True stories with a twist!

What would it feel like to be under house arrest? To be sentenced to remain confined within your house indefinitely? It has been done before, both in reality and in fiction. A recent true life example is the leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, images-2

and the fictional hero of the  best selling novel by Amor Towles, A Man in Moscow, Alexander Illyich Rostov.

Being confined to home means to never to have the privilege of dashing out for a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, a gallon of Rocky Fudge ice cream. You’d never have the opportunity to see a neighbor at the produce department, learn about sales prices for the week, or have the pleasure of pushing around a rickety old cart with squeaky wheels turned in opposite directions. 

If you are not free to go to the grocery store, who is supposed to do the shopping? Does the confinement mean that someone else will do all the shopping and the meal preparation? images-5And will they clean up too? And take out the garbage?

Think of all you could accomplish without distractions of any kind: you could pay all your bills in time, address birthday cards to rarely seen nieces and nephews, order unusual items from bizarre catalogues. Buy stuff, look at it, try it on and send it back. Or you could become a record-breaking best selling author, granting interviews from the privacy of your enforced ecosystem. 

You’d have time to try all those recipes you’ve been cutting out of newspapers and magazines all these years. You might even write your own cook book, “Rescued Recipes from A Defunct Life.”

You’d have the time to read as many of those newspapers and magazines as you wished, although being so well informed wouldn’t do you too much good if you were forced to stay home, never having the chance to demonstrate your range of knowledge. There’d be nobody with whom you could debate the important issues of the day.images-4

Does being under house arrest mean you can’t have visitors? Not even a sparring partner to argue points about the information you’ve gathered from all your reading? What about telephones and computers: would you be allowed to use them, or is all communication with outside world out of limits to you? Can you open your door and get a breath of fresh air, shoo the troublesome chipmunks eating your garden, or wave to a neighbor?

Who pays the bills? And where does the money come from? Surely not from the secret slush fund you’ve been hiding. Hopefully nobody has found out about that!

As I ponder this question and all the other question it arouses I must conclude that  until my questions are answered I strongly state that I refuse to be under house arrest. Have their people meet with my people and work it all out.

MONOPOLY

If there is one board game that is familiar to most of us, it is the game of Monopoly. Legions of stories are told and retold by elders in families about their experiences with the game. I remember as a small child watching my older cousins play Monopoly for hours at a time. It’s a game that teaches the lesson of changing luck and changing leaders. One person might be winning but then lands on a property with a hotel. The rent the player must pay can bankrupt him. And so, fortunes are made and lost in the course of a game.

While thinking about the game I thought about how it could be used for better and more interesting reasons than playing Monopoly as a pastime. What if there were a way to include world leaders in an international game of Monopoly?

Here’s how it would work:

A world-wide Monopoly game is played between Democratic countries and Dictatorships. 

The audience is assembled. Pulses race. Blood pressure rises just below the stroke level. A great deal rides on the results of this game. 

A dice toss allows the country with the highest score of the dice to begin. Assuring all other nations that there is no collusion, Russia goes first, chooses the dog as his marker, and advances to Park Place. As one of the two most expensive properties on the board, Putin snaps it up. Dreams of glory and victory show on his greedy face as he immediately buys and places a hotel on Park Place. Now he hungers for it’s sister property, Boardwalk. If he owns two properties of the same color, a marker landing on one of the properties must pay double the rent.

Although President Trump thought it would be a difficult concept for Putin to get involved in a capitalist themed game, Vladimir accepts the challenge of wheeling and dealing instead of his usual style of paying and accepting bribes. He continues the game, wanting to make sure that he is not accused of collusion.

Bashir Assad throws the dice next and lands in jail: a harsh joke to most of the world glued to the action. Thousands of fans watching the game hoped to see this happen in reality; not only in a board game.

Now it’s Theresa May’s turn at the dice, and she lands on “Pay Taxes,” a subtle reminder of England’s debt to the United States during World War Two. And Brexit.

Although it is Mexico’s turn, there seems to be some confusion about which warlord has the right to represent their country in the competition, with El Chapo still in jail. Nobody is bold enough to step forward to claim his turn at the Monopoly Board. El Chapo has claimed his right to represent Mexico. Nobody dares to step in and challenge him.

Then Benjamin Netanyahu fixes his jaw into a rigid grimace to show the world who’s the boss. And spins two sixes. He lands on “Pass Go, collect $200.00.” He can use that money to add to his defense budget, as he rolls again. What luck; to have a second chance because he spun two sixes; a double, his first time up. He moves ahead to the first of the Railroads, which he snaps up immediately. He’ll be able to use railroads to connect some of the settlements being built on the west bank.

The Arab countries, in  a rare show of unity, pool their chances by joining together on the same team for a singular turn of the dice. They are so fierce and angry as they throw the dice that the dice hit the table with force, bounce up, and disappear in secret corners of the room. The arabs had been told about how to throw the dice, but they insisted on doing it their way. It was hard to force them to listen to the rules. They broke the rules of the game the way they break treaties.

New to the game is Kim Jong Un. He chose the airplane as his marker. Kim was disappointed that there were no atomic missiles to choose. The other country’s representatives didn’t want to anger Kim, because nobody wanted to take the chance of being poisoned at the airport on their way home.

The dice continue to rule how many squares the players may move ahead. The game continues, and as the tension mounts, the world awaits more news about the progress of the game. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, requests an immediate  cease fire, and the world awaits with baited breath. Putin refuses to leave the board, Kim Jong Un insists on keeping his airplane marker, Assad demands an immediate release from jail, Netanyahu decreases his military budget, Trump says,”I told you so, and the Arabs are still looking for the dice.

I was ten and he was eight. I was the big sister and he the little brother until the day I turned forty. From then on, by mutual consent, more mutual on my part than his, he became my big brother.

Back then we acquired a pet hamster whom we shared and cared for. One of us cared and shared more than the other, but that’s not the point of the story.

We named the hamster Sniffy because of the funny way his nose twitched. When his nose twitched his whiskers twitched, making him appear to be sniffing. Or having a bad case of St.Vitus Dance.  image.png

Sniffy lived in a luxurious cage by hamster standards consisting of a spa quality running wheel and gourmet food and water dishes. The cage had full time security in the form of a lock and key. Hamster ownership was a serious responsibility not to be fooled around with. We chose a hiding spot for the key, and promised never to allow Sniffy to roam free without supervision.

We, of course, were the supervisors, the jailers and the feeding and cleaning staff. We alternated tasks and vowed to do our jobs diligently, regularly and timely.

So sincere were we about our service to Sniffy that we drew up a contract. “We the undersigned to solemnly agree to keep the location of the key to Sniffy’s cage secret from plundering eyes and other destructive forces. If either of us reveal the location of the key we would forfeit our share of Sniffy.

All precautions considered, somehow one day we discovered the horrifying fact that our hamster had escaped from his barred apartment. How did this happen? How did he get out of the cage? Whose carelessness allowed this mysterious event to occur? Where was Sniffy now, and how will we ever find him?

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Our fearless sibling team put together a plan based on the Hansel and Gretel story of our youth. Even though at ages eight and ten, we thought of ourselves as grown up.

We set a trail of bread crumbs leading back to his cage. No matter where in the house he is hiding one sniff of the crumbs will roust Sniffy onto the trail and lead him right back to his cage.

But we didn’t take Tippy into consideration. She was our six year old dog who was usually asleep: was never a threat or particular interest to anybody or thing.

But somehow the presence of breadcrumbs on the floor challenged something in her hunting dog ancestral background and she lapped every one from the floor.

So poor Tippy got tied up in her own home (the indignity of it all!) while we set the breadcrumb trap again. It proved to us that only dogs, not hamsters, greedily eat bread crumbs from the floor. Tippy was freed when no hamsters near of far showed a crumb of interest in crumbs.

The mystery was never solved, but some interesting theories evolved.

  1. Perhaps Sniffy found a home in a mouse hole, developed a love of cheese, and lived happily ever after with mouse friends.
  2. Maybe Sniffy squeezed under the door and made her way outside and to the bright lights of Broadway, where she became star of the Hamster Circus.
  3. She became the pet of a wealthy old codger, who plied her evermore with riches beyond a hamster’s wildest dreams.
  4. Perhaps she died.

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE

Who doesn’t love the sound of children’s laughter? Or a hearty belly laugh after a good, well told joke? A self-conscious laugh after an embarrassing experience?

What do you think of laughter when it comes from a person saying something and laughing at the same time? Is he laughing at his own jokes?  

It seems to be the latest way of speaking. Have you noticed? Someone will say, “oh it only cost (ha ha) thirty dollars.”

“No: heh heh it’s too cold!’

Do you think that is funny? A great sense of humor gets us through bad

Situations, but that kind of forced laughter is irritating. Can’t you get through a sentence without that annoying (and phony) chuckle?

It reminds me of the origins of the handshake: to show the other person that you are not hiding any weapons in your hand.

And laughing at everything you say shows the listener that you are a person of good humor: you have no bad news to report to them! 

I really never noticed or thought about it until a European woman one asked me: “Why do Americans laugh at everything?” After she said that I noticed that she was right! People can almost cannot speak unless they add a “laugh noise” to their conversation.

Have you noticed?

 

“Hi, Ken.” Those two shocking words greeted me when I opened my Facebook page recently. photo-1432888622747-4eb9a8efeb07.png

What do you mean, “Hi Ken,” my startled self asked? With no human being within hearing range there was no possibility of an answer. Where do you see anyone named Ken? There is not now nor has there ever been a Ken around here. I am Ronnie. Facebook has always been so warm and welcoming when I opened my page and saw the friendly, familiar, funky greeting, “Hi, Ronnie.” 

What has changed? Could it possibly be that I am now known as Ken: no longer Ronnie ? How could this happen? Who did it? Can this be a case of Russian meddling? 

Has my real identity been changed by Facebook? Is this a case of identity theft? Should I contact the FBI or CIA for clarification and help? 

Who else will start calling me “Ken?” Maybe I’d better check with the bank and find out whether I can still pay bills and write checks. Or maybe Ken would like to pay my bills and write checks to cover my expenses. That’s the least he can do for stealing my identity. 

If I am not real I wonder if Ken is. 

To be thorough I really should check my drivers’ license to be sure I can still legally drive. My name is only my opinion and not reality. I am beginning to have more respect for Franz Kafka, who in his book, “The Trial,” introduces a man who loses his identity without the help of Facebook. The frightening truth is that Kafka’s hero never finds the truth.

Find out the origin of this mistake, you say? Great advice. Except for one minor problem. 

Facebook provides no tech support, offers no complaint department, lists no telephone numbers. 

They don’t even have an email address that they’re willing to share. I am evidently who they say I am, not who I say I am. There is no one to question their records and nowhere that I can turn for help. Facebook can take away my name and assign it to anyone they choose. 

Pretty clever of them to change me into Ken. 

A man can easily be called Ronnie and still be recognized as a man. I am a woman with the same name, which can present difficulties. The man who introduced my husband and me was a guy named Ronnie, and nobody ever tried to erase his name. So why are they doing this to me? 

Why do I have a Facebook page in the first place? How did I get involved with this sleazy, identity changing organization? It all started when well meaning friends told me that becoming a Facebook member was the best way to stay in touch with my grandchildren and learn what they’re up to. Only members can access the pages of other members, so I’d have to become a Facebook member to be privy to this treasure trove of information. 

Reading grandchildren’s Facebook pages reveals some interesting information. You learn the teams they cheer for, the shows they watch, the classes they flop or soar in. You learn who their classmates and friends are. Although they may not tell you these facts, Facebook is their confidante and diary, and reveals this information. It’s a way to become part of their growing up. 

Because of the information Facebook provides I have subjects to broach with them, topics to discuss and sensitive situations to understand. Obtaining this knowledge in this way also gives me the unflattering, unofficial title of “snoop.” 

But is this worth losing my identity for?

Back at my computer Facebook is goading me on by sending me encouraging messages such as, “Become friends with Ken’s friends.” But if I am supposed to be Ken, his friends are already my friends.

What should I do if a message for me is sent to Ken? What if a message meant for Ken comes to me? Should I answer questions or be rude and ignore them? And what will he do with the messages meant for me? The complexities of this problem seem to grow by the minute. 

I am at a loss: don’t know what to do.

Tossing out the computer is an incredibly appealing idea. Forgetting I ever heard of technological advances for home use is even more appealing. 

But do I really want to return to snail mail?

Do I want to relearn and practice my cursive writing skills? The only use I now have for cursive writing is signing checks!

The answer to my dilemma strikes me in a miraculous instant! “Eureka,” the imaginary mad scientist cartoon in my mind shouts. “I’ve got it!” I will hit the “delete” button, get rid of Ken and my Facebook page, and start all over again with my true identity. 

Will you “friend” me? And please “like” me on Facebook. 

 

 

Our backyard is the perfect snowscape. The delicate tree branches are coated with ice, making them look as shiny and delicate as a backyard of silver chandeliers.

The snow covered hill is our miniature Swiss Alp.

Thriving in this winter scene is a family of three squirrels. They’re either a family or a kinky group of very close friends. They romp around, chase each other up and down trees, dig snow tunnels and search for food. The main source of their food foraging is our set of dual bird feeders. Each feeder hangs from a single hook on a double pole. The squirrels have no problems shimmying up the pole, reaching over to the feeder, and helping themselves to squirrelly-stomach-warming meals of birdseed.Unknown

But technology has caught up to their never-ending nefarious nips nabbed from the birds. The new feeder is equipped with a battery controlled balance bar. The circular bar spins around if a weight heavier than a blue jay alights. Like the weight of a squirrel.
Is there a funnier sight than a squirrel sailing through the air as if shot from a circus cannon? He is not hurt, just a bit puzzled. And he is just as hungry as he was before his aerial catapult.

Now the squirrel brain springs into action. At this point it is man vs. rodent in an unending battle of wills.To stop him from shimmying up the pole we install a cone-shaped baffle, putting an end to his attempt to scale the pole and reach the feeder.

Unknown-1Squirrel is befuddled. He comes up with Plan B: the Big Jump. He steadies himself on a snow bank and leaps onto the top of the baffle. He has won! Or so he thinks: now he places one paw on the balance bar to steady himself while he reaches for his tasty reward, when “Whirr”: he is flying through the air. He experiences instant squirrel shock. This has never happened to him or his ancestors before.

Time for Plan C.

Squirrel, still determined, jumps onto the baffle top again. This time, instead of placing a paw on the bar he continues to climb to the top of the pole. Now above the feeders, he stretches his body down to meet the mouth of the feeder, and manages a few seeds before we see him, open the kitchen door and emit bloodthirsty screams. The startled squirrel jumps off the baffle.

Man’s turn: we now coat the baffle with a heavy coat of gooey, greasy engine oil. Now when the marauder prepares for his leap he lands, skids and slides right off, executing an Olympic caliber somersault.
Squirrel sits on the ground, looking longingly at the bird feeders above. “My kingdom for a few sunflower seeds. Husked, of course.”

The sad sight of the hungry squirrel looking so defeated and unhappy moves me. The snow on the ground has become solid ice, making it look like a vanilla Carvel ice cream cake. How can any animal find food in a frozen tundra?

Anyway what harm do squirrels do? They don’t destroy plants by eating roots, they don’t kill plants by nipping at new growth, they don’t tunnel underground, making the lawn collapse. Are they so bad?

All he longs for, in his dearest squirrel fantasies, are a few little handfuls of sunflower seeds. My conscience asks me “Must you deprive the little fellow of a life sustaining meal?”

So I get to work. Off comes the baffle on the feeder. Out comes the battery that rotates the balance bar.

I stop short of installing a ladder to the feeder to help squirrel realize his quest.

“Enjoy, little friend,” I say. “It’s been a tough winter for everybody.”

This is a sad bit of news to share with you, but my inside sources reveal to me the possibility that Spring 2018 has been banned.

The Northeast has experienced three Northeasters this month. Unknown-1A fourth one may possibly be peeking behind the clouds to surprise us next week. There are several possible answers for this report: Unknown

  1. Weathermen’s attempts to take more camera time in the spotlight of television news.
  2. Mental health workers’ efforts to increase patient loads by treating those with SAD: Seasonal Affective Deficiency.
  3. Amazon’s drive to force retail stores out of business by destroying sales of spring clothing. They’ve even come up with the slogan “Keep wearing winter. It’s cozy, comfy and cuddly.”

There might be other possible explanations of why the northeast is suffering from our Worst Winter Weather.

Will you writers help us understand: please give us some reasons for our endless winter weather.

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