know. How can her mother let her throw in the towel?
I'd like to take a poll here. Under what circumstances would you allow your child to quit anything? No matter what carrot was dangled in front of her? A few million dollars in book advances? A lot of flattery from Republican senators who are desperate to find a woman who can talk the talk? Well--sort of? The slim possibility that a presidential campaign is in her future? As a parent, what would you do?
I mean, really, how can anyone expect to win an election to office if she quit the previous one? And what kind of desperation must a political party be feeling it if wants a spokesperson who talks like this?
I don't know about you, but the mother in me has already decided that I could never vote for the woman---all politics aside--because when the going got tough, she packed up her designer clothes and headed for fish camp.
By Elaine Viets Whenever I read about pirate attacks off Somalia, I think of my globe-trotting friend Ray Marklin. Ray is a photographer who lives in St. Louis. He has taken photos in Myanmar, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, and some seventy other countries for major magazines and corporations. He’s photographed jazz stars, rock stars – and pirates. We know the Somalian pirates are a murderous bunch. Last year they captured 42 ships, including a Saudi supertanker. They’ve demanded ransoms of up to $3,000,000. They bravely took a three-year-old boy hostage. No wonder the world cheered when American snipers killed three pirates holding a captain at gunpoint on a lifeboat. Ray was also on a boat captured by pirates – in the Caribbean. These Caribbean pirates were a bit like some Caribbean resorts. Ray found them polite, photogenic, entertaining – and determined to get money. Compared to the bloodthirsty Somali pirates, the Caribbean pirates were almost Disneylike. At least in retrospect. That’s not to downplay Ray’s experience. The ocean is vast and lonely, a desert with undrinkable water and merciless sun. Strange things happen when there are no witnesses. "When it’s your time, it’s your time," Ray said. Here is how Ray describes his pirate encounter. "In January, 1993, some friends had chartered a 51-foot sailboat in Grenada. We were working our way north to explore other islands. Our boat ran aground off Catholic Rock, near Union Island. We radioed for help. "About sixteen local people boarded our vessel. They said they were going to help us rescue the boat. We did not feel threatened. The only weapons I saw were a few ‘skin diving’ type knives on a couple of guys. I photographed the whole ordeal." But the rescue turned odd when a second rescue boat arrived. "The second boat began towing our boat back to the harbor." This made Ray and his friends happy, except the pirates refused to leave. The real rescuers – the second group – "said to gather all our personal belongings and immediately jump on the dock when we were towed into the harbor. We kinda got the feeling something was wrong." So did the pirates take all your money? "No. The boat was worth much more than whatever money we were carrying." Ray, his friends and the real rescuers did not use force to overcome the pirates. "We decided to let the laws of land prevail, while the pirates and the ‘official rescuers’ were battling it out in a tug-o-war about who was ‘rescuing’ us. "As soon as we jumped off the boat and were safe, I expected a scuffle, but nothing like that happened. The pirates calmly sat on our rented sailboat and waited us out. We booked a room in a hotel and radioed the manager of the charter company. "He told us to do nothing until he arrived on the next flight. This is where I learned a valuable lesson I still use when traveling in foreign counties: Whenever you have a group of people wanting something from you – photos, money, souvenirs – ask this question: ‘Who is the leader?’ They will all point to one guy. Then you say, ‘Alright, I will negotiate with him and he will speak for all of you, correct?’ "They agree. Then you take the leader away from the group and negotiate with him. This is what the charter boat manager did in the captain’s quarters. They settled on $4,000 as a rescue fee. The leader divided the money with the other 15 guys. I do not know how much the ‘official rescuers’ got. Plus, we lost three days sailing while the boat was being repaired. But that evening, there were a lot of drunk, partying locals in the streets." Was Ray afraid during the pirate encounter? "No. But I’m happy to be alive all these years later." **** That is Ray's photo, taken during the encounter. I told you he was good.
By Elaine Viets
Whenever I read about pirate attacks off Somalia, I think of my globe-trotting friend Ray Marklin. Ray is a photographer who lives in St. Louis. He has taken photos in Myanmar, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, and some seventy other countries for major magazines and corporations. He’s photographed jazz stars, rock stars – and pirates.
We know the Somalian pirates are a murderous bunch. Last year they captured 42 ships, including a Saudi supertanker. They’ve demanded ransoms of up to $3,000,000. They bravely took a three-year-old boy hostage. No wonder the world cheered when American snipers killed three pirates holding a captain at gunpoint on a lifeboat.
Ray was also on a boat captured by pirates – in the Caribbean. These Caribbean pirates were a bit like some Caribbean resorts. Ray found them polite, photogenic, entertaining – and determined to get money.
Compared to the bloodthirsty Somali pirates, the Caribbean pirates were almost Disneylike. At least in retrospect.
That’s not to downplay Ray’s experience. The ocean is vast and lonely, a desert with undrinkable water and merciless sun. Strange things happen when there are no witnesses.
"When it’s your time, it’s your time," Ray said. Here is how Ray describes his pirate encounter.
"In January, 1993, some friends had chartered a 51-foot sailboat in Grenada. We were working our way north to explore other islands. Our boat ran aground off Catholic Rock, near Union Island. We radioed for help.
"About sixteen local people boarded our vessel. They said they were going to help us rescue the boat. We did not feel threatened. The only weapons I saw were a few ‘skin diving’ type knives on a couple of guys. I photographed the whole ordeal."
But the rescue turned odd when a second rescue boat arrived.
"The second boat began towing our boat back to the harbor."
This made Ray and his friends happy, except the pirates refused to leave. The real rescuers – the second group – "said to gather all our personal belongings and immediately jump on the dock when we were towed into the harbor. We kinda got the feeling something was wrong."
So did the pirates take all your money?
"No. The boat was worth much more than whatever money we were carrying."
Ray, his friends and the real rescuers did not use force to overcome the pirates.
"We decided to let the laws of land prevail, while the pirates and the ‘official rescuers’ were battling it out in a tug-o-war about who was ‘rescuing’ us.
"As soon as we jumped off the boat and were safe, I expected a scuffle, but nothing like that happened. The pirates calmly sat on our rented sailboat and waited us out. We booked a room in a hotel and radioed the manager of the charter company.
"He told us to do nothing until he arrived on the next flight. This is where I learned a valuable lesson I still use when traveling in foreign counties: Whenever you have a group of people wanting something from you – photos, money, souvenirs – ask this question: ‘Who is the leader?’ They will all point to one guy. Then you say, ‘Alright, I will negotiate with him and he will speak for all of you, correct?’
"They agree. Then you take the leader away from the group and negotiate with him. This is what the charter boat manager did in the captain’s quarters. They settled on $4,000 as a rescue fee. The leader divided the money with the other 15 guys. I do not know how much the ‘official rescuers’ got. Plus, we lost three days sailing while the boat was being repaired. But that evening, there were a lot of drunk, partying locals in the streets."
Was Ray afraid during the pirate encounter?
"No. But I’m happy to be alive all these years later."
That is Ray's photo, taken during the encounter. I told you he was good.
What I Learned from 17 Hours of Talk Radio
I have just returned from driving back and forth across Canada. Not the whole country, but a good chunk. A total of 17 hours driven in two days with the prize of retrieving our son, Sam, from Algonquin Park where he went to camp. Seventeen hours of talk radio and my brain is still reeling.
My husband's car has XM radio, which is great considering half the trip was in Quebec, a province so fiercely French that they refuse to post English translations for their highway signs. (Unlike English speaking Ontario where they graciously include the French - much as adults might indulge spoiled children.) This all French all the time takes some getting used to, especially in construction zones where one is expected to know to merge left or right or avoid congestion on the TWC in a different language, but that's okay. The great thing about Quebecois is they drive really, really fast so you can get behind and draft them. Let the Ontario Provincial Police pull them over instead of you.
But back to what I learned. I learned that my tolerance for listening to Rush Limbaugh was nil. While I used to be able to laugh at his rants and raves, now it's stomach churning. Better to flip around the 500 channels risking accidents than start yelling at the steering wheel.
I learned that tobacco is the most illegally legal drug in that various foreign countries - formerly aided by the US tobacco companies - along with many Indian reservations, buy cigarettes cheap and resell them underground to avoid the huge taxes levied by states. (New York, for example, adds close t o a whopping $5 per pack in taxes alone. North Carolina, not surprisingly, does not.) China exports "jing ling" cigarettes that show a "goat" instead of a camel. Their only purpose is to be smuggled. In fact, smuggled cigarettes are an international problem that even extends military conflicts. To read more, click here.
I learned that if you slice a grape almost in half and put it in the microwave it will create lightning. Don't believe me? Look at this. Also, metal in the microwave might send off sparks, but it won't create fires. It's the metal covered paper wrappers in the microwave that are really dangerous. Pop-Tarts in their original wrapping are especially bad.
I learned that the 65 year olds and older are voting against the Obama health plan in droves because they already have universal care - Medicare. And that Republicans intentionally use words like "takeover" to describe what a government controlled health care system would be like, as a scare tactic.
Also, of the top 100 "must have" records on Classic Vinyl most were really really boring. This is particularly true for the drug songs. The Who, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and, yes, Jimi Hendrix went on way too long. They cried for editing. I know because I listened to the top 100 countdown driving up and driving back. Timeless music - not.
Judd Apatow, director and cowriter of such classics as Superbad, Knocked UP and 40 Year Old Virgin, apparently thinks he's subliminally instructing young men to "do the right thing" via his movies. He also had no problem having sex with his wife after watching her give birth, contrary to popular male myth. Good to know since his wife's a babe.
I learned that, like cats, chickens will crawl under the hoods of cars in winter to get warm. FYI to all the farmers out there.
I learned that CNN was desperate to keep the Henry Louis Gates vs. The Cambridge Police Department controversy going as long as possible, even, at last, doing stories asking listeners and viewers to email comments for a story about whether they were giving the story artificial legs. That was exhausting and took way too much air time for the trip. If I had to listen to one more person spout off on that topic I was about ready to drive the car off the road.
I learned that in Canada the skies are so beautiful they are blessed by God. Unfortunately, God tends to send down his wrath in heavy, merciless rain that floods the roads in a second and renders your windshield wipers useless but that, nevertheless, an eager vacationer will still pass you doing 65 mph in a 70 kilometer zone on twisting two-lane roads. I learned that my knuckles really can go white.
But mostly I learned that I really missed my son, though my house has never been more clean or organized than in his absence. He made me laugh for at least two hours after I picked him up. Then he went back to doing his thing and I went back to listening to Rush Limbaugh and hating him. And then turning to the top 100 classic vinyl.....And so the cycle began.
Got any long car trip stories to share? Cause me? I'm all out.
It's great to be home......
I am a swear word aficionado.
I wasn't always like this. When I was eleven, my mother made me chew Ivory Soap for yelling "damn" when my brother ran over my foot with his bicycle. This was referred to "cleaning your mouth out with soap" around my house, as in, "watch that filthy language, or I'll clean your mouth out with soap."
** Note to parents, this is an especially potent and memorable punishment if your child has braces**
The whole soap incident may sound a little Billy Bob Thornton, but it was highly effective and reasonably non-traumatic.
My tendency to swear was dormant for many years, curbed by the flashbacks of the solitary incident of soap stuck in my teeth, all through the rest of school, and until I went to college. Then, I got my first job in advertising.
I worked in the Creative department, staffed almost entirely with guys. I was "a girl that could hang." The guys swore, I swore.
It wasn't intentional. It just sort of seeped into my vocabulary. And now, it won't go away.
I once worked for a Creative Director who thought it was just fine if his ten year-old used the F-word. He was a writer, and claimed that he wanted his son to have use of a full vocabulary, and sometimes "Frick" just won't do the trick.
I secretly agreed with him. (Although I certainly don't want MY ten year old using anything BUT frick until he's graduated from college.) I have young children, so I do my best to use "dork", "shoot" and "gol-dern" when another word would be more apropos, but less appropriate.
One of my recent parenting experiences failed miserably. My son, who has his mother's penchant for foul language began dropping choice words like "crap" and "damn" into everyday conversation. I decided that I could outsmart him by giving him an approved set of swear words (nothing deragatory or truly offensive) and telling him that he could swear all he wanted with his friends (which, let's face it, he was probably doing anyway) as long as he didn't do it in front of adults or anyone younger than he was.
I congratulated myself on the first night of the new "controlled swearing" plan -- clearly, I was a parenting genius. Except, my son got so used to the idea of swearing with his pals, that he forgot the part about not doing it in front of adults, or, smaller children. After a few weeks, it was clear that managed swearing was an unmitigated disaster.
So now, we're on Swearing Plan B. No foul language until you're old enough to vote.
And yet, I can see the wisdom in giving swear words a rightful place in our language. Like cayenne pepper: you don't want to use too much, and it's not really a good fit for pancakes or peaches, but sometimes it's exactly what you need to spice things up a bit.
Swear words: Are they a necessary and useful part of the full complement of our language, or just the junk food of speech?
Mom Jeans and the End of Mankind
Mom Jeans and the End of Mankind
A couple of weeks ago, our president was caught throwing out the first baseball for the All Stars game while wearing a sartorial train wreck called “mom jeans”—high-waisted, unflattering denims which he paired with a beloved White Sox jacket. He wore the same jeans a while back during a bike ride and later admitted that he looked like Urkel.
“I hate to shop,” he told Meredith Viera on the Today Show. “And those jeans are comfortable.”
This man is married to “one of the most fashionable women in the world,” (we're quoting Meredith Viera here) and Michelle lets the leader of the free world out of the house looking like a nerd?
Do you let your husband venture out the door wearing pleated khakis? How many holes in his T-shirt do you permit him to sport? And what about shoes? Do you allow the man in your life to be seen in public wearing sandals—even if he hasn’t cut his toenails in weeks?
Well---stay with me now—this marital weakness may actually be good for mankind.
Last week, many news sources reported that the Y chromosome may be disappearing. For the skinny on the problem, here’s NPR’s Joe Palca’s explanation:
“Each of our cells contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. Twenty-two of those pairs are matched pairs, shared by men and women. The 23rd is different.
In women, the 23rd pair is made up of two X chromosomes. In men, it's made up of an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. That Y chromosome determines maleness in humans -- it holds genes necessary for forming testes and making sperm.
Over time, mistakes have crept into the Y chromosome . . . But every time a gene on the Y chromosome went bad, it basically disappeared. Scientists theorize that the X and Y chromosome started out with about the same amount of genes -- about 1,000. Today, the Y chromosome has less than 80 genes.”
Our admittedly fuzzy Sunday morning logic is this: Are we helping to eradicate the Y chromosome by telling our men what they should be wearing? Are we stripping them of their independence when we forbid their inherent maleness? Taking over their lives by forbidding the belches and farts that our men seem to take pride in?
Are we contributing to the end of our species, ladies??
Tell us your worst sin. What’s the rock bottom worst thing you’ve let your husband wear in public? Darwin might be proud.
Love Or Something Like It: A Q&A with Deirdre Shaw
I don't know how I tripped upon LOVE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT. Maybe it was the cover - catchy - or that I was reading another book skewering LA life and Deirdre Shaw's book popped up on Amazon. (For the reviews, people, the reviews!) Certainly, its starred recommendation from Booklist caught my attention, as did the glowing reviews from People magazine, Publishers Weekly and, yes, as hard as it is to believe, Kirkus.
What I found was a bright, insightful voice that once again defies the stereotype of "chick lit." Is it about a young woman in LA dealing with a frustrating romance and a sadistic boss? Well, yes. But the writing is so bright and intelligent, raw and funny, that it's understandable why Shaw earned her stars. Just because a book's about young women doesn't mean it has to be silly. Curtis Sittenfeld proved that as did some obscure writer named Austen.
In a nutshell, Lacey Brennan, an East Coaster, is lured to the West Coast by her comedy-writing boyfriend, later husband, Toby. It's all glittery parties and fun at the beginning, but like the fading of celluloid, the truth about Toby, about LA, about what Lacey really wants and needs out of life comes through. There's no sap here, just snap. At times, I laughed out loud.
Honestly, I really, really loved this book and if you like Harley's series - and I know you do - go for LOVE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT. I think we've found a new star here.
What follows is a Q & A with Deirdre Shaw after I pestered her by email. Warning: content contains Merv Griffin references.
Q) Love or Something Like It is a funny, insightful, excellently written book about a doomed young marriage and LA life. How much of your life does it represent?
Love or Something Like It is definitely based on some of my own experiences. Both Lacey and I moved from New York to Los Angeles for love, and both of us got divorced young. We both worked in Hollywood as assistants, and we both found true love in the end. The difference is that I forced Lacey to go through much tougher situations than I ever did, and she had to do it with a pretty motley crew of people supporting her. In real life, I have an amazing family and the best friends a girl could ask for. But that’s not as interesting as a dysfunctional family and friends with lame husbands and self-esteem problems, so I handed those to Lacey, and she handled them pretty well.
Q) The protagonist in LSLI is married to a comedy writer and also ends up working in that line herself. That would seem to me to be fun, but people I've met who've had to work closely with professional comedians say, for the most part, they're an odd bunch. What makes them odd and why are they so difficult to deal with? Don't tell me it's the crying clown thing.
I have to say that being around professional funny people is really fun. You laugh a lot, you’re engaged in the conversation, it’s irreverent, and, especially in a work situation, like a writers’ room in Hollywood, it makes work feel less like a job and more like summer camp. The downside with dating a comedian, from what I have experienced, is that many comedians are a tad slow on the whole grow up and be a responsible adult thing. I think part of the reason for that is that they get paid to do what they did as teenagers – smoke pot and sit around making jokes while watching TV – so there’s very little incentive to grow up. That can pose a challenge at tax time, or baby screaming time.
Q) I love that your protagonist meets Merv Griffin - that opening scene in the book really got me. Did you meet Merv? And, if so, what was he like? Also, can you tell us any dirty secrets about our favorite LA types? Not that you have to mention names, of course.
I did meet Merv Griffin at a swanky L.A. party. For some reason he took to my fiance’ and me, and he gave us advice on where to go on our honeymoon, as he does for Lacey in the book. He was very gallant and generous and open, and he had a booming, confident voice. He really did bring his little dog to the party, and he did play the piano and everyone sang along. I will always remember that night as a quintessential Hollywood night. The secrets I mostly hear are about the bad behavior of agents and producers and famous actors. I have heard stories of agents who literally yell at their assistants from morning til night. I have heard stories about an Oscar-winning actor who is hated on the set of his TV show because he is condescending to the director, the other actors and the crew. I will say that I have also worked with some really lovely actors, too, namely Benjamin Bratt, who will happily have his photo taken with anyone who comes to set, and will make an effort to talk to your cousin from Arkansas when they come visit the set, and who seems to have a truly lovely relationship with his wife. Another down to earth star is Angie Harmon, who, after the show we worked on together got cancelled, bought drinks for everyone at a nearby bar, where she did shots with the crew.
Q) Before I read your book, I read All We Always Wanted Was Everything, another novel set in LA. In both books, a kind of heartlessness comes through, as if everyone in that part of the West Coast is just out for themselves. Is that true? Or have you found some warmth in California?
I think Hollywood is competitive, so there is that sense of looking out for one’s self, but on the other hand, there is also a strong sense of camaraderie while you are working on a project. You really do become like family to the cast, crew and other writers on a show, and that’s a nice thing to get out of your job. I live near the beach, where the vibe is anything but Hollywood. It’s mostly about surfing, and yoga, and the Sunday farmers market, where people buy their veggies, listen to a band, let their kids go on pony rides, and eat together on blankets on the lawn. So there definitely are communities and people who are full of heart out here.
Q) Is it possible to thrive in LA as a size 12?
If you want to be an actress, they will make you feel like hell. But the truth is that L.A. really appreciates talent – in whatever form it comes. Talent is truly the top dog. So if you’re a size 12 and you’re a great actor or singer or writer or producer or whatever it is you do, you’ll do just fine.
Thanks for reading!
WTF - the KKK?
In late July, there are only two kinds of shoppers browsing the back-to-school supply displays. None of them are happy families eagerly loading up on Hello Kitty backpacks and sparkly pencil boxes for the first day of school. No, the first group is made up of hot-eyed, if slightly obsessive writers in search of the latest office supplies to make our work more pleasant. Just a couple of days ago, I bumped into one of my local writer friends at the Target just as the latest writing implements were being pulled off the pallets and arranged on the shelves. We were overjoyed at our timing and spent twenty minutes exchanging opinions about ballpoint pens. (She's a gel girl, though. I have my own fave.)
I have yet to meet a writer who isn't nuts about some specific item or other. From the lunatic who still laments her Apple II that gave up its motherboard just a couple of years ago to the---okay, me--who adores the Bic XXL pen which--if you're also a fan, I am deeply sorry to be the one to break the news that it seems to be--sob!--slowly disappearing from the shelves of our local stores (I can still buy it online--whew!)--anyway, we all have our peculiar attachments to some product or other.
The other shoppers at the back-to-school department seem to be mothers of Indian descent escorting their pudgy and unenthusiastic sons through excruciatingly detailed tours of the notebooks, protractors and packs of mechanical pencils. (Does anybody remember actually using a protractor in school? For more than stabbing each other, that is?) The mothers were loading up shopping carts. The boys seems resigned. I felt a little sorry for all those future cardiologists until one of them dropped a huge wad of gum on the floor, which I did not notice until it was attached to the bottom of my BRAND NEW JOAN AND DAVID SANDAL, after which I figured he deserved what he got plus some extra math tutoring. Except I'll probaby be paying him a small fortune in twenty years, so let's forget I mentioned it, since I'm bringing bad karma down on myself, right?
To be honest, I only saw two such mother-son shopping combos, but that was enough to get me thinking about racial profiling at the Staples store. Was I guilty?
If you're a writer, I want to hear about your favorite office supply. Me, I like to invest in legal pads (white, the 11x8 size) and my beloved Bic XXL. You?
Here's a stumper for you: I just finished my annual copy-editing project. The writer gets a nicely copy-edited manuscript, and we're supposed to go through all the marks and add our own in a color of pencil not used by either the editor (who generally claims black) or the copy-editor (who uses a red pencil.) The writer is supposed to use a third color of pencil, and I have lost my trusty blue-leaded mechanical pencil. I was reduced to using a child's colored pencil, which is very soft lead, so I had to keep grinding it into a pencil sharpener, and naturally, I spilled shavings all over myself (twice) so I'm really wishing I could find another blue mechanical pencil. Any thoughts, dear backbloggers? I could probably get one online, but when that copy-edited manuscript arrives, it usually needs to get back to New York fast, so I don't have time to order an online order. I need a pencil from a local store. I made the rounds over the weekend, but gave up after a handful of stores. Suggestions?
The other kind of shopping that gets really good this time of year is in the farmer's markets. My neighborhood has a good one on Monday afternoons. Until now, I was buying mostly baked goods (the raspberry pies--to die for!) and berries (fresh strawberries--OMG!) but right about now, the sweet corn comes in, and is there any better eating that sweet corn right out of the field? (My husband's family believes that the corn must be very freshly picked. Their joke is that if you fall down while running to the kitchen from the field, you must go back.) Also, the local tomato guy is getting rich, and I don't begrudge him a nickel.
My local supermarket has invited local farmers to sell produce in their parking lot on Saturday mornings. This seems big of them, but I suppose they're hoping we'll buy a head of lettuce outside, then come into the air-conditioning to pick up butter (for the corn) and maybe some tonic and limes.
Who needs to shop the department store sales right now? Not when there are writing pens and sweet corn to be had!
By Elaine Viets
I can. I grew up in a large, noisy family and worked in a newsroom. I can screen out the howls of shrieking editors, screaming cats, and other demanding creatures. The only way the cats can wake me is to sit on my head and meow in my ear. That’s when I see how far I can toss a fifteen-pound feline.
Fortunately for the cats, they usually wake up Don first.
I’ve always suspected cats were calculating creatures. Now I have proof. I swear these researchers were sitting in our bedroom, watching me launch a cat through the air.
Karen McComb of the University of Sussex did a study of fifty humans. She said cats learn how to control people. They mix a satisfied purr with a gimme shriek.
Cats use a certain "urgent-sounding high-pitched cry," the McComb study concluded. "While people usually think of cat purring as a sign of happiness, some cats make this purr-cry sound when they want to be fed. The study showed that humans find these mixed calls annoying and difficult to ignore."
Ya think so?
"The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response," McComb said. "Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom."
No wonder people believed cats were the devil’s familiars.
"McComb thinks that the "purr-cry may subtly take advantage of humans’ sensitivity to cries they associate with nurturing offspring. Also, including the cry within the purr could make the sound ‘less harmonic and thus more difficult to habituate to.’"
Here are more cat cries researchers should investigate:
(1) The rug glorp
Our cat Mystery has a delicate stomach. The rugs are her preferred spot for ejecting hairballs, especially the sea grass carpet. Want to see me shoot out of bed? Make a sound like a glorping cat. It’s a little like a washing machine in the "super wash" cycle.
I can scoop up the cat in mid-glorp and run for the tile safety zone, all the while making soothing "poor kitty" sounds.
Oddly, Don cannot hear this sound.
My striped cat, Harry, howls in terror when I enter the shower. No matter how much I reassure him and promise I’ll come back alive, I shower to cat screams. Heaven knows what the neighbors think we’re doing in the master bath.
A dreaded cat sound. Cats are like kids. When they are silent, they may be angelically asleep. Or up to unimaginable devilry.
Our cat Mystery is on a strict diet. Don adores our copper-eyed Chartreux. He insists she is "big boned." I said there were no bones in her belly. The vet agreed. He said, "If you love this cat and want to keep her healthy, you put her on a diet."
I felt her pain. I love chocolate.
We now feed the cats in separate rooms. Mystery has a frugal bowl of dry diet food in the kitchen. Harry chows down on fattening wet food, following by a bowl of dry in my office.
Life is so unfair. Harry eats all day and stays lean.
Last week, I left a dish of olive oil seasoned with oregano on the kitchen counter.
At feeding time, Harry howled for his food. Mystery stayed quiet after her dinner was poured. Too quiet. She’d carried her dry food, a few grains at a time, and dropped it in the olive oil.
I found Mystery in happy silence, licking the oil and no-longer-diet cat food.