True stories with a twist!

Gobbledegook

Dr. Patrick was my first college English teacher. He had a reputation of being a bit “Weird,” but what others said about him didn’t frighten me one bit. In all my twelve years of being a student, from kindergarten to high school graduation I never met a teacher I couldn’t get along with. Maybe some of them were a little unusual and maybe some of them were tough, but they all appreciated a student making an honest attempt at learning.images-4

English was always my favorite subject. I loved creative writing, even if the only opportunity to practice and develop my writing skills was writing letters to my friends who were at summer camp. I quickly ignored my mother’s advice about how to begin a letter. She thought the proper way to start was to first ask your friend how they were feeling, followed by assuring her that you were alright. I thought that was a boring and expected way to start. It was simply not my style to start my letter with, “Dear Bobby, how are you? I am feeling fine.”

No, not me. I had to begin with an attention getting statement like “Have you ever seen a grizzly bear asleep on your front lawn?” You could go in any number of directions with an opening question like that. The story probably has nothing to do with grizzly bears on your front lawn. But a good attention getter creates interested readers.

My English teachers always encouraged me to write in my own style. I remember in fourth grade writing an assignment about “What we did on winter vacation.” Our family didn’t go anywhere or do anything special that winter, so couldn’t think of what I could write about.

After some thought about some things I did do, I finally I wrote a story about it. I baked my first cake by myself, used the mix-master for the first time, followed by scraping cake batter off the kitchen wall. The teacher read my story to the class, not the stories of students who skied in Aspen or snorkeled in Eleuthra during vacation. My classmates laughed as she read it; they liked it! So I learned that it isn’t the subject matter that is important; it’s the way the story is told.

Dr. Patrick was a different breed of teacher. He was a huge man with bright red hair, thick eyeglasses and a roaring voice. His favorite word was “Gobbledegook,” and he used it frequently to indicate his displeasure. He disliked insignificant details that didn’t further the story line. He hated anything sentimental. He sneered at corny. He despised flowery language.

He was a no-frills guy.

Today, when I am writing a story, I think about Dr. Patrick. As I read and edit it I think to myself,  “Gobbledegook!” as I erase some parts and improve others. I renew phrases and sharpen the writing. I finally learned the meaning of his word. There must have been a more genteel way to say the same thing as he did with the single word, “Gobbledegook,” but it couldn’t have given as much of a punch as that word did for him. Dr. Patrick and his special silly word made him unforgettable.

 

DR. JOY BROWNE

She was one of my favorite radio personalities, and I miss hearing her voice and her common sense advice.Unknown-3

Joy Browne was a psychologist whose long running radio program featured calls from people with problems to discuss with her. Dr.Browne’s thoughts about managing them were always to the point.

If I had known that her life would be so short, I would have paid more attention and made more of an effort to remember advice that she gave her callers.

I do remember a fairly prevalent question regarding life choices. Someone would call and say, “I’ve always wanted to be a (name any profession), but now I’m ( name an age). It’s too late to train for that position . It would take at least four years of school to qualify.”

Her answer was always,

“And how old will you be in four years if you do NOT go back to school?”

Always encouraging, always looking for a different way to look at a problem.

A common question had to do with running away from problems. 

“My life is miserable. I hate my job and don’t have any good friends. I think I’d be happier if I moved to a new community in a new state.  To this, Dr. Browne always answered, 

“Don’t forget: no matter where you go, you take yourself with you!” She clearly didn’t think that running from problems worked very well.

Interpersonal relationships were always hazardous. 

She frequently took calls from people who were angry with someone and wanted to insult and fume at them; a fellow worker, an old friend, or a relative. “If you tell him what you really think of him, you will gain the great momentary satisfaction of telling him off. And that will feel good. Is that momentary satisfaction worth destroying your relationship with that person?”

Instant gratification vs. long term strategy. The old “Count to ten before saying anything” strategy.

One of the interesting ideas Dr. Browne told her radio audience was the “Obituary Party.” She felt that nobody will never know the things that are said about you after your death. Wouldn’t it be nice to know those things while you are alive? At an obituary party, everyone would have the opportunity to give an obituary speech about you so you know the things that people appreciated and admired.

I hope Dr. Browne gave herself an Obituary party, because she would surely be pleased to hear from some of the many who were grateful for the help she gave them. She turned many lives around and made them tolerable. 

I hope she knew how much her audience valued and cared for her.

Do you think that words you use have some sort of magical power?

imagesHave you noticed how many people begin their statements with the expression, “I don’t want to jinx this, but…”

“I don’t want to jinx it but cross your fingers; that vacation rental might become available.”

‘I don’t want to jinx it, but your dog has a good chance to win “Best of Show” this year.

“I don’t want to jinx it, but the Yankees look like they might win the World Series.”

Do people really think that words have the power to change anything? 

Do they think if they comment on an event their words can change the outlook?

Do they think that their words can stop the track of events?

If you were to ask them whether they are superstitious they would probably say “No; certainly not. I have never been superstitious!” Most  people don’t think of themselves as being influenced by the occult. And if they do they don’t want to admit it.They prefer to think of themselves as intellectually, not superstitiously directed.  

They wouldn’t want to accept the premise that words they speak have the possibility of changing the course of history.

So if they’re not superstitious why are they uncomfortable about making a statement without apologizing in the first place? Why do they feel it necessary to first add “I don’t want to jinx it but…”?

Of course I don’t think any of you believe in that stuff. Not you! But just in case, because there are no guarantees, what subjects do you introduce by starting with:

“I don’t want to jinx this, but…”Unknown

READ THE LABEL

Since it is June, and time for gardens, I present an important tip about gardens. We are always told to “Read the Instructions” before using any garden product. Especially products containing poisons. That would include products made for the elimination of garden pests.

We cannot be the only gardeners with the frustrating issue of chipmunks. We all say that we wouldn’t mind sharing our garden produce with these irritating and destructive little animals, but they won’t share. These cute curmudgeons take little bites out of tomatoes, ruining a tomato from ever bring enjoyed by the grower. That makes us angry. So angry that we forget our humanity and want a way to destroy these pests, At any price. Just get rid of them, we beg to the Gardening Gods.

One summer afternoon, in a fit of rage over terrible damages to our beautiful Hibiscus plants,

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Harried Husband furiously decided to find a way to get revenge. So off to the gardening supply store he went, determined to do away with the pests and make them regret ever cavorting in our garden. Shades of the children’s tale, “Peter Rabbit” floated through my mind. In those childhood days I always rooted for the rabbit. The farmer, whose crop he stole from, was the villain. But not any more. Now it’s “Go Farmers: down with Varmints.”

He came home determinedly, unscrewed to top of a strong looking, dark colored bottle and started pouring the noxious brew directly onto the hibiscus plant. The healthy, bright, cheerful Hibiscus.

That was the end. The leaves of the plant blackened, the flowers wilted, and we gasped in horror.IMG_0222.jpeg

The potion that should have deterred furry little animals from nibbling on hibiscus flowers destroyed the plant instead. Chipmunks: 10, humans: 0.  Is there no retribution for the damage they foisted on those innocent flowers?

 All we know is that beauty was destroyed in the hope of taking revenge on perpetrators of a crime against nature.

So who won? And what was the message we can take away from this incident? And what should we do about those darn chipmunks?

 

GRADUATION

Here he is; the man of the hour. The graduate. Our grandson.

Matt just graduated from Cornell and is now a Data Scientist. We are proud, proud, proud.IMG_0050

But I wish I had some idea what that means. It isn’t that Matt hasn’t explained what a Data Scientist is or what they do. It’s just that sometimes we don’t speak the same language. Vocabularies are different and so are Expressions young people use. Even computers speak different languages. College courses exist, dealing with computer languages or “coding.”

When I graduated from high school I remember the wise words the speaker said. He told our class that by the time we graduated from college there would be jobs available in areas of society that don’t even exist yet.

Of course we thought that we were so sophisticated that it was impossible for anything to develop that we didn’t already know about and understand. 

But that was before computers. And that was before cell phones. And that was before cordless appliances. 

Everything has changed. Even music. I used to be able to switch on the car radio and hear the swooning voice of Eddie Fisher singing, “Oh My Papa.” We have gone from listening to music on records, advancing to tapes, then CDs, to listening to music on cell phones. That’s why new car models don’t offer tape decks and CD players. Just turn on your cell phone and listen to your choice of any manner of music.

I take modern life and its conveniences so for granted, that I don’t remember what wasn’t here before. Things are changing so amazingly fast.

Last week we stopped at a convenience store on our way to Ithaca NY for graduation. There were no salespeople and no cashiers in the store. 

We selected our snacks and proceeded to a machine. There we scanned the bar code on the package and entered either a credit card or cash. We used a credit card, and the machine registered the amount and printed a receipt. The next person paid in cash. The change for his purchase was sent down a chute and into a container for him to retrieve. I was amazed by this development in devices. It seemed to me that humans are on their way to being non-essential for transacting the normal business of buying and paying for merchandise. 

Banking’s ATM machines are the models that retail stores are following. 

Children will no longer be taught to politely say,”Thank you, Maa’m.”

In the future they will say, “Thank you, hunk of metal!” or “Thank you, machine.”

When I told Matt that when I was a child we didn’t own a TV, he was incredulous. How could we have lived without a television set? And only one car for the whole entire family? Barbaric!

Perhaps some day his own children will be incredulous when he tells them that his family, considering the level of technology by that time, didn’t even own their own rocket ship.

ANNIVERSARIES

We are just a heartbeat away from June. June, Moon, Spoon.

Brides, Grooms, Weddings.

And shortly after the weddings come the anniversaries. The endless numbers of anniversaries. How to celebrate?

So many ways.

Some people buy a couple of airline tickets and whisk themselves off to an exciting trip to Europe. This is done in the name of and excuse for an anniversary celebration.

Others mark the occasion with dinner for two out in a special restaurant.

Some celebrate with family. Those who choose this option gain the advantage of having dinner while hearing about the goings on of family members.

In the task of finding unusual and special ways to celebrate an anniversary it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of the celebration.

I think it’s about the love you feel for each other. It’s about remembering problems you have shared together and how you supported and helped each other through difficult times. And being grateful for the good times.

I’m not one to feel that we have to make the most lavish, grand and expensive plans. I never compare what one person has vs. another. No keeping up with the Jones’ for me.

But still, I wonder what my husband has planned for our upcoming anniversary. He is full of surprises and comes up with some wonderful ideas. Please join in the quest for a special way to share. We’d love to hear about them.

And Happy Anniversary to all those June Brides and Grooms!

THE VIEWING

“Sure, we’d love to come over Friday night and see your new condo.”

It must be a huge weight off their shoulders; finally leaving their big house of thirty years, downsizing and squeezing into a condominium. Otherwise known as “Let’s see which of your possessions are REALLY important to you!”

Out with the children’s report cards from 1st grade forward, out with their cute drawings, with people’s hands appearing from the tops of their heads. No necks, no shoulders, just arms jutting out from heads. 

Out with clothing on the verge of becoming “vintage.”

Out with the clever kitchen gadgets nobody could live without. The yogurt-makers, the air deep fryers, the jelly donut-filling syringes.

Out with text books that no self-respecting former student could use for research. 

A clean start. How inspiring!

The night we arrived at the rows of identical buildings, block after block, trying to find our friends’ unit. We had trouble locating it so. we called them for directions. They said, “The GPS doesn’t have the name of our street yet.!” So we did it the old fashioned way: turn left at the post office, stay straight for 6 blocks and make a “U” turn right past the “Dunkin’ Donuts.” Another left, a few rights, just park outside and ring the bell.

So we did it, found it, got there and rang the bell.

After pleasantries the host began our anticipated tour of the new condo.

“This lot is a prime location. It cost us a little more, but it was worth it.”

“We stood at the living room window. As we looked outside we saw two lanes of busy traffic, each one perpendicular to the other. A three way traffic light was on the corner. Cars were at a stand-still, struggling to move, bumper to bumper. Our host proudly said, This is what we love most: He gestured grandly with a sweeping motion to the outside and said:

“Look at that view!”images

MADONNA AGAIN!

  

Everyone members Madonna! She is the musical performer who made a huge impact on the tastes, values and ideas of what is acceptable in our country. images-4.jpeg

You all have a favorite song or two of hers, don’t you? Or memories of the many incantations of her; the many redefinitions of her image.images-1.jpeg

A woman about sixty years old can no longer be considered a super-rock star, can she? 

images.jpegYet I was told that tomorrow night, May 1st, Madonna will be starring In the Billboard Awards show.  And that she has spent five million dollars on the props, costume and special effects for her performance. Does this extravagance make fans happy? Or curious, wondering why on  earth it was necessary to spend $5 million for a single television performance.     images-3.jpeg

But at least we can be comforted in the knowledge that Madonna is not appearing on the show because she needs the money…I feel so much better, don’t you?

As we sat on the Midtown Direct train leaving Convent Station heading to New York, a loud, raw, ugly sound came drifting through the train cars, attacking our calm, peaceful ears. It was the unmistakeable sound of a young child exploding into screams. 

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This sound was especially distressful since we had, the night before, seen an episode of “Call the Midwife.” In this episode everyone was absorbed by the unabated joy upon the faces of nurses, midwives and new parents. A baby was born. Cause for celebration. No reason to imagine that life from now on would be anything but ecstatic. 

Until baby becomes unhappy about something and its protests start reeling in from the next train car.

That child was completely unaware of its surroundings, totally disinterested in people’s reactions to the noises it was emitting. The baby had the power to force people to unwillingly listen. Nobody could simply switch the channel or activate a “stop” button. The child did not care what anybody thought of it’s screeching concert. He/she was tuned out of any reaction, reviews of the performance or negativity about its expression skills.

When does that change? When do people turn from screaming child unaware and uncaring about the effects of its disturbing their restful train ride? To twittering, self-conscious, insecure adolescent-like humans, afraid of being seen wearing the wrong brand of jeans? Or of expressing unpopular opinions to the “in crowd?”

Isn’t it a shame that the freedom baby has to express its desires and opinions is diminished just at the time that their ideas and opinions might finally become worthwhile and interesting to listen to?

If only babies came with control buttons. One to “mute” any vocal unhappinesses and the other to “play” the sweet sounds of contentment.

IMG_1810This elongated squirrel is the first view of what was going on at the bird feeder. “Those blasted squirrels,” he shouted; “They won’t get away with this.” I won’t go through another frustrating season watching those blasted squirrels steal the seed I bought for the birds.”

And so the battle began in the privacy of our back yard.

Man, armed with a newly sharpened pair of hedge sheers approaches the foot path  leading to access of the bird feeder.

IMG_1815Surveying the scene, he decides to sacrifice a few branches of the landscaper designed, perfectly manicured shrubbery serving as access for the squirrels to the feeder they lust after. He begins to mercilessly chop away at the previously wellIMG_1817 tended plants.

Reviewing the effect of his pruning job, he realizes that there still exist ways that can be used as jumping off points leading directly to the bird feeder. So he chops some more.

I cannot bear to show any further proof of the decimation of the backyard landscape. Take my word, though; the garden will no longer require landscape design, unless man is prepared to completely redesign the yard starting with the planting of seedlings.

The fully grown plants that used to exist in that area would be far too expensive to replace. And the squirrels have discovered their incredibly amazing ability to jump huge distances from nearby trees right onto their coveted bird feeder.

You can’t fool Mother Nature.

 

 

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