Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Galleria Go 'Round

After living in Fort Lauderdale for two years, I had not visited its best-known mall, the upscale Galleria on Sunrise Boulevard. I decided to talk a 30-minute mall walk there today. The reports of its attractions have been greatly exaggerated.

What can I say? It is a collection of national chains in one location, a round-up of the usual corporate retailing suspects, from Bebe to Victoria’s Secrets. The absence of J.C. Penney’s and presence of Neiman Marcus and Saks identify it as a mall for the moneyed.

I understood my wisdom in not visiting before now. I have been living on a tight budget. I find no pleasure in competing for parking places in order to ogle the perquisites of the rich that I cannot afford.

The mall was not as crowded as I thought it might be on a cloudy day after Christmas. Nonetheless, it was challenging to keep up a brisk walking pace in the best traveled corridors. Malls are for dawdling and spending.

Saks has the strangest design approach of any of the major retailers, at least at the Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale locations. The goal seems to be to create simultaneously grandeur and intimacy, and the two elements clash. Everything is beige marble, soaring ceilings, angular lines, and brilliantly shined glass showcases. The displays are minimalist. These elements suggest grandeur and modernity. On the other hand, various products are tucked away in nooks reminiscent of the small shops that once existed on every town’s main street. I find this juxtaposition of the grand and the intimate jarring and uncomfortable. I wonder if it appeals to Saks’ demographic.

In conclusion, a mall is a mall is a mall. You can dress it up in marble or dress it down in cement tile, but the same old retailers hawk the same wares. The food court may have the name of an Italian piazza and be decked in fancy letters, but the kiosks are still Italian pizza, salads and wraps, and Asian. Malls are predictable and fundamentally boring.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Downsize Christmas

Christmas is in need of serious downsizing. Political comic commentator Lewis Black asks, "When did Christmas become about shopping?"

Then there is the silliness: the war against Christmas by stores who asked employees to say "Happy holidays" instead of Merry Christmas, so not to Jews and other non-Christians. An airport took down its Christmas trees when a rabbi asked that a menorah be added. Then the airport put them back up when the rabbi backed down from a lawsuit.

Downsize the whole holiday. Take down the tacky Christmas trees. End the holiday shopping binge, the high expectations for perfect family gatherings in our dysfunctional families, and restore a quiet focus on religion, family, and community.

Christmas needs some serious downsizing.

Birds at dusk

Birds swoop and call
Caw and chatter and screen
Sweeping in kaleidescope patterns
Black wings against the cloudy gray dusk.

A busy intersection full of Christmas traffic
Irritated commuters and hurried shoppers
The birds above clatter and rise up from the trees and power lines in clouds of darkness. Big and small, round heads and crested, beaked and graceful.

I am glad that I am alive to see this.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Nuggets of Wisdom: Life Lessons 6-10

Please see August 12, 2006 for Life Lessons 1-5.


If you remember when a fashion wasn’t retro, don’t wear it.

What looks fabulously cutting edge on someone who didn’t see the style the first time around merely looks sadly out-of-date on YOU. Don’t try to relive your youth. For gawd’s sake, find something new to do.


A guy who cheats on his wife will cheat on you.

There is absolutely no excuse for a woman over the age of 40 to believe a man’s lies. Don’t cry to your friends when he won’t leave his wife or, after leaving her, up and leaves you. If he says his wife doesn't understand him, laugh in his face. You don't really believe that, do you? At your age? Grow up.


Don’t marry a back-door man.

Pussy hounds are not marriage material. If you want a life of great sex, betrayal and tears, go for it. If you don’t, find for someone nice and learn to appreciate him. He will mow the lawn, take out the garbage, balance the checkbook, and love you even when you look your worst. He deserves a good woman. Give him one – you.


Always buy title insurance.

Title insurance is a policy offered at the time you close on any real estate sale. Even though you had a title search, sometimes a problem arises. For example, a former owner’s ex-husband who was missing dries out, returns, and announces he never signed off on the sale and, thus, has a right to an interest in your property.

In some states, including Florida, title insurance is required. In Florida, it’s customary for the seller to pay for it but not required. In Georgia, title insurance was completely optional was not required. As it turned out, the county appraiser’s office had wrongly recorded a power company easement as 50 feet when it was 100 feet. The only thing a person could do with the land was mow it; planting or building was not allowed. It cut the land I thought I’d purchased in half. I dried the tears of my disappointment with a check from the title insurance company when I discovered the error. My neighbors, who did not have title insurance, were so irritated they sold their home and left the neighborhood.


No one can teach you how to write, but a good writing coach may help you to write better, and a good MFA writing program may help you make contacts that lead to publication.

I found it interesting to see a number of books to help writers generate ideas on the remainder tables at two large chain bookstores I visited today. I confess that I’ve used several of these books to generate fiction writing exercises for myself, especially early in the morning. But, I’m a lousy fiction writer.

As a journalist and essayist, I have more ideas than I’m ever going to need. If you need a book to generate ideas, perhaps writing is not the mode of self-expression that’s right for you. I recommend silly crafts projects as an alternative. (See my hand-crafted bricolage thank-you bookmark card with my Life Lessons post of Aug. 12, 2006.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Katie Couric: Must all news be fun?

Waiting for a prescription at the drugstore, I flipped through the latest copy of Good Housekeeping, where there was a story about ABC’s new anchor, Katie Couric, erstwhile of NBC’s morning smorgasboard of features articles. Couric says one of her job demands was that the job had to be fun. Couric was mocked on The Daily Show when host Jon Stewart ran on clip of her saying that her favorite story from the recent, heated elections was about one Congressman missing three fingers from an accident.

Ye gods and little kittens, as a favorite femme coworker used to say back in my youth. Is this the fruit of the women’s movement? A woman attains one of the three coveted news anchor spots in the U.S., and she turns it into gossip? Fun, my dear, is on MTV, HGTV, Food and Travel Channel. Cheerleaders,rock stars, and Paris Hilton make fun the bottom line.

Fun is diversion. Passion is intense feeling. Joy may well up from passion; it is a feeling of oneness, flow, completion. Happiness, on the other hand, is like fun – dependent on happenstance and diversion, fleeting, and without internal ballast.

I want my news anchors to be thoughtful, insightful, well read, immensely knowledgeable about world and national affairs. I want them to see past surfaces (such as missing fingers) to what’s missing from the facts, from the inner guts of the story or the person. This requires passion for the work, not a desire to slip away into the empty diversions of fun.

When I was a young reporter, I used to tell colleagues who grumbled, “They call it work because it isn’t play. If it was fun, they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.” I had and still have a passion for good reporting and good writing. I am passionate about being an effective teacher of communication now. Sometimes, I have fun, but I do not seek it as what I’m looking for in life. Passion and joy come from fulfilling one’s inner purpose, not seeking after mindless diversions.

Lately, I often look at news anchors and think that Ken and Barbie are bringing me the news with mindless happy talk, chronic substitution of the word irony for circumstances that are coincidence, misuse of plural pronouns for singular referents, and a general dumbing down of information. Katie Couric appears to be a nice gal who was excellent at the providing light features for the morning program. As a new anchor, she embodies the Barbie image of the news anchor, at least for me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Do you like your doctors?

I don’t think much of doctors anymore. I’m pretty sure that each one will suggest doing things to me that I don’t want to do.

I had a doctor in Baltimore that I liked quite a bit. He dressed like Marcus Welby, a popular TV physician of the time, with wool jackets with patches on his sleeves. He was tall and good-looking like Robert Young, the actor who morphed from the reassuring dad on Father Knows Best into the reassuring dispenser of health. Dr. Feelgood wasn’t much good at diagnosing my back pain, but he was generous with the Librium scrips.

Today's television doctor du jour is House -- brilliant, unorthodox, arrogant, cranky, unshaven, and popping pills with the abandon of a hippie on the Haight. What does that say about the social condition of doctors today?

I took to spending increasing amount of time in bed due to excruciating back pain. One day my husband tossed a slip of paper across the quilt. “You’re not the same woman I married. This is my mother’s orthopedist. Call him.” My X did not think as much of Marcus Welby as I did. The orthopedist turned out to be a pretty good guy and hooked me up with an excellent surgeon.

I’m turning into my mother when it comes to doctors. I’ve laughed off my GP who is continually suggesting that he perform a breast exam, even though I have assured him that I consult a gynecologist once a year. She is female, she understands how the equipment works, and she is the first GYN I’ve had who can take a pap smear without turning it into small torture.

My GP suggested I have a nebulizer to disperse medicine like a vaporizer during a recent lengthy bout with bronchitis, but I wouldn’t hear of it. Maybe I wouldn’t have an ear infection now if I had taken his advice.

I spent a year seeing various doctor mengeles to find out that I might have lupus. Then again, I might not, according to a rheumatologist in New Orleans who said he’d run some more sophisticated blood tests. No one has been able to get those records since hurricane Katrina flooded that city.

I don’t want radioactive dyes shot through my body and to be plunged through a CatScan on a cold slab of steel. I don’t want ultrasounds, x-rays, blood tests, and I definitely don’t want to have my ear drained, one of the most painful procedures I have ever undergone. Ear docs tell you that it will pinch a little, but they are lying.

Occasionally my students want me to verify that they are really sick. One even asked me if I would tell her employer that she was ill on a certain day because she had not come to class. But I tell them I’m not that kind of doctor.

So, how's your experience with doctors?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Perfect Mornings, Thoroughbreds, and Students

It is a perfect winter morning in south Florida, with sky as blue as turquoise, the deep green fronds palm trees fluttering in balmy breezes. It is the kind of morning that makes one say – I will endure the heat of summer that makes me feel like my head is going to explode; I will endure hurricane season, the crowded highways, the high taxes and home insurance; I will put up with all of this so that I do not have to face the freezing cold and gray skies of winter.

It made me think of other perfect mornings, reporting to Pimlico Race Course on perfect spring days in Baltimore, Maryland, skies and breezes and temperatures much like these. Noted handicapper Clem Florio once said – you’d have to be crazy not to love this life. As I drove into the race course gate, thoroughbreds would race past the fences on their morning work outs. In some ways, I suppose, the students are like the young thoroughbreds – athletically and sexually frisky, ready to run into a bright future of endless victories – how could it not be a bright future of achievements? This is a good life, too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Prez Gets the People's Message

President George Bush the younger led the Republican Party to defeat in yesterday’s midterm elections, as he led the country to defeat in Iraq. Citizens, apparently in trauma since the terrorists’ toppling of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and fueled by the continual fear-mongering of this administration, at last emerged from political catatonia to vote in a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and maybe even in the Senate.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of the neo-Conservative architects of the pre-emptive military strike on Iraq that has turned into a bloody mess over the last three years, resigned. Or he was booted, but at any rate, the Prez announced Rumsfeld’s departure at a news conference this morning.

It’s not as if happy times are here, but at least we can look forward to getting our young people out of Iraq and a lessening of the constant fear-mongering that has been in play for the past five years

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rain like steam

A big truck laden with lumber
Spewing clouds of misty rain
Like an old-fashioned
Steam engine.

It is dark since the time change
When I leave campus
A long day
Busy bee Mondays.

Home I have two hours or so
To eat, shower, watch TV.
Then back to do it all again

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Karmic Symmetry

Karmic Symmetry

So here I am, fretting about how I miss Miss M., who stopped responding to phone calls, emails, cards, and even flowers. She represents a part of my youth, and that’s a lot of water under the bridge.

And while I am fretting, Miss N. sends me a note, through my mother, even though I cut off contact with her two years ago. Now I have to decide – what does one say when one has outgrown a relationship? Perhaps I am still angry. Stating my authentic reasons for not wanting to renew old lang syne does not seem helpful; it will only perpetuate a cycle I prefer to end. Not acknowledging the note seems the kind of passive-aggressive behavior of Miss M. So I have written a note thanking her for thinking of me and philosophizing that all things have a season, including relationships.

I recently heard a radio interview with Joanna Carson, who was a great friend of Truman Capote. She was asked if Capote has an eccentric way of being very enthusiastic about a new friend for a while, then creating a scene and ending it. Carson said that wasn’t true. She observed that some friendships last a while and then pass from our lives. They don’t all last forever. Perhaps the 30-year curve with M and the 20-year curve with N are all they were meant to last. Even long-lived trees and tortoises eventually die.

Friday, October 27, 2006

In Love with Lexus

The Lexus 330 looks like a sports car on steroids. Aerodynamic and glittering with chrome, the inside offers leather luxury. Best yet, there’s a Toyota engine. It has looks and muscle, and I want one.

Is the plural of Lexus Lexi?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Letting Her Go

Have you ever lost a friend and not known why? Or, have you ever left a relationship without telling the other person why? Please share your thoughts.

Back in August, I wrote Tribute to a Friend to because I miss the Divine Miss M. I've known her 30 years. After many attempts to find out what's going on, and reassurance I will be here for her if she changes her mind, I am coming to the conclusion that I must stop even occasional "thinking of you" messages.

Yesterday, I read an article in the current issue of Yoga Journal about forgiving ourselves when another person will not forgive us and then moving on. The situation was a little different: the writer knew why the old friend has ended the friendship, but attempts to make amends were roundly rejected. In this case, I don't know what I did that offended, while indicating my willingness to set things straight.

On Sunday, in an NPR interview with Joanna Carson about her great friend Truman Capote, she was asked if he had a penchant for having an intense friendship with someone, then ticking them off or writing them off, in an eccentric pattern of terminal friendships. Carson didn't see it that way. In the course of a lifetime, she observed, friendships come in and out of our lives. They do not have to last forever.

I am very sorry that this friendship apparently is at an end. I believe information such as this comes into our lives for our growth, and my conclusion -- at least for right now -- is that I have to develop new friendships and move on.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Polyester Morphs to Microfiber

Do you have trouble finding age-appropriate women's clothing in your price range? I'd love to hear from you.

It is increasingly clear that there is an endless supply of polyester in the world, so much that my hypothesis is that the world is, in fact, made of polyester.

Since the 1970s when the polyester leisure suit was derided as apparel of the hopelessly square and outdated, polyester has become the predominant fabric for all clothing for the worker class and has even morphed into microfiber. Did you think that stuff that is supposed to magically “wick” sweat from your body was a natural substance? Think again. Wrinkle-free, travel-ready microfiber is the latest marketing ploy to push polyester.

My first requirement when looking for a business suit is to check the inside tag for fabric. Usually I can tell just by looking at a garment whether it is polyester; if I can’t tell at a glance, a brief fingering of a sleeve tells me whether it is polyester, rayon, silk, linen or wool. This is the legacy of a mother trained in fashion design, hours spent in fabric stores with her, and taste that exceeds my budget. Occasionally, a fabric fools me or the suit is so tempting, I take a quick peek at the inside tags.

The selection of suits from which to pick is slim pickings these days. In fact, in my last few outings, I could find a single garment in the $200 range that had any natural fabric content. We have lapsed, apparently, into an era when only folks who can afford designer clothing get to wear natural fabric business suits.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ups and Downs

How do you deal with the a build-up of aggravations? I'd love to hear from you.

The 3-grand for the car repairs puts so many things in a new light. I thought I was making financial progress. I thought I would be able to whittle away the bills I racked up during the year I was sick and out of my mind after my life came crashing down and I was hardly employed for two years. I even dared to think I might be able to save money toward retirement.

I dreamed of having a few nice things. Might I be able to afford to have the moldy, outdated, 25-year-old bathroom redone? Was it possible I might be able to afford to travel in retirement or even before?

We are a materialistic society, and I confess my dreams were material in nature. Perhaps I could save money and have a really nice car, a car that wasn’t a compromise with what I can afford.

Now, reality has set in. I scrape by, like most Americans. Dreams crash up against the cold hard shape of a budget – one that is constantly squeezed by unexpected expenses. I know that this is not what gives life meaning and purpose, but I am feeling down about it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sweating the Small Stuff

Mercury must be retrograde, or Mars in my planetary house of doom and small aggravations, or whatever. Rob Brezny predicts aggravation for the coming week, but it’s already happening.

First, there was the $2700 bill to fix the tranny, wheel drums, and a bunch of other stuff on the Toyota, a car I thought I’d been taking good care of. Okay, that’s not such small stuff, at least not to me. Not only was I just docked more than a grand for not infecting our students with my bronchitis, now I’ve got a huge payload just to keep my job. I commute 44 miles every day, and there is no public transportation that wouldn’t add a couple of hours, minimum, onto the trip each way. I’d have to take three buses to get to PalmTran, ride the commuter train, then take another bus to campus. I might as well set up a cot in my office and just live here. Of course, the a/c is out again, and there are no windows in my gray cubicle, so that’s a less than ideal plan, too.

Second, yesterday I got a $25 parking ticket because some moron misread the temporary parking hangar on the rearview mirror of the rental I’m driving. The parking permit clearly says “NOT VALID FOR MORE THAN 5 DAYS PAST THIS DATE: 10-10-06.” The ticket-writer apparently cannot read because the ticket was issued for “temporary parking expired 10-10-06.”

This is small stuff. But it is annoying. I’ve been embroiled for more than 2 weeks trying to get one stinking day’s pay for the online course I continued to tend during the five days I was out sick with bronchitis. You would think I was asking to refinance the war in Iraq for the red tape I had to go through. I’d like to spend some time teaching, for goodness sake.

I’ve also been trying to hook up with the representative for the retirement plan – and I’ve been trying to do that since early September. I’ve called both Valic and TIAA-CREF. It might be easier to negotiate a nuclear arms conference with North Korea, which upset world politics this week by what it claims was an underground bomb test.

Last, this morning, I come to my office to find a new sign: Dr. Eric Sxxxxxxx. It’s Enid. C’mon, y’all, we’re the intelligentsia, right? We can spell. I know Enid is a hard name. All my life, I’ve been called Edna and Edith because people can’t hear -- E – N – I – D – even when I spell it out letter by letter. I’ve also been called Ena and Nina. But Eric? That’s not even the right gender.

Why am I bothered by all this? Probably because of the money troubles. It intensifies everything else. Having a temporary 9-month contract does not help. I don’t like financial insecurity. I want to be toddling toward retirement, saving money, spending my summers blissfully in Taos or a small camper – a Scamp or Casita – seeing the country. Or I think I do, even though I’ve never, ever been camping and have considered myself a room-service kinda gal up til now.

But I digress. In the end, I went off to class. When calling roll, my students each gave one good thing in their lives recently, and that turned things around. They are delightful.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Eternal Sale Time of the Witless Mind

Like prithee and thou, the words simple elegance seem to have vanished from American English. Excess is our credo. Spangles and glitter, breasts pumped too full of saline, belly shirts with necklines that are barely there, song lyrics that shock, bloated houses, sky-high debt – whatever we do, Americans do to excess.

I feel sorry for the young women of today. Who are their role models? Is it Pamela Anderson with breasts like a porn star and an online sex tape of her and ex-husband tattooed rocker Tommy Lee? Is it equally bosom Anna Nicole Smith, who wed a man old enough to be her great-grandfather and appears zonked out on her own reality show? Is it billion-heiress Paris Hilton, famous for being blond, rich, young, famous and raucous, showing her bare breasts on the cover of Vanity Fair?

My idol is Audrey Hepburn. She was always elegantly turned out in designer clothes. In her later years, she worked on behalf on UNICEF and the world’s children. Like Jackie Kennedy, she tried not ever to be photographed with a cigarette; it wasn’t ladylike. She fought a valiant death against cancer and died quietly in Switzerland with her husband, sons, and dogs.

Sophia Loren is a close runner-up. Like Audrey Hepburn, she does not appear in public in ripped jeans and sans-makeup. In a recent photograph in a hair-do magazine, she was elegantly suited and seated. In her seventies, she has gams to die for. I recall an interview in which she said she avoids appearing like an old woman by carrying herself erect and not making old-woman sounds.

The late Natalie Wood, who died too young in boating accident, was another graduate of the so-called Hollywood star system. She, too, never went to the supermarket without putting on make-up; she felt she owned it to her fans.

Now my lovely female students wear tops that make me wonder where to put my eyes when they come into my office cubicle. How must young men, with their raging hormones, manage the situation? They complained to me in my interpersonal communication class last year that young women get breast augmentation as a high school graduate present, wear plunging necklines, then give young men who stare dirty looks and ask snottily, “What are you looking at?” Neither do I enjoy the endless parade of women with beer guts and belly shirts who populate gas stations and supermarkets. Gals, this is not sexy.

Simple elegance is graceful, tasteful, esthetically pleasing, and respects the rights of others not to be confronted with one’s sexual allure when they’d rather not be. There’s a lot to be said for simple elegance, and I wish someone was saying it.

Simple Elegance

Like prithee and thou, the words simple elegance seem to have vanished from American English. Excess is our credo. Spangles and glitter, breasts pumped too full of saline, belly shirts with necklines that are barely there, song lyrics that shock, bloated houses, sky-high debt – whatever we do, Americans do to excess.

I feel sorry for the young women of today. Who are their role models? Is it Pamela Anderson with breasts like a porn star and an online sex tape of her and ex-husband tattooed rocker Tommy Lee? Is it equally bosom Anna Nicole Smith, who wed a man old enough to be her great-grandfather and appears zonked out on her own reality show? Is it billion-heiress Paris Hilton, famous for being blond, rich, young, famous and raucous, showing her bare breasts on the cover of Vanity Fair?

My idol is Audrey Hepburn. She was always elegantly turned out in designer clothes. In her later years, she worked on behalf on UNICEF and the world’s children. Like Jackie Kennedy, she tried not ever to be photographed with a cigarette; it wasn’t ladylike. She fought a valiant death against cancer and died quietly in Switzerland with her husband, sons, and dogs.

Sophia Loren is a close runner-up. Like Audrey Hepburn, she does not appear in public in ripped jeans and sans-makeup. In a recent photograph in a hair-do magazine, she was elegantly suited and seated. In her seventies, she has gams to die for. I recall an interview in which she said she avoids appearing like an old woman by carrying herself erect and not making old-woman sounds.

The late Natalie Wood, who died too young in boating accident, was another graduate of the so-called Hollywood star system. She, too, never went to the supermarket without putting on make-up; she felt she owned it to her fans.

Now my lovely female students wear tops that make me wonder where to put my eyes when they come into my office cubicle. How must young men, with their raging hormones, manage the situation? They complained to me in my interpersonal communication class last year that young women get breast augmentation as a high school graduate present, wear plunging necklines, then give young men who stare dirty looks and ask snottily, “What are you looking at?” Neither do I enjoy the endless parade of women with beer guts and belly shirts who populate gas stations and supermarkets. Gals, this is not sexy.

Simple elegance is graceful, tasteful, esthetically pleasing, and respects the rights of others not to be confronted with one’s sexual allure when they’d rather not be. There’s a lot to be said for simple elegance, and I wish someone was saying it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Propositioning Pages-- Ho-Hum

I was thinking about the flashy Wilbur Mills drunk-with-a-stripper incident of 1974 and how dreary and Puritan the Mark Foley naughty-messages-to-pages scandal seems by comparison, when I found Wonkette’s comments. The level of media outrage is inversely proportional to the level of entertainment I feel.

Naughty emails? Good grief. Young women have forever been fending off naughty overtures of males in the workplace. It was a coming-of-age ritual. Sexual harassment laws have squeeze the juice out of raging workplace hormones, but it’s time that equal opportunity offered young males a chance to deal with ogling oldsters.

My first encounter with inappropriate advances was the New York University professor who singled out mini-skirted me to collect my work at a local bar, rather than after class with everyone else. An older girl in the dorm, larger than I and from the Midwest, dressed me in one of her old, shapeless winter coats, boots that were too large for me, and a dowdy babushka on my head. “What should I say?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about having to say anything,” she said. “He’ll get the picture.” Indeed, he took one look, handed me the essay, made no pretence of asking me to stay for a drink and that was that.

I frequently shunted aside naughty male comments with a laughing admonishment, “What would your wife say if she heard you talking like that?” An artless reminder from a young woman negotiating a workplace unregulated by harassment legislation, in hindsight it seems a prudent comeback, steeped in guilt with a mild edge of threat.

Men often tried, “I liked to get into those pants.” Such genius, such wit. My favorite retort: “They’re not your size, and I don’t think you’d look good in them.” I heard many a teehee from the sidelines.

On one occasion, a longtime married racetrack gambler offered me two tickets to the Preakness Stakes. I turned them down. He muttered, “So you don’t play the game.” I had no idea what he meant. Another gambler and friend explained, “The tickets are worth hundreds of dollars, He was propositioning you for sex without offering money. That’s the game.” Oh.

Asking me to plug in the copier and other equipment by crawling under a table was, however, a bit too much. The business owner’s mistress was never subjected to this indignity, and an unseemly audience of males who insisted on this uncomfortable ritual. Why the hell was the equipment always unplugged anyway? When I was fired for taking a sick day for cramps, a nice African-American case reviewer called it harassement, and I collected unemployment. By that time, the sexual harassment laws were newly in place.

The points made by Justin Zarkoff at Wonkette are well taken; there is no point in cloaking the Wilbur Mills era in fuzzy haze of reminiscence. It was a time when boys were men, and women were put upon. Still, it’s futile to try to choke sexuality out of human existence. It’s there, folks. Men and women are attracted to beautiful youth. Sexual innuendos and passes are made. I will probably be shot for being politically incorrect by saying, it’s fun to be young and sexy and desired. It’s good for young people to learn how to handle themselves in these situations. The Washington pages were not little girls, like the poor Amish children murdered in Pennsylvania. These were older male teenagers in the Big Bad City amongst legislators, as corrupt a group as ever gathered in a single location. American political history is shot through with scandal. I expect the public response is partly homophilia, partly outrage at Foley’s hypocrisy in shilling for legislation against sexual predators.

When I meet women my own age who were little Roman Catholic girls in the 50s and 60s, I find our mothers had a single response to any V-neckline that even remotely threatened to show cleavage. Out came two tiny gold safety pins and a ladies’ handkerchief that was pinned across the opening, to our humiliation. Today’s teens grow up in a media circus of salacious titillations. It’s time for parents to equip them with the moral equivalent of gold safety pins and handkerchiefs. After that, they have to find some an older wiser friends and mentors to coach them through the negotiations of sex and power. It isn’t as naughty as the media are making it out to be. Grow up.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lugubrious Religion

After the cold-blooded shooting of six little girls at a one-room Amish school in Pennsylvania, I wonder anew what the self-denial and lugubriousness of religion achieves. Jews have just observed 24 hours of fasting for a high holiday. Muslims are in the midst of a 40-day sun-up to sundown fast, during which hours no food or drink, including toothpaste, may pass their lips. Roman Catholics give up pleasures and fast for Lent in the spring. Amish forego all modern conveniences for a life of denial of most pleasures.

What good does all this do? A stranger to their community enters an isolated, rural schoolhouse and slaughters little girls no older than 12 in gory execution style shootings, lining them up against a wall. I often think that the Dionysians and Sapphics are the only ones who got in right. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Yet, I take comfort in praying. It eases my guilt when I inadvertently do wrong or hurt someone. It lightens the burdens of being human. It soothes anxiety and brings a peaceful moment or two. So, why not?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sawgrass Wisdom

Where once there was a river of grass, so called by Marjorie Stoneman Douglass in her famous tribute to the Everglades, now there is the Sawgrass Mall. It is a sprawling complex of big box retailers, such as Home Depot and Brandsmart, in free-standing warehouses on the perimeter; a warren of small stores with anchors; and, as I learned today, a new inner perimeter of trendier stores, with open-air streets and Euro-faux facades. Approaching the mall, one encounters a welter of restaurants and strip malls with anchor tenants including Circuit City, Best Buy, and CompUSA.

Although I have sometimes visited the outermost strip for electronics merchandise in the past 21 months since moving to Broward County, I have ventured only once within the innards of this massive mecca to merchandising. The object of my trip today was comfortable shoes at Timberland.

Initially, I was lured into the Neiman Marcus Last Call discount outlet, in hopes of a bargain. There, I formed my cultural principle:

Women who buy expensive shoes have no sensation in their feet

A dizzying array of very expensive shoes, pretty as jewels, was on sale. Pink and turquoise, green, copper and gold, festooned with beads and jewels, glitter and faux fur, feathers and rhinestones, these designer labels featured pointy, pointy toes (didn’t I endure those in 6th through 8th grades?) and heels as tall and slender as the twin towers (and we know how treacherous those turned out to be).

I was so glad I was wearing my new Merrell sandals, my feet cradled in wide bottoms, padded in all the right places. Stolid in appearance they may be, but ah, comfort be thy name. In these I padded along the row stores of the new Colonnades subdivision of the mall, realizing before too long that I was not up for spending major dough and this was not the right way toward Timberland, according to the online map I’d consulted before leaving but had not bothered printing.

The massive, ornately Tuscan exterior of Café Lux dominated my view, so I decided it was time for lunch. Inside, I formulated my second cultural principle:

Nothing is ever enough.

Excess is the principle on which American marketing is built. This includes our eating habits. My waiter, Chris, proudly informed me that Café Lux is owned by The Cheesecake Factory, famous for its giant-sized servings and that the Café Lux portions are also “generous” – code for sinfully huge, like American butts.

My hamburger was delicious, thick with melted cheddar cheese and avocado slides. It was served with a portion of slender French fries, crisp and perfectly salted, large enough for three people. The condiment provided was mustard-mayonnaise. I was able to eat only a small number of fries and left behind a third of the giant burger.

The interior of the restaurant was just as overblown. Columns, faux paint, and stenciled designs were everywhere. The ceiling towered high above us. One has to sell a lot of meals just to pay for the air conditioning in such a place. Tuscan colors of burnt yellow and umbra were everywhere, with expensive tile work in the corridor to the bathroom, where the most modern of sink fixtures – shallow square stone sinks with ultra-modern nickel faucets – completed the svelte accommodations.

The Colonnades in its entirety illustrates that nothing is ever enough. Its upscale shops and restaurants have surely been added on to the original big-box multiplex for the residents of the condominiums apartments of Tao, rising on the horizon, where prices start at a half-million dollars. Tao is earth-friendly and feng-shui’ed to the max. Has everyone forgotten that this is swampland, the Everglades drained, filled, and paved, and global warming will drown all this is a few decades?

Treats are best appreciated in small doses

Venturing into the mall, I found my way to Timberland, Clarks shoes, Saks Off-Fifth Outlet and, of course, TJ Maxx. I’ve not been in a TJ Maxx that big since Paul and I were in Albuquerque. Now I was in the realm of polyester suits, instead of the Armani silk and linen concoctions that rang my esthetic chimes but exceeded the capacity of my purse.

I settled on a gold, silk embroidered cushion for the sofa, squishy enough to perfectly support my neck while watching TV. It looks much better than the bed pillow I had put there, and I am very glad that I bought it.

I picked up a second treat on my way home – an iced mocha latte with lots of whipped cream – and an espresso brownie. Starbucks in the marketing scam of the century: how on earth did that guy convince Americans to spend three-to-five bucks on a cup of coffee? I figured I deserve it, because I save tons of money by brown-bagging lunch every day, even bringing tea in a thermos.

It was tempting to buy new sheets and many other things. Each time I was tempted, I asked myself whether I would enjoy that new possession as much as sending an equal amount to my credit card debtors to dig myself out of debt. The answer was that I want freedom from debt, and perhaps a face lift. Expensive new things cannot please me as much as a few inexpensive treats – a yellow cotton nightshirt with sleep teddy bears, a silk pillow for my head, and a lovely mocha latte with cream containing all the three main food groups – chocolate, sugar, and butterfat.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Unseemly Pajama Bears

I cannot imagine Catherine Deneuve crawling into bed in an $8 cotton T-shirt decorated with sleepy bears. Isn't it unseemly for a worldly dame d'un certain age? Yet the cheerful yellow garment promises comfort and childlike (or childish?) enjoyment, and I am looking forward to a shower and an evening in my new treasure.

The day I spent moving out of the dream house I'd once inhabited with a man I thought was my angel forever I forgot to pack any pajamas to bring with me to the home of my former colleague. I wound up in a Beall's Outlet, and the only thing that was all-cotton and cheap enough was a blue knit night shirt with sleepy bears on it. I was so glad that the nightmare of losing everything -- my mate, my dogs, my home -- was over, that I slept in Chris's spare room feeling safe for the first time in a while.

I've enjoyed that T-shirt everywhere from New Orleans to Texas, and now I've bought a companion. In fact, new pajamas are ever a cheap pleasure, something new to wear for less than twenty bucks. I used to like slinky, sexy nightgowns. Over the years, I've come to prefer cotton pajamas with pants that don't bunch up around my waist while I sleep.

I'm not Catherine Deneuve, and no one is looking, so who cares?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Second Coming of Hair Gel

The first item I heard on the CNN news around 7:30 this morning was that Americans will be allowed to take onto airplanes travel-size tubes of hair gels and other gel personal hygiene products. These had been banned after a terrorist plot was uncovered that involved creating liquid bombs on the planes from substances concealed in tubes and as beverages carried on to the planes.

I have not noticed any decline in the cleanliness of Americans’ hair in the subsequent weeks, but there has been a huge outcry. Comedian news-commentator Bill Maher has complained about it almost every week since the policy was put into effect. One would think that it was hard to get such items if one did not carry them in luggage. This is challenging for me to grasp, with battling Walgreen’s vs. CVS pharmacies on almost every corner, Wal-Marts dotting the landscape, and motels providing such travel items when one arrives. Maher, I presume, stays in hotels with upscale lobby stores.

I heard the news of the second coming of hair gel at least three more times on the brief commute to the office. John Lennon was once excoriated for declaring that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus. Now, it appears, the need for hair gel in our luggage is more important than the daily killings in Iraq.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Books by Bites

I like reading about books more than I like reading books themselves. I’m not sure when this penchant for the précis became a well-ensconced preference. Surely it must have something to do with our news-bite culture. Isn’t a book just too long to read, when I can breeze through a review. Or perhaps I cherish a sense that the full knowledge and impact of the book will penetrate me by osmosis.

I like collecting lists of books. I have always had several tucked away in a drawer somewhere, starting with a list of 100 classics all school children were advised to read, around sixth grade. I may have read a half-dozen of these, but have managed to avoid Moby Dick and most of Hemingway. I still clip and save book reviews of novels and popular reading. Some of these I actually complete.

As an undergraduate, I assembled a list of sources about color and light. This topic still interests me, and I have updated the list on my amazon.com wish list. I even tried to read one of the classics. Like so many other tomes lying about the house, it remains unfinished. In graduate school, I had research on topics related to labor history, labor organizing, community, and women and aging. The latter topic has sprouted into lists about women, aging, and identity in a paper file folder, a computer file, and at amazon.com. Maybe it will amount to something one day; maybe not.

My amazon.com reading list includes books about running workshops, something I may have to do if I don’t get a permanent teaching position. What would my workshops teach? I toyed with color as a topic, but I haven’t done the reading. I also have a collection of books about journaling as workshop fodder. It sounds unpromising to me. As well, I've got books from a side trip into collecting reading about archetypes. My undergraduate teacher at New York University shaped a lifelong interest in the classic Greek myths. During the seventies, I pushed this into an exploration of Jungian psychology uses of archetypes, especially in astrology.

Today I browsed books on New Orleans. The dream of New Orleans, like the dream of having once been a newspaper writer, or the dream of a love than transcended time with a husband long, long, long gone, may be all that’s left. I embellish the past with misty nostalgia, tendrils of memory and love curling around the snapshots in my mind like morning glories in full bloom.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bronchitis Makes Me Cranky

The whooping hacking cough started during orientation for my new job, so that I could be remembered as Typhoid Mary. It never quite went away after a 7-day program of antibiotics and resurged last Thursday, with a fever.

It's gradually coming under control with antibiotics and steroids to reduce the lung inflammation. I'm tired and cranky.

Why must I be plagued with Ken and Barbie surfer dudes and former cheerleaders giving the news? I teach these children in college and know they can't use commas correctly, have no idea that irony is not the same as coincidence, and should not be trusted to report on anything serious or minor, including the weather. They care about their hair, clothing, cars, and who they are going to marry, in varying order.

Why is everything so darn hard and expensive? I was thrilled to get the Sharp monster stereo and quickly followed with purchase of a Sirius satellite receiver and home dock to listen to jazz and other good stuff. But the reception is spotty, and wires are dangling all over the apartment. It's like living in a power grid. I'm going to have to buy a stronger antenna, and I hope that will work out, or all this purchasing is for nothing. Once again, I'm a dupe of U.S. marketing where nothing is ever enough.

Why can't being sick be fun? After all, I'm getting time off from reporting in to work, but I'm too fatigued to enjoy it. Rats.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Leaving Work at the Office

I haven’t had to spend 35 hours a week at a place of business since 1989. In fact, I’ve always had a charmed work life. Reporters come and go. As a graduate student, I had minimal office accommodations. As tenure-track faculty at a wanna-be research university, I was not expected to spend preparation and research time in my office, and I did not. It was not the practice in my department.

Home has been a good place to work. At first, I had an elderly dog who needed care; then, a rambunctious young dog who needed attention. I arranged my work life for maximum comfort of my fibromyalgia and arthritis pains.

Working at home tends to bleed all over the day. There is no clear demarcation between work and relaxation. Sometimes, I dreaded weekends, because of the huge amount of grading I would have to do. Having an office where I am expected to be for office hours and prep time means I get a lot done there. I have arranged my hours to avoid morning and evening rush hour traffic. This means some long week days and Fridays off, so long as do not have a meeting I’m required to attend on campus.

My shoulders ache again, to the point where I can hardly sleep and sometimes feel like crying from the pain. This is how it used to be when I had a 40-hour job. On the other hand, it is great to leave my suitcase of work, even my date book at the office, come home, and know that all the time is mine.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Requiem for Katrina

I lived in New Orleans in 2004, trying to figure out whether to start a new life there or return to South Florida. I lived in the Irish Channel, now billing itself as the Lower Garden District. My place was a few blocks off Tchoupitoulas Street, a couple of blocks from the shops of Magazine Street, and a short walk to the famous trolleys on St. Charles Avenue.

I was going through a dark time in my life, and I lived in a shotgun half built so close to the building next to it that it got little light. I ventured forth from my cave to drive around the city looking at property, condos and houses. I hooked up with the city renovation commission, which got me into even more open houses and a lot of interesting information about the neighborhoods. I’ll bet I saw the insides of more houses than many people who have lived their whole lives in New Orleans.

I hooked up with a tour guide, an interesting gent who was extremely knowledgeable about the city. A freelance writer passed a great assignment to me, one of the most profitable I’ve ever had, writing short history biographies for a textbook publisher. A savvy music-lover, who once had her own newsletter about the unannounced jams, was a huge source of information about just about everything going on in the city. People in New Orleans are enormously friendly and generous.

At night, I could hear the foghorns on the river, sounding like great animals bellowing in the night. Then, come November, a chill wind rolled off the Mississippi River, just a few blocks away, and I left for Florida in a hurry. Given the flood that occurred less than a year later, it was a good call not to have purchased property in New Orleans – even though, for the most part, I was looking on the side of the city that didn’t flood or over in Algiers, which everyone agrees is high ground.

Someone on a discussion list to which I belong complained about media exploitation of Kristina with the anniversary coverage. I can’t get enough of it. It is one of the few times when the media is ethically sticking to a story, hanging on until something gets done. The public journalism movement of the 1990s criticized journalists for being Chicken Littles, running from one crisis to another, declaring the sky is falling. Oh look – the ozone layer is dissolving. Oh what shall we do, we need more schools? Oh my gosh, the prisons are overcrowded, and crime is rampant. Public journalists encouraged the media to stick with a story until decisions could be made to get things done, as well as to point out conflicts in public decision-making: We can’t have lower taxes AND more schools and more prisons. (See for example, Daniel Yankelovich, Coming to Public Judgement; anything by Jay Rosen or Buzz Merritt written in the 1990s).

I’m in favor of the media sticking with the story. The Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts, is well done. National Public Radio also is doing a good job. Even CNN is keeping on the story. There are many thoughtful books about the situation.

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is a national treasure. I will never forget the first time I drove past the great mansions of Gulfport and Pass Christian in 1976 – or the last time I bade them farewell in November 2004 as I journeyed back to Florida. It was a cold, gray November day, and the white sands were windswept and looked as desolate as Arctic snow fields. I wonder if the small fish joint on the water where I ate is still there. I doubt it. Mansions that had stood 150 years are gone now.

It is sad. Our country needs great flood gates on Lake Pontchatrain like those that protect Holland. We need levees that can stand up to a 10,000 year weather event, like those in the Netherlands. New Orleans is a city that represents the joyous and resilient spirit of the American soul, a city of enormous cultural diversity and spiritual richness. If New Orleans and the Gulf Coast die, a part of US dies, too. There cannot be too much media coverage of this national tragedy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sunset for Ernesto

Tropical Storm and sometime Hurricane Ernesto is churning around Cuba, but today was sunny and clear in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Florida. The sunset was spectacular. Towering cumulus clouds, brushed with some cirrus at the edges, glowed with an uncanny golden light. It was that kind of light that the Medieval masters used in paintings to signify the light of God penetrating the world. It was unearthly and glorious. I was driving home and tried to take a photograph through the windshield, but I couldn't get a clear shot while driving.

Things are crazy the gas stations, after the gas shortage that followed Hurricane Wilma, the last big storm of the 2005 hurricane season in November. Lines extend into the street. I filled my tank yesterday and used a quarter tank going back and forth to work today. It didn't make sense to burn gas in a line for a half hour to top off the tank, so I didn't.

I stopped for batteries for the radio at Office Depot. No one thinks to buy hurricane supplies there, so it wasn't crowded. I saw a hospital worker coming out with a big carton of bottled water and a few other items.

Palm Beach Community College and the schools in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are closed tomorrow. I don't think the storm will amount to much, but I agree that folks shouldn't be traveling in hard rain and wind. It isn't safe.

Storms can be beautiful in their awesome power, as naturally glorious as the sunset before Ernesto.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Monster Fatigue

I finally bought the Sharp “monster” stereo system that I’ve had my ear on for a while. Making the right decision is tortuous – a long and winding road – as well as torturous, because I am always concerned about making the right choice.

About eight months ago, I bought an Onkyo 5 channel home theater system, and a DVD player, but it was too big. A salesman on commission at Brandsmart talked me into it. I brought it back and got a smaller system that I’d originally wanted at Circuit City. I couldn’t figure out how to run it. Getting these huge boxes in and out of the car, packing and repacking them, also was torture, as well as worrying about the bill in a time of tight finances.

After this fiasco, a waste of gas and time, I thought I wanted a small Onkyo shelf system. Then, as I got close to being able to afford it without guilt, I wondered if the small Yamaha shelf system would be a better choice.

When I went to the stores, I took a Gil Evans CD. Just for the sake of comparison, I tried the big Sony and Sharp systems. The Sharp system blew me away. I could hear sounds and undertones on the Sharp system that just weren’t there on other systems. I have gone back to compare several times. Today I brought the system home.

Now the thing is on the floor, waiting for me to unpack it. I got the huge subwoofer unpacked and halfway onto the file cabinet where I think it will best fit, but I am just plain tired out.

Chronic fatigue is a fact of my life along with low white blood cell count. This week, I started a job that will require me to be on campus 35 hours a week. This is the first time since 1989 that I’ve had to be anywhere for 35 hours a week. I sit in my recliner and parcel out my work around my fatigue. Having a job that requires my presence is a huge adjustment but financially necessary. I immediately came down with bronchitis and had to hurry to the doctor to get some penicillin. I was just about kicked out of the all-day orientation for coughing all over everyone.

Now that I'm feeling up to it, I lugged the big Sharp monster shelf system home. I wonder if there’s a way to hook up the laptop to the new stereo system so I can get jazz and blues from all over the United States. I had been sitting here musing that the new system is too big, too expensive, what was I thinking? As I listen to the tinny blues coming out of the laptop, it reminds me how much I like listening to music. It’s been years since I had anything other than a small Sony boombox, so this Sharp 1500 could be a great thing for me.

I should enjoy it, instead of second guessing myself and convincing myself I don’t deserve it or can’t handle the big speakers. As soon as I recover from Monster fatigue, that is.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Memories Thick as Tar

Returning to Fort Lauderdale from an orientation program in Lake Worth last week, I stopped for throat lozenges at a familiar strip mall in Boynton Beach. It was right down the street from where I lived with P. in the last half of our relationship. I trained little Fergie, now dead, and Shaymus, now with another family that can better care of him, in along the walkway there.

Driving through Boynton always tears my heart out. I had everything I wanted when I lived there -- a good paying career, a long-time mate, two wonderful dogs, a home with three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Life had surpasssed my dreams.

Then it all fell apart, and I have none of those things, and the memories are thick as tar when I pass through that area.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tempt Me Wal-Mart

I went into Wal-Mart with a shopping list of 7 things, none of them expensive, and left with a full shopping cart that cost me seventy-two bucks and change.

I love to hate Wal-Mart, but a shopper’s comparison published in the Sarasota newspaper in May 2004 showed that even a couple who can’t buy in bulk could save 25% - 35% there. I eat mostly fresh foods, but there are always sundry items at low prices.

I set off this morning to mail the thank-you bookmark (see previous post 5 Life Lessons). I have a sore throat, but I decided that I would drive over to US 1 nonetheless and compare the sound of the Onkyo stereo mini-system and a Yamaha, located at two different stores. I’ve been lusting after the Onkyo system for 18 months, but I recently started considered whether the Yamaha might be worth the extra money. There a bit of label snobbery in this, too.

I had barely left the Post Office when I realized I was feeling too blah to deal with the sound-comparison. So I headed for the Wal-Mart Superstore; I’ve been putting off a trip because it’s not near my home.

My shopping list included sore throat spray, lozenges, cinnamon, dishwasher soap, an air conditioner filter, and that organic Hawaiian sugar that costs a good deal less here than at the Whole Foods Market or even my local Publix supermarket.

The Hawaiian sugar was out of stock, and I couldn’t get the ultra micron filter in the size I need. Going along the aisles, I snagged paper towels (I’ve been out for a while), toilet paper (can never have too much), Renuzit air fresheners (never go bad), and a new Campbell squash soup I hadn’t dreamed I needed before entering the store. I remembered all those mornings in New Orleans eating the 50-cent small fruit pies (such a deal at four bits), so I piled four of those into the cart. How about some lip balm? I’m running out of that, aren’t I? Spring water, too: I used the last of the 2-1/2 gallon bottle a day or two ago.

A Vornado air mover was on sale for 10 dollars less than any place else. I’ve wanted one of those sleek honeys since I discovered them online. I settled on a twenty buck floor fan back in May. After all, I reasoned, no matter what brand I buy, it’s just some spinning blades moving around hot air. Mom was using a Vornado when I visited her in June, and it does move a lot of air silently.

Tempt me, Wal-mart.

Looking back regretfully toward the Vornado display, I checked out – remembering at the last minute I need Windex windshield wipes for the car. Those are so handy.

It will have to wait for my next trip to Wal-Mart. Maybe tomorrow -- if I can talk myself into buying that Vornado air mover.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

5 Life Lessons

Hand-crafted thank-you bookmark, front and back; see life lesson #5. These are just for fun, though. Wink.


The reason it’s called work is because it isn’t play. If it was fun, employers wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.

This argument puts an end to many a whiner’s complaints. Perhaps it isn’t true for athletes, who don’t seem to complain much, but even movie stars rolling in cash complain about early film calls. I don’t blame them, as I put a high priority on sleep too. It's a worthy hobby.


If you’re a woman, you will have to choose whether to be a doormat or a bitch in many situations.

I started telling gal pals this in the 1970s. Things have changed, but not that much. Sometimes you still have to choose.


Saving money is saving money, and spending money means it’s gone – no matter how big the discount promised by the sales pitch.

Retailers love to tell us how much we’ll save. This isn’t true. We will spend less, but we still spend. Every dollar in the retailer’s pocket is a dollar plus the interest I might have earned not in mine. With this principle firmly in mind, it is easier to weigh temptation against delayed gratification.


Water runs down hill.

This should seem obvious, but I failed to take it into account when I bought my first house, a sweet little A-frame that remains my favorite. The result was that the yard turned into a pond during heavy rains, which were frequent in that part of the country in the spring.


Always send thank-you notes.

An email is better than nothing, but a hand-written thank-you note that arrives in the mail is special. Keep it brief. Make it personal. People love it. I spent some time today crafting a special thank-you bookmark card for my aunt, whom I visited last weekend.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Making the Political Personal

It’s hard to believe that a white male would lecture a woman about solving the social problem of low wages with a personal decision (don’t work there), but apparently at least one guy missed the Women’s Movement of the 1970s.

The personal is political. Quietly opting out of a social situation doesn’t change things and entrenches the privilege of the white male doing the lecturing.

Treatment of adjunct instructors at the colleges your kids attend is one of the dirty little secrets of the academic world. For teaching one class, I earn $125 every two weeks. I spend $40 a week on gas for the car.

An adjunct teacher earns about one-third of a full-time professor’s pay with no benefits. Adjunct professors rush from job to job, trying to scratch together a living, stuffing their records into file boxes in the backs of their cars. An adjunct who dropped dead of a heart attack, whilst commuting between three campuses, is legendary at one campus where I work.

I’ve been participating in an online workshop to upgrade skills, swap information, and stay posted about what’s going on at one of the universities where I teach. As usual, the topic of low wages and decreasing job opportunities came up. A large pool of applicants who rarely see each other, all of them living around the poverty line, is an effective way to keep the malcontents in line.

I received a personal email from a fellow participant, snug in his office as an associate dean and department chair, about negotiating higher wages for myself and refusing to take jobs that don’t measure up.

Women still earn 75-cents on the dollar to men. Responses to wage requests continue to be patronizing and unprofessional. When a man negotiates, he’s a hard bargainer worthy of respect; when a woman negotiates, she’s a whining bitch who can leave if she doesn’t like it.

During my 30 years in the work force, women have gained a mere two-bits in the quest for economic equality. Meanwhile, wages and union protections have eroded for the entire work force.

According to one Nobel Prize winner, the graduate rates of science students are so low, the USA is sliding toward Third World status. One of the reasons for low attraction of science students to those studies: teachers are underpaid.

But shhhh, don’t say anything about it if you’re a woman, because there’s some white male who will make the political personal, perpetuate the social problem, and relegate anyone who speaks out to the margins of society. After all, it’s just my problem. Solve it yourself, babe.


What’s the Future of Science Education? The audio interview conducted by Ira Flato for Talk of the Town can be found in the Health and Science listings on the National Public Radio website at http://www.npr.com. I’ve been unsuccessful at getting the direct page link to work.

Wage Gap Information is compiled and regularly updated by Dr. Hilary Lips, Director of the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University, at http://www.radford.edu/~gstudies/sources/wage_gaps/wagegap.htm

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Highwaymen Art Recalls Old Florida

Old Florida was as exotic as a South Seas island, as depicted in oil paintings of the Highwaymen group. This group of self-taught artists flourished in the Fort Pierce area in the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s.

The work of Alfred Hair and Harold Newton, two of the most prominent artists of the group, is currently featured in a show at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. Their paintings of brilliant sunsets, rustic cabins, and vivid red royal Poinciana trees recall an era before developers paved over paradise.

There are several interesting facets to this group of approximately 26 artists. First, some of this group was able to escape the cane fields and orange groves by using their creativity to invent a style of painting that appealed to tourists.

In addition to being highly creative, the Highwaymen artists were entrepreneurial, selling their work at the side of the road, going door to door, and traveling to crafts fairs. In fact, the art was often framed using wooden molding with a steep angle so that wet paintings could be set one on top of another without smearing the paint. The stack could be set in a car to drive on the way to a fair.

Third, the Highwaymen often used the system of the old European masters. Less accomplished artists filled in the backgrounds, while the better artists filled in the details. According to material at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, work might be accomplished in a kind of assembly-line fashion during a barbecue.

Last, the value of Highwaymen art has tripled in recent years, thanks to national marketing via eBay. The museum show is a tribute to how the artistic vision of this group, who deserve a place in U.S. art history.

I wish I could include an example of their work, but I must respect the creative property of these artists. If you Google Highwaymen Art or Artist, you will find many interesting examples.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tribute to a Friend

". . . all that matters in life is love and friendship. All the rest is a waste of time, trumpery, not worth the trouble."-- Jorge Amado in Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

I miss my friend, the Divine Miss L. I have known her 30 years, and I don’t understand why she no longer answers phone messages or email, nor why she didn’t respond to a delivery of fresh flowers.

I will always remember L as a golden girl who transformed the most ordinary day into a bright adventure. When scouring garage sales, each item was a treasure worthy of a pirate’s chest. A fast drive in a big, new borrowed car with a V-8 engine, from rural Maryland to a state-run Pennsylvania liquor store before closing, was a chase for James Bond to envy. An Aston-Martin was not needed when we had L’s fabulous talent for adding spice and energy to whatever transpired.

We drank tequila and danced the funky chicken at an old farm-turned-estate by the college boys who roomed there. The last time I looked over that particular hill, it was a housing development for middle-class families. Miss L would have called them “the bourgies,” for the bourgeoisie, a class we were keen on eschewing back in those times of anti-war rhetoric.

Mindshot 1: L lying across the hood of her wee-mini sports car, a gaggle of young men surrounding her, waiting to do her bidding. I believe she was moving that day, or perhaps it was a car problem. Guys fell over themselves to help L, lithe as an impala. She was wearing a knitted vest like a blouse. The V-neck and loose fit was sexy in an offhand sort of way, like L herself. Her special charm attracted guys in droves, all vying for her attention. I admired that. My then-husband, who knew her well, remarked, “She doesn’t sleep with them, you know.” I admired her even more.

For L, summer days were not muggy; they were foetid. Our friends were not our crowd but our herd. She knew the bars that were “loaded with spies” in the Capitol, the best places for crab cakes, and the trendiest boutique hotel wherever she went – before the term boutique hotel had entered the language. Always at the cutting edge of popular culture, she was the first person I know to buy the gas-saving hybrid Prius.

Mindshot 2: One time I lost contact with L for two or three years. We reconnected when we met by chance coming out of an office we'd both visited. Since then, she’s been my friend as I moved here and there along the eastern seaboard, and throughout her own bi-coastal peripatesis* that included trips to Italy and Africa and all the best ski places in the U.S.

Unlike a friend I dropped, who flaunted money when I had none and was so scared for my future, L never did. Mindshots 3 & 4: Friend X swept out of her closet wearing a street-length mink coat she’d just purchased at thrift sale. I was worried about whether I’d have enough rice and beans to eat all week. X was angry when my praise was less than effuse. Friends must be glad for their loved ones’ good fortune, no matter what their own circumstances, she instructed me. Contrast: I was visiting the Divine Miss L during that dark economic time and noticed an expensive piece of luggage on the floor. When I remarked on its fine quality, L said, “Oh that’s nothing” and prodded it under the sofa with her toe. I treasure these memories Miss L.

Her life hadn’t been a sweet barrel of juicy peaches in recent years. There were health issues and other challenges. That has me worried. Is she in trouble, I wonder? Is there anything I can do to help?

There wasn’t a conflict, at least not any I recall. Memory and denial can lead one to suppress such events, and I can be prickly.

If there had been a conflict, wouldn’t flowers suggest that whatever happened was unintentional on my part? I’ve written her that I am willing to apologize, if only I knew what I’d done.

I am conflict-averse. A gal-pal once told me that abandonment was what men do to women, and we shouldn’t do it to each other.

Yet I left the friendship with X, because of her showboating, carping about things I must change “for my own good,” and using me as a beard to cheat on her husband. I stopped answering her letters. This was before the days of cheap phone calling. I regret my behavior, and I hope I would behave more maturely, bravely, and decently now.

At any rate, the Divine Miss L appears to be gone from my life, and I don’t know why. I hope she won’t be gone for years again and that only chance will bring fresh contact.

I am concerned, confused, and if this is intentional, hurt. I miss her, and I hope she’s okay.

* I have borrowed the neologism peripatesis with thanks to artist Carolyn A. Jones:

Peripatesis Definition

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Raodside Attraction

Kiddie Rides at Flea & Farmer's Market, Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

A well-traveled British friend once told me the flea market, that spreads across the parking lot of a multi-screen drive-in, was as "exotic as any Moroccan marketplace." I make it a point not to get up that early on weekends.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Alligator Alley

When I first moved to Florida, the route that is now I-75 was a notorious death trap of 18-wheelers roaring down the two-lane highway, drunk crackers, and was littered with the bodies of dead armadilloes and Florida panthers. Or so I heard-tell; the drive was so notorious, I always took a more northerly route across the state through the sugar plantations at the foot of Lake Okeechobee.

Driving back from Sarasota to Fort Lauderdale today, the Everglades channel reported that the tunnels for animals beneath the four-lane divided highway have been a success. Larger fleet animals such as deer and panther will travel miles, apparently, to get to an underpass. Smaller animals, such as fox, don't travel that far from their hunting grounds and don't use the tunnels. But sturdy fences keep them off the highway, too, and from hurting themselves and motorists.

A program on National Public Radio continued my traveling education. I can get real excited about preserving the wetlands when I listen to the sparkling descriptions of Marjory Stoneman Douglas of River of Grass fame, or Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote Cross Creek. In theory, preserving the environment is a good thing. In reality, I'm not much for wading through bug- and alligator-infested swamps.

It's easy to get up the West Coast with the improved superhighway that has outgrown the derogatory "alligator alley" appellation. And bravo for the folks who like to go out canoeing in the wilderness. Go for it. I'll stay home and watch the documentary.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Brokeback Dresser

I purchased art nouveau dresser in 1972, a beautiful piece with a sunburst of wood grain across the drawers and the lanquid curls of a Mucha poster in the ornate carvings. It is big and heavy, and the drawers are too deep for easy storage, but I love looking at it.

I have newer, glossier furniture now, with handy lingerie drawers that roll out with the finesse of a maitre d' presenting the flambe dessert. It has the sleek lines of art deco in white lacquer veneer with a waterfall curve, like set pieces from a Thin Man film. I lilke looking it at it, too, but it doesn't have the history of the art nouveau dresser. I and that dresser have traveled from Baltimore to upstate New York, down to Georgia, and landed in Florida. It's been quite a ride.

An antiques dealer offered me $500 for the art nouveau dresser a few years after I bought it, which would have been a 2000 percent profit. Sometimes I wonder if I should have taken the money and run.

Last night I dreamt that I was moving the old dresser yet again. The company used the dresser as part of an advertisement it was filming. But somehow, the old dresser got broken down into splinters when something went wrong.

The company denied culpability, but I found a nice large piece of the dresser on a pile of broken wood. I decided to take it home and display the wonderful starburst wood grain and the carved furbellows as art. I also asked the company to reimburse me for my loss, which it refused to do. It claimed that I had relinquished the right to a claim when I signed the moving papers.

Then, a video was produced showing that they had used my art noveau dresser in the advertisement without my authorization. So they paid me the $500. But my mother noted when I took the check that I sure had liked looking at that old dresser.

It's a fine old piece of wood-working, even if does have a candle-wax scar on the top and few dings and nicks in the veneer. We've been around, that dresser and I, and I expect it has aged better than I have. I still like looking at it after all this time.

I also think I'd like to pass it on to someone who loves art nouveau and would look after it, because maybe it's time to let it go.