Category Archives: aging
I don’t know where to begin in trying to make sense out of 2016 for Dear Reader. In my current state of beleaguered puzzlement I am unqualified. It says something about this past year that so many watched Gilmore Girls (fanciful escapism), and guests who said they were coming to our holiday party simply didn’t show (boggled torpor…or home watching GG).
Observing actual, known stars in the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies this year, these oeuvres normally populated by actors you’ve never heard of, I had to wonder: desperate for work or, like most of us, just trying to contribute something positive in a world gone mad while wearing a corrective overblouse* to conceal unsightly swags of waistmeat?
What a year. The departures of Prince, Bowie, Shandling, Frey, Ali, Wilder, Cohen, Palmer, Zsa Zsa, Michaels, Princess Leia and her funny mom, and Wessonality ~ and that’s just the celebrities. Olympic swimming shenanigans and women’s gymnastics gold. Refugees tossed about the globe. The Cubs. A female announcer at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gushing at a Victoria’s Secret model on live television about what an “honor” it must be to wear the Fantasy Bra. Women my age everywhere trotting around in stilettos – an orthopedic surgeon’s dream. Throw in, oh, the election and its aftermath, with the promise of a completely bizarre year ahead, and you have undiluted global befuddlement.
Now I’m not a strict party voter. I vote for the seemingly best candidate. Some of my truest friends are republicans, libertarians, anarchists, apoliticos, and members of the blissful ignorati. I’m not that smart myself. I had no answer when a young person asked at Thanksgiving, “Are there any vegetarian republicans?” I don’t know. Are there?
I don’t trouble myself with politics much because it’s evidently out of my control; at my advanced age I don’t fret about the uncontrollable unless it involves immediate family or friends. I’m old. Not old-old. Not Crazy Old Duffer with a limited range of movement old, not bumbling around Mr. Magoo old. Just tired old. Not-that-hopeful old. Old enough to speculate about some great feat I might accomplish, or imagine some sooper piece of good fortune that might come my way, ponder this notion briefly, and go, “Nah.” I’m pretty much just trying to avoid pain at this point.
Old. I embarrass myself with antiquated references. At work I mention interoffice mail, pneumatic tubes, or Telex… at parties I’ll bring up Schweddy Balls, Lemon-freshened Borax or the Hooterville Cannnonball, exclaiming hilariously, “Book ’em, Danno,” or “Where’s the beef?” while lurching around the buffet like an old jalopy, the young people rolling their eyes — Where’d you dig up this old dino? — as their parents laugh heartily, if not without a certain flushed derangement, at my archaic allusions.
A friend is using paper flash cards to get through school; she has to make them because flash cards are digital now. You can’t find a taxi, what with the Uber takeover, which I wouldn’t mind except I can’t figure out the Uber app half the time. Is a car coming? Did I order one? I can’t tell. I can’t even see my phone.
One excuse for our escalating idiocy is that we work long hours and are routinely exposed to an excess of information. There’s little free time. We end up doing everything too fast. Emails I send are definitely not carefully read by their recipients; if I ask 3 questions, I’m lucky to get 2 answered. I think I read things carefully, but I guess not. I saw in an office notice that some employees will be “executed” where it really said “excluded” (seemed harsh). I interpreted a bulletin board’s “selectboard meeting” as “skateboard meeting” (more fun!). I misread a newspaper headline, Signs of Natural Resources on Mars, as Signs of Human Resources on Mars. (Did they find, like, on the planetary surface, an HR pamphlet, Respecting Other Martians in the Workplace & Grooming Guidelines?) I think I remember everything. Yet a friend insists that “chocolate bedroom antics” is something we discussed recently with big laffs. Zero recollection. Old.
Suggestion for 2017: tune out and slow down. Do less. Device less. Pay attention in conversation. Go to the movies. Read a magazine. Sort a drawer. Take a nap. Love. Do one thing at a time. You might actually remember it. Good day, good luck and – let’s hope – good year.
*Nod to Zora
Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
Let’s start with fireflies. These magical beetles (lightning bugs) fire up the woods with bioluminescent abdomens to attract mates or prey. It’s odd they use their glow to attract both of those things. I guess people use money for that.
In some of the 2,000+ species of fireflies, the females are flightless — an unkind world where pedestrian women bugs who can’t get a pilot’s license date flying male bugs that can just take off, lit. and fig. Females lay eggs on or near the ground. The larvae eat slugs and snails, and as adults become either predators or nectar-guzzling vegetarians. You can’t eat them. They taste bad or, worse, poisonous. It is thought that Caravaggio used a photoluminescent powder from crushed fireflies in his photographic painting process, their powder also used back then for FX in the theater. (No PETA.)
Now I’ve seen a few glowing abdomens in my day, but not like these babies’. In the woods they’ve been going haywire. Glowing and throbbing and luring sexy dates every which way from Sunday; there should be a bumper crop of larvae next spring. And so here Tip #1 to be happy and more productive: glow, lure, frolic, multiply, and be poisonous. Fly if you can!
Wow, everything’s rutting this time of year, seems like. It’s technically productive, but causes a lot of road kill as animals race around the woods and highways with one thing on their minds. The young male moose have been kicked out of their fams by now, so (Tip #2) be careful out there. You will be less happy and productive if you drive into a giant quadruped or even a chipmunk for God’s sake.
Tip 3: Studies have proven multi-tasking to be a crock. If you’re doing 2 things simultaneously, you’re doing only one of them well — if that. My idea of multi-tasking is clipping my toenails while listening to music, or doing the dishes while the washing machine does the laundry. That’s doubly productive enough for Bonzo. As for the rest of it — texting while conversing with a “live” friend right there in front of you, driving while digging something out of the seat crack, smoking while changing a diaper: don’t do it.
Tip #4: Compound words like Brexit, the Chunnel, BritComs, brunch and linnner are effective time-savers, as are acronyms. Acronym is in fact an acronym for all characters represent one notion you MIGHTNOTSINGLYRECALL. By necessity in NYC, I invented 5MPL (5 military police? No, avenues, west to east: 5th, Madison, Park, and Lex.). Feel free to use it.
I dig acronyms, esp. the one in Silent Bob. Here’s an acronym for the iGraphics we insert in email and texting. They’re hard to find on your phone because there are so many of them. This acronym will help you locate, say, the nearly invisible “waste basket.” Categorically, from left to right they are: Favorites Emojis Bodyparts People Clothing Animals Nature Weather Food Sports Music Transpo Vistas Skylines Celestial Buildings Tech Tools Whimsy Mail School/Office Hearts Glyphs Shapes Clocks Flags. Resulting acronym: FEBPCANWFSMTVSCBTTWMS/OHGSCF. That should speed things along nicely. You’re welcome!
Numero 5: Last season’s antioxidant is this year’s pro-biotic. All the rage, Dear Reader. These li’l critters allegedly prevent everything from bloating to depression, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s via the gut-brain connection. Check out kombucha and other SCOBY-based, cold-pickled foods and vinegars. Ferment and pickle your heart out. SCOBY sure beats “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” PS SCUBA is “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” My brother taught me that 20 years ago when my memory worked. Let’s hope SCOBY can DO my memory right. Please read online warnings about DIY kombucha, though. Just buy it on tap in Woodstock, I say.
#6: Move. Get up from your chair 20 times a day like we did when there was Telex, interoffice mail, lunch hours, and disco. The physical ailments we got at age 40 now show up in 30 year-olds who sit all day and night. Lets groove tonight. It’ll save you a mint in chiropractic and Advil®.
Naturally, I close with #7: laffs. If you laughed or moved even once during this Upper Valley divertissement, you will be happier and more productive for the next five minutes. Glow, frolic, rut, monotask, abbreviate, probioticize, groove, and snicker. Pay it forward as you choose, for the happiness hog and efficiency monster in us all. Good holiday, and good day.
Ann can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
A cherished friend left our plane recently, taking his himness with him. His passing leaves a vast hole we look into and ponder. Am I living life as richly as he? Do I spread joy like that? With whom will I now discuss the peculiar appeal of sherry? Prince was not the friend, but he’s also left a giant void.
Fact is, in your 20s and 30s you’re pretty much the same. In your 40s you begin changing. In your 50s: boom. You’re different, inside and out. I told a friend, “Suddenly we’re older than the parents of school children.” His response: “Way older.”
Earth too is rapidly changing, her creatures with it. The YPs (young people) — my lord — they’re self-assured, clever, upbeat. And TALL. Especially the girls. Like herds of longhaired gazelles. Their male panther counterparts greet each other with, “Hey bro, what’s good?” or, “Tell me what’s good.” One parent says that because the world is so screwy, they specifically request good news. I like it. I like them.
As Kanye designs ugly velour tracksuits and Teletubby-like outfits and Taylor Swift’s haircut eclipses real news, I feel like an old dino. But as a Baby Boomer, I am not outnumbered. I enjoy baffling the YPs by singing, “I’m so glad we had this time together,” or the theme to Gigantor. The YPs are like, “Huh?” – a “word” my generation considers gauche, much as our parents did the word “like” as used here.
Try dropping pearls such as “the old switcheroo”; “Oh, Miss Crabtree”; “Your muffler: fix it!”; or “The agony of defeat.” These and the hook used in Vaudeville are lost on the YPs, akin to our parents’ referencing Your Show of Shows. We can’t memorize phone numbers and we know little about social media, gaming, graphics, or the actors with three names, but we remember like yesterday how every time Rob Petrie opened a closet, a snowshoe fell out.
It’s a lot of work to avoid becoming hopelessly out of touch. My chiro’s daughter said recently, “Mom, instead, could you wear, like, leggings and boots?” So twice a week she does. When did pants become foolish? Our mothers didn’t want us to wear pants in public; now our kids don’t. Hell, we fought to wear pants. I’m wearing them. Corduroys, painters pants, cigarette pants … bring it awn. Let’s bring back knickers. Bloomers.
Alas, we’ll have to keep up or give up – in planned communities, retirement villages, or facilities designed for people who can’t climb stairs. Considering this is depressing. But mostly we don’t think about it. Like old jalopies, my People have seen a lot of road and have hit some motherless potholes. So we’re kind to each other. We still see each other as we were: vibrant, sexy, hilarious, relevant. Who cares how the rest of America sees us? Our People’s opinions are what matters, right?
And we’re losing our People. With them goes our inside jokes, our shared memories, who we are. So with the (still many) friends yet here, we toddle off into the future. We’ll floss our receding gums to Physical Graffiti and snort about wattles, jowls, Portosan® waiting line etiquette, air raid drills, Mystery Date, fake ID’s, and Match Game ’76 as we MacGyver our walkers. We’ll know we’ve become pathetic, but we’ll have the sun and the moon and each other. We won’t have to be 5’11”, we’ll be the right height to see each other without hurting our necks. We won’t need mirrors, we’ll have our People’s chortling visages to reflect our own. We won’t even need our minds any more; we have what a friend calls his “external brain”: the smart phone. Or whatever that device evolves into by then. Some sort of implant.
The world seems worsening with miseries, often monetary. Following, dear Reader, are causes for hope: 1. As financial experts report, the market is turbulent during presidential races; after the election, regardless of who wins, the market soars. 2. My hunch is that once the economic inequity that has plagued Earth for so long balances out some, ISIS et alia will wither from lack of interest. 3. As the races and creeds intermingle throughout the Lands, there is ever less fear of Other. The earth becomes more diverse locally, breeding a new level of understanding (the Age of Aquarius, YPs!). When we work or play with someone unlike us, we see them as a person, not a type. This, of course, if there’s any land left after the glaciers melt.
And so, in what time you have left, what do you most want to do? Of your many possible contributions, what is your best choice? What gets your groove on? What will matter in the end? Do that. If you’d like to discuss it over a glass of sherry, ring me up. I’d like that. Good day.
Departed friend, we’ll miss so your wit and empathy, wisdom and cheer. Safe travels.
firstname.lastname@example.org ann.aikens.7 on Facebook. Twitter handle: at @uvgvt.
Some things are perfect. The old tymey songs you sang with your aunt in Bellows Falls, the laughs you had together doing so, and the Easter egg tree on her piano.
No room for improvement.
My contemporaries and I found Mr. Rogers hokey. Whether it was the sweater or our age or a distaste for puppetry, we didn’t watch. In college, we bandied about the word “special” with great sarcasm, the invoking of “specialness” ensuring snickers. Yet when the anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications
occurred on May 1 and its video made the rounds, his words regarding just that – specialness – had a profound effect upon me that has lasted all month.
Here was a guy who was just, essentially, good. Not only inherently good, he did good. You can be good without doing any particular good, but he was and did — without flash or cloying sentimentality or maudlin pity for those less fortunate. He really felt, I think, that all men are created equal. He talked and walked it without raising his voice.
He recounted, in the 1969 hearing, how when the money ran out, viewers of (then young) PBS from all over said, “We’ve got to have more of this neighborhood expression of care.” He addressed the no-nonsense Senator John Pastore from Rhode Island (formerly the Governor of Rhode Island and the first Italian American elected governor or Senator), urging that non-violent children’s programming was critically important. That “it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger … much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire.”
Fred Rogers humbly explained to the gruff toughie senator (whose mother had supported 5 children as a seamstress when his father died and who was unfamiliar with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood): “This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’” As I watched this gentle man telling a senator over 40 years ago something so simple, arguing for funding to continue spreading his message, I realized what I’d been missing all along in my youthful superiority complex.
In a world consumed by the accumulation of wealth and fine objects, there is a lot to be said just for just being a decent guy. I don’t know if they still give it out, but years ago my friend’s young son in Randolph received an award at school for being a good person. I bawled at the news, overcome that this quality was considered worth honoring, and proud of the boy. I don’t think Mr. Rogers likely made a lot of money. If he did, he didn’t spend it on his clothes; he probably gave a lot of it away. He probably didn’t live in a fancy house or drive a fancy car; most Presbyterian ministers don’t.
Who is more influential, ultimately: a gorgeous actor or accomplished businessperson or a hot heiress or a leathers-rocking NASCAR stud…or an unassuming man who let millions of children know – back when people didn’t say such things to children very often – that it’s okay to feel lonely or angry or scared; it’s what you do with it that matters? And more importantly, that they mattered. Who’s contributing more to planet earth? I guess it depends on who’s judging. My money’s on Rogers.
For me, it’s become, increasingly, quite enough for people to be and do good. We don’t need a sports car or a big title or awards of any kind. I’m happy competing with my friend to see who can immerse self in the river the latest in October. I’m not disparaging those who achieve great things. I’ve known persons who’ve won an Oscar and the French Open and I’ve held Hannah Kearney’s gold medal in my hand; I’m awed by all three. But I’m equally in awe of helpers. Inner city teachers. Nurses. People with disabled children who fight for them and do their best to give them lives with meaning. And people who are good at anything at all. Making a grilled cheese sandwich. Cultivating a flower garden. Fishing. And nutters who amass Certificates … for, like, Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading. Rock on.
Neighbor, please take today to think about your value. The way you make strangers snort at the grocery store. The trash you collected on Green Up Day. The pet you chose from a shelter. The estranged friend you wrote even when it was awkward because so much time had gone by, but you knew he was in a hard situation. I’m not sure what I’ve done with my life. I do endeavor, in general, to make people feel good. And to remind them, while their difficulty, or their friend’s, may have little or no upside, how Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I think you’re special. There’s no person in the whole world like you and I like you, just the way you are. Good day.
And now a tribute. To the mighty, the daunting, the beloved…the list.
I don’t have a real bucket list. If I did, Disney World® wouldn’t be on it; I didn’t know it was any good. I went to Disney in my 40s by chance. When most people hear, “I’m goin’ to Disney World!” they think Sooperbowl. I think: time capsule, spinning teacups manned by deranged nieces, and Christmas parades with “princes” in wigs with many hair follicles per square inch. Also: pack well. Unexpected weather and unplanned befoulment demand backup.
While a winter trip to a theme park ain’t exactly Christmas in New England, a good way to steel yourself is to get a flu shot then go to one. Disney’s a good bet because as the sweat of many nations and the sputum of the Lands settles upon you, you are exposed to virtually every germ currently available. It is, after all, a small world, certainly for a microbe. And as you build character standing on lines for rides and hear songs that won’t leave your head ever, you leave the prior year behind entirely—often a good idea.
-Will all the lines be this long?
-I don’t think this line actually goes anywhere.
– It makes the line longer.
-We’re definitely under surveillance.
-Disney World is a young man’s game.
-I don’t want to go peeeeeeee peeeeeeeeeee! (said by more than one child from more than one nation in more than one Land on more than one day.)
-This. Line. Is. Going. Nowhere.
Lists! Weekends generate lengthy lists. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down. Dump? Check! Tenny? Check!! Margherita – rocks – salt at Richardson’s Tavern? Checkarooni. Another…good day.
On to the prescient populist predictions for 2015, submitted by you the people from ME to FL, NH to CA:
North America will break up along the Mississippi and drift apart.
Angelina Jolie will have an affair with Jennifer Aniston.
Office betting pools explode on which former Disney child star will implode next.
Congress will be fined for not working; fined members will be unable to run again.
3D printing will be applied to implants from cheek to calf.
Jenna Bush Hager and Chelsea Clinton will decide to run for president in 2016.
With cheap gas, the price of vintage Hummers will strengthen.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will steal the rights to his own life story from himself, then turn it into a multi-billion dollar video game called Zuckerville, a place where he has the rights to all players’ personal information. Suckerville?
The first smart refrigerator will arrive, voicing the caloric, fat, sodium, sugar, protein and fiber content inside. It will lock after 8pm and won’t admit entrance until 6am.
Texas will secede.
Quebec will secede.
Killington will secede.
Punxsutawney Phil will be canned when he is bitten by a vampire and no longer casts a shadow.
ISIS will splinter off into new factions, one of which by year’s end will become the world’s most popular boy band.
More people will buy VW campers and park in Walmart lots to avoid campground fees, accumulating decals for amusement parks, roadside attractions, and states.
Americans will be required to rescue an animal by paying for its care or adopting it.
Putin will come out as gay, step down as President, and marry figure skater Johnny Weir.
The inane patter on award ceremony red carpets will worsen.
People will leave [followed by unintelligible gibberish].
I will be befuddled by new social media I’m supposed to master (Yik Yak?).
I will not gain weight (glad you said fake.)
I will stick to my New Year’s resolution to be happy and smile at everyone I meet.
I’m going to have sex every day.
Due to Equatorial Vortex Irene, we’ll have 90-degree days at the end of February.
Candidates vying for the presidency will optimistically fund new dog breeds, the Dachsoodleman (dachshund, +poodle + Doberman) and Cockzerstiff (Cocker Spaniel +Schaunzer + Mastiff) for his/her Whitehouse dog .
And my ties for Personal Favorite:
Rather than “predict, I “wish” we could all just slow down, get our faces out of electronic devices and embrace the outdoors…but silly me, then corporations wouldn’t make bank.
We will have weather.
A unifying figure will emerge.
Greg Bahr — native Vermonter, neighbor, artistic madman behind Bahr’s Stoneworks — has a far-out genius for putting rocks together. Here’s a recent wall of his in downtown Bethel, incorporating old bottles and bones he found on-site. “Are the bones human?” everyone asks. “I’m not sure,” says Greg.
A friend requested a column on weird modern phenomena, like how we stand in front of doors now and expect them to magically open. He named our dismay when it doesn’t happen: Automatic Envy. After traveling, you expect the home faucet to run when you put your hands under it. I’ve hit the back button on my car’s (obsolete?) CD player because I missed what someone on the (oops) radio said. And who doesn’t want to Undo? All signs of the Apocalypse. (Repent!)
Last week a diamond fell out of a homemade ring I own. Gone forever. Didn’t care. I lose my phone for 24 hours? Panic. A girl’s best friend used to be diamonds. Now it’s a radio frequency transmitter -receiver.
If you ask older people (50+) if they’d rather travel backwards or forwards in time, they mostly say backwards. The YPs* say forwards — because they dread neither horrific new developments nor the vexations embedded in modernity’s [alleged] conveniences. Dear Reader knows of my distaste for modern tymes. The punishments in Game of Thrones faze me not (, my Lord). I’ll take a cat-o-nine tail flogging over the horror of forwarding an e-mail to the wrong person any day of the week.
Polling (electronically!) my friends for their modern peeves, the response was uproar. From technophobe to misanthrope, they went OFF. I have categorized (and sanitized) them for your reading pleasure.
When did sending an email become a good way to end a 6-month relationship? The whole idea of “selfies.” Surveillance. People who don’t read your entire e-mail (what, they’re too busy?), then ask questions you’ve already answered (Now I’m too busy!) Internet bullying – comments made by cowards. How complicit we are daily in giving up control over our personal information. Notices from Linked In—who cares?! People who think Facebook solves all communication situations; people who change their portrait daily. Social media: enough already. When people haven’t tested equipment/remotes for their PowerPoint or whatever and it doesn’t work; for the love of God, go in EARLY! Phony, planted e-mails like “A great company is interested in you!” When my long e-mail disappears just before I hit Send. The buffering signal cycling while waiting for the Internet to do something. PASSWORDS. And [from a tech genius:] People who refuse to make an effort to understand technology.
Trucks’ infernal backing-up beeping. Loud TV commercials. Radio commercials with dangerous driving-distraction sounds (cell phone sounds, sirens, bells). Leaf-blowers – get a rake!
Telephones—the quality is crap now; I used to be able to HEAR people when I talked to them on the phone. Friends toying with their phones (no eye contact, constantly checking their devices). Morons having loud cell phone convos in stores — or your car. Robocalls. Checking phone messages on three @#$! phones. Automated phone “receptionists.” When people call you and immediately say “Hold on.” That every new phone requires different chargers. How everyone has a preferred method of communicating – text, phone, email, FB. If your way doesn’t match your friend’s, you NEVER talk.
A GPS takes you to a wall/obscure goat path. Left lane drivers refusing to pass the car next to them or driving in the left lane when there is no one in the right lane. Massachusetts drivers. Unorganized travelers in front of me on the TSA line. No one has manners anymore –could people say excuse me while they shove past you in a crowd? Hell no!
People needing to record every moment on devices rather than actually experiencing the moments. Interviewers who ask questions & don’t let the person answer as they keep on jawing. Reality TV glamorizing rude, competitive individuals with faces so distorted from plastic surgery they look like “the Hunger Games.” “Parties” where my “friends” are selling items I do not need but feel obligated to buy; I could stay home, drink better wine, and save my money. “Tweet us live at hashtag [whatever]!” Everyone writing a YA novel.
Corporate jargon. Acronyms. Branding. Modern sayings like “It’s a no brainer,” or “Reframe it.” People saying “literally” when they mean “figuratively” blow my figurative head off. The attitude of being horribly offended within “Really?” and “Seriously?” People who say “Hash tag xyz” (#peeves) in real life. Apostrophes wrongly before the letter “s” (= the Vermont Special). Use of “I” where “me” is objectively called for. Mangled common expressions (“A tough road to hoe”), called eggcorns by linguists.
Truffles. The Cloud. Millennials. How countries still invade other countries. Kids in hazardous situations while parents text. Celebrity perfumes. The new light bulbs. Archaic contagions resurfacing. Hand sanitizer. Too many things in my life. Stores using a decimal point and the cent sign (.35¢), meaning the item is less than 1 penny. Open floor plan office spaces. Media reporting a story before the facts are proven. Gluten-free. How we can’t learn the price of medical procedures ahead of time. Tip jars at Starbucks, DD, etc. Pomegranate in EVERYTHING. Dog owners who let their dogs bark at, sniff, or mate you. People not washing their hands in the restroom—many of them out there. Families ignorant of Hot Tub Etiquette. My achin’ back. My mother.
And finally, from my misanthrope: Calling tech support; smart phones, stupid people; people.
And there you have it. You didn’t ask, but me, I’m going back in time. Catch you at Stonehenge (, Sassenach!) Good day.
Suggested Bumper Sticker from Braintree Naked Swim Club:
IT’S A NICE DAY FOR A RED WEDDING;
IT’S A NICE DAY TO THRONE AGAIN.
A normally wry friend recently told me how his ex had pointed out his faults on her way out the door. This had made him especially dejected. I asked, “What faults?” and he explained. “You know, the disorganization, the forgetfulness, the keen desire to have my picture taken with political celebrities. . . .” I replied, “Those aren’t faults. Those are endearing traits, charming to those who love you.”
It’s been said that what attracts you to someone is what later drives you nuts. Likewise, qualities you have that delighted someone can devolve into vile faults demanding extirpation. But it’s a puzzle when someone who is leaving you feels obligated to express exactly why you’re not good enough. Why do that? Isn’t it bad enough they’re abandoning you? I once received a 13-page Dear Jane letter, detailing all I had done wrong. I see, I thought. Yes, it’s clear now. Thanks so much.
What became clear? My shortcomings? No. That the devil is alive and well. He enters people and makes them romance you, leave you, and tell you how you failed. The devil was in the details: in this case elaborately illustrated criticisms. The devil also invented call waiting, data mining, and other vexing details of modern life designed to make us willing to swap with him our souls, for just a few moments of blessed peace.
He also recruits Litterbugs. When I’m behind someone that throws a cigarette or Big Gulp out a car window, I become possessed. I honk, flash my lights, and make impolite gestures. I know this is wrong, and both Litterbug and I could rightfully say (nod to Flip Wilson), “The devil made me do it.”
Discussing this in church, a wry southern friend says with vehemence, “I want to know. What does a litterbug look like?” I know precisely what they look like but the words I’d use to describe one cannot be said in church. We work ourselves into a lather over it. Then, pews away, I hear a Vermonter of many years (90+?) say to her companion, “It always takes me by surprise, spring. It’s such a lovely transformation, especially after a hard winter.” That this woman could still be awed by how our area is like a different planet in spring, after nearly 100 of them, drives the devil right out of me.
I give a wry friend a candy bar named Chocolate Interlude which she promptly renames Chocolate Intervention. Then I think how in these blasted modern tymes how they add an “e” to things (e-billing, e-commerce) and how we can add our own e’s for the heck of it, to our e-underwear and our e-moxy and our e-breath. And how a wry Vermont friend said in Connecticut, “They call these pot holes?” And how nude season is nigh, and the mighty Goliath of mud has been subjugated by gravity and slender blades of grass, and nothing but nothing smells like flowering trees.
Then I attend, despite this column’s deadline, the local Legislative Breakfast. Our state senators and representatives articulatewith intelligence and fairness issues that are ridiculously complex, e.g., the GMO labeling bill just passed—and how VT will be sued by corporations. That the Governor’s so-called “Food Fight Fund” is being established, smartly, with the help of non-Vermonters, is cheering. Someone half my age pays me a compliment. I spot a granny on a riding mower. Finally—get this—technology proves heartening. I choose truelove as a password and it is denied for being “too common.” That its selection as a password is too common says something huge about humankind.
Yes, there is plenty of hard evidence of the devil’s existence, including but not limited to black flies, BP, and the Disgraceful Home Printer Ink Scandal of Modern Tymes, wherein (pricey!) ink tanks mysteriously dry up and your (infernal!) printer won’t even scan without ink. Sometimes we choose between two devils, say, black flies and DEET. A Mainer I know says you can’t go fishing without it. I use it when the biters are so vicious I don’t care if it shuts down my brain, bladder, and kidneys, though I know DEET to be compressed devil in a can.
Some days, the devil’s around every corner, seems like. Yet somehow, with an overheard “lovely transformation” and a too-common password and grannies riding mowers and a posse of wry friends, we remain eHopeful. We soldier on. If you feel disheartened, I’ll give you part of my heart, that as yet unaffected as yet by DEET and other devilment. Good luck. Good day.
A gauntlet is an odious form of punishment wherein the victim is forced to run between two rows (the gauntlet) of soldiers that repeatedly smite him. The victim is slowed down by various means, preventing him from running the gauntlet—God forbid—too quickly. A magical holiday metaphor for you there.
Mercifully, the figurative holiday gauntlet is more varied and less severe. There’s the endless conveyor belt of cookies, booze, and dips that make you blow up like Santy Claus. There’s forced gaiety, perhaps—in, say, the workplace. Secret Santas you want no part of. Malfunctioning decorations. Fighty fights over tree placement. Hernias, ruptured disks, rocketing cholesterol. Concerts, pageants, fundraisers, and parties demanding special gifts, attire, or baking. Aversion to pine. Aversion to sugar plums. Aversion to family. To holiday-themed newspaper columns. 2014, take me away! Not so fast, dear Reader. Remember: you are not allowed to run the gauntlet too quickly.
Maybe your gauntlet has your kids driving you lunatic on one side, your parents on the other. Sadly, advances in technology are exacerbating the digital divide within families, amplifying holiday tensions. The grandparents just can’t seem to grab a hold of technology a lot of the time, and the kids are so much savvier than the parents (us) that it’s annoying.
Well, what is annoying is their annoyance with us. Teenagers since the dawn of time have considered their parents moronic. Only now, because of parents’ slimmer grasp of the technology their children have been wired with, parents really are dumber than their kids. This has never before been the case. Kids didn’t know more about farming, sewing, war, factory work, finance…anything beyond pop culture fluff. Now they are more knowledgeable about something of consequence. As a friend put it, “My rocket geek son ‘helps’ me with my blog. He’s rolling his eyes, ‘Mom, why’d you do it that way?’ like I‘m a complete idiot. When I explain I didn’t know there was another way, this fuels his irritation—and disdain. If I ever acted like him, my parents put the hammer down. I can’t. Because he actually knows more than I do.”
Sigh! If you’ve had your fill of insults, exploding casseroles, manuals with miniscule print in 47 languages, watching football teams do things you gave them no clearance to, the good news is you have only a few more games and New Year’s Eve left, and that’s not even a real holiday. Some call it “Amateur’s Night,” referring to those imbibing who rarely drink, an excellent reason to stay off snowy roads. Hell, even pros like Jethro or Granny manning the wheel of a poorly maintained jalopy after a couple pops of spiked nog coming at you in the oncoming lane, that’s just no fun at all. Stay home and, whatever you do, avoid those awful New Year’s Eve shows. They are worse than Honey Boo Boo, Toddlers and Tiaras, Kardashians singly or in groups, and Mafia Plumbers’ Wives combined. The exaggerated merriment of gussied-up commentators excitedly reciting numbers backwards can kill even the slenderest hope of a new and improved year coming your way. Give yourself a fighting chance. Don’t watch. Ring in the New Year cozying up to your pet(s) or preferred person(s). Sing Auld Lang Syne (first a poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns) softly into their ears. It’s nice like that.
And as a countermeasure to failed New Year’s resolutions kicking off the year badly, that important media outlet, the woman’s magazine, suggests an alternative: make instead a list of what you accomplished last year. You’ll be amazed by what you did. Although I plan on more reading/less Candy Crushing with enough conviction to announce it here publicly to complete strangers, and strange completers (you know who you are). If you must resolve, pick something you can handle.
Helpful Reminder: As the highway notification boards proclaim, DUI. YOU WILL GET ARRESTED. Only the “D” is fat, so it looks like OUI, YOU WILL GET ARRESTED. (“But non, awf-ee-sair, I had nussing to dreenk zees evening! I am Canadienne. We drive feefty in ze left lane on ze intair-state, eet’s what we dewww! Alors, your dawg—does eet baht?”)
May you have enough coal in your stocking to keep you warm, and may the last few yards of your gauntlet be kind. Good New Year, good laffs, and good Boxing Day.