Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse-mania


How delightful, this shared passion for a galactic alignment during a time when my country rates an “F” in shared alignments. Tomorrow’s rare solar eclipse, with totality over a large swathe of America, will give our torn country a brief respite from manifesting our uniquely rich tapestry of dysfunction, aesthetic deficit, limited vocabulary, and preponderance of bad food. While I love the kumbaya togetherness this event inspires, I can’t help but notice the more ridiculous aspects of the obsession people have developed for this upcoming two minutes of daytime complete disappearance of the sun, which, I might point out, people could also accomplish by hiding under the covers. However, I will (of course) participate in appreciating the eclipse, by standing in my own front yard and watching the light change.

Yesterday, friends driving deep into the wilds of northern Oregon to find their happy spot in the Band of Totality posted a photo on Facebook of the bumper-to-bumper traffic surrounding them on Highway 95 with the caption, “Why are we doing this, again?” Exactly. I’m glad I decided to stay at home, where we will experience an 80% eclipse. At my age, 80% works well. I’m skeptical about 100% of anything these days, since moderation seems fundamental to longevity. Except when it comes to dark chocolate, which one can never get enough of. (Did I just end that sentence in a preposition? I might have a mild case of pre-eclipsia.)

Apparently people living in the Band of Totality have publicized rental space in their homes, yards, and fields for eclipse-followers to use when they travel to the 100% region. For $1000, an eclipse-follower can obtain a place to pitch a tent in a field in the Band of Totality in Nebraska. Access to a restroom costs $2000. Prices are higher in the Band of Totality in South Carolina, where enterprising people know more about how to make a buck. Every outhouse in the Band of Totality in Kentucky (the outhouse capital of the country) has been rented. I predict that the next up-and-coming musical group of the year will call themselves The Band of Totality. They will wear eclipse glasses to perform, and their first album will have a completely black cover (kind of like the Beatles’ White Album only in reverse).

I worry about dogs. I hope that people with dogs know how to prevent their dogs from looking straight-on at the sun. Dogs in the wild probably know how to act in an eclipse, but perhaps not domesticated dogs. I especially worry about people protecting service dogs, since it would be a catastrophe if service dogs lost their eyesight. Then we would have the blind leading the blind, which seems particularly dangerous in the kitchen. The best plan is probably to lock all dogs in the laundry room. I hope people with dogs think of that and have a laundry room. I have cats, and a cat could beat a dog at chess on any given day, so I figure that with their super-intelligence, cats will know not to look directly at the sun. But what if the eclipse creates an animal-impact force-field that causes cats to forget themselves and act like dogs? It would distress me if my cats suffered negative effects from the eclipse and began to drop sticks at my feet for me to throw for them to fetch, roll in every mound of stinky goo they can find, meow loudly at the UPS driver, and ask for a Frisbee for Christmas.

I wouldn’t complain if wild turkeys and opossums looked at the eclipsed sun and lost their eyesight. I retract that wish. It’s cruel for me to wish blindness on innocent wild creatures. Maybe the eclipse could cause them to develop a selective form of impairment that causes them to lack the ability to see or recognize grapes. Then they would stop eating mine on the vine even before they ripen. (Dream on, right?) I wonder if the flowers will close up as if at night. Will hummingbirds fly backwards? Will my dishwasher spontaneously turn itself on? Just in case, I’ll fill it with dirty dishes and soap beforehand. I hope everything metal in my house doesn’t get sucked to the refrigerator door.

Barring any bizarre unexpected occurrences, we have thought things through and are well-prepared. My husband even obtained a pair of eclipse glasses so that we can watch the event without burning our eyes. I hope he got 3D eclipse glasses. Wait, real life is always 3D, isn’t it? I saw a sign on the door at the public library stating that they have no more eclipse glasses. I didn’t realize that there had been a run on eclipse glasses at the library. Fortunately I missed that. I don’t know how my husband would have explained it to my children if I had died in an eclipse-glasses stampede at the library.

If you failed to obtain eclipse glasses (what were you waiting for? next time think ahead), you can make a device that will allow you (and your dog) to watch the eclipse safely. I have seen many schematics and architectural drawings of eclipse-viewing devices online. Just google the name “Rube Goldberg.” You can make a simple eclipse-viewing device using a paperclip, cardboard box, four safety pins, tennis racket, silly putty, two coconuts, baseball cap, standard box of Legos, floor fan, and three feathers from the Indonesian yellow short-beaked Doody-bird. A picture of a viewing contraption that you can put together handily in your basement appears below. If you correctly assemble this device, you should seriously consider applying for a job at NASA.

Well, bring it on. Our love and awe, as humans, for this wondrous planet, lifts my spirit and fills me with gratitude for the beauty and magnificence of the natural world. The excitement about the total solar eclipse allows us to collectively transcend our differences and ongoing strife in this country for just a moment as we step back, take a breath, and join in our shared appreciation of this amazing galaxy that surrounds us, with forces beyond our comprehension. I have not lost sight of that. Pass the eclipse glasses.

Here is a picture of a device you can make at home to view the solar eclipse safely.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teens Still Having Sex


A couple of weeks ago, I laughed when I saw the headline on an online news article that read Teens Still Having Sex. Seriously? It makes for a good blog heading, but this does not qualify as news. They call it “news” for a reason. The teen sex headline could have appeared carved into a rock in the Stone Age, and it would not have even been news then. I suppose this just goes with the territory nowadays as we wander through the wonderland of fake news, fact checking, biased information, distortions of research findings for monetary gain, and obfuscation of truth. News has lost its identity. These days, people define true and false according to their own personal and often fairly random belief system. If someone doesn’t like a “fact,” they will google around until they find information supporting their desire to un-fact that fact. So I’m not surprised that journalists are grasping at straws to provide news that is absolutely 100% true. You can always depend on teens having sex to be an indisputable fact.

These days, we have to track down the source of news and information, and then decide if we consider it a trustworthy and real source of true information or not. For instance, it drives me crazy when I see articles touting “research” about how wonderful statin drugs are, and that everyone should be taking them because they effectively lower cholesterol. Studies cited are generally those commissioned by the drug companies that make and sell statins. (Surprise.) Meanwhile, the truth, and this is real news, is that cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease. In fact, statins interfere with our ability to process cholesterol effectively, and they have serious health consequences despite the fact that Big Pharma has brainwashed doctors into thinking statins are benign. Follow the money, as they say. Research promoting statins is brought to you by the folks who profit from you buying statins.  Rant over. Where were we? Oh, right, teen sex. It’s safe to say that teens really are still having sex. The lucky ones anyway. So that qualifies as true information, albeit old news. Let’s call it olds.

Over the years, as a grant writer, I have occasionally been offered work writing federally funded grants to promote teen abstinence. I always turn these projects down since I subscribe to the research that indicates that a fundamental developmental purpose of adolescence is to explore sex. Teaching safe sex makes more sense to me than trying to convince a creature pumped full of exploding hormones that they don’t want to have sex. Preaching abstinence does not end well. Look what happened to Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass.” If you look up the antonym for sexual abstinence in the dictionary, it says “teenage boys.” Trying to convince a teenage boy that it’s not a good idea to have sex is like trying to dissuade a cat from eating tuna. Hardwired.

I read an article by novelist Daniel Handler (A.K.A. Lemony Snicket) in which he discusses how his most recent teen novel was classified as an adult novel because it has so much sex in it. He says he purposely put a lot of sex in it to encourage teen boys, who make up a large proportion of “reluctant readers,” to engage in the activity of reading. Handler argues, and he has a good point, that teen boys are far more likely to read books with plenty of sex in them. I think this is largely the case with the majority of males of any age. I abandoned Oscar Hijuelos’s Pulitzer-prize-winning The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love in mid-sentence because I got bored with the continuous boinking on every page, and began to yearn for a story about something more thought-provoking than the feel of a woman in nylons. When I mentioned this to my husband, he immediately dropped the nonfiction tome that he had been reading and snatched up my copy of Mambo Kings. They never really outgrow it, these guys. The fact that Mambo Kings won the Pulitzer prize only cements my contention that men dominate the Pulitzer prize selection committee. Which is why a book in which a man converses with his penis is a surefire candidate to win the Pulitzer. It worked for Phillip Roth and Junot Diaz. (I just googled “Pulitzer Prize winning novels in which men talk to their penis” and I got over one million hits.) I just realized that if I write a book in which a woman talks to a penis I may finally have a fighting chance of getting a book published. Does this qualify as news?

I seem to have wandered pretty far astray from where I started. My point is that teenagers having sex will never be news. Wake me up if they stop.

Why the picture of the daisies? What picture do you suggest for this blog post? 
In the movies they always cut to a field of daisies during the sex scenes, right? So here you go.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

That Journey


On Monday June 5, 2017, we got the call. Our son’s wife had gone into labor with our first grandchild. For two weeks, we had been prepared to hop in the car on a moment’s notice and drive the 530 miles from Mendocino County in NorCal to Orange County in SoCal. Let me amend that. I was prepared. Ron pretended he was prepared. He put four tubes of almost-finished toothpaste on the bathroom counter and refrigerated twelve travel boxes of juice. He was definitely thinking about being prepared. An hour after we got the call, my son’s mother-in-law texted me to ask if we were in the car and on the road. Hilarious. She has clearly never seen how long it takes my husband to put his shoes on. I texted back that we would roll out the next morning.

If you google “Ukiah to Orange County,” the first thing you get is the flight information to fly Alaska Airlines from Sonoma County Airport to John Wayne Airport. Also hilarious, since the cost of an airplane ticket bought one day in advance of travel is approximately the same as our monthly grocery bill. And the flight does not include a meal so any way you look at that scenario we go hungry. I am partial to eating. In fact, the first thing I did when I found out that my grandchild was finally on the way was to go to the Natural Foods Store to stock up on edibles for the long road trip we faced. The first thing my husband did when he found out my daughter-in-law had gone into labor was put his underwear in the washing machine. You can never have enough clean underwear. Or organic snacks for the road.

I called the neighbors to let them know it was time so they would look after our cats in our absence. I organized our food, which is no small feat since Ron is diabetic and I have a refugee mentality when it comes to food and travel. I wrapped up my duties on a work project (my colleagues knew my situation). I packed my bag. I loaded up the car. I remembered the sewing machine and comforter we would drop off for my daughter, who would meet us in L.A. for dinner on our way down. By the time we had prepared for a sudden departure early the next morning, it was nearly midnight and we were exhausted. When we woke up on Tuesday, my daughter-in-law was still in labor, which did not make me happy. She would be tired after a night without sleep. As we steered our car onto the highway, I hoped things would move faster for her and that the baby would arrive soon.

We decided to drive over Highway 20 in Lake County toward Sacramento to avoid the San Francisco Bay Area traffic. I have rarely been over that way, but Ron knows the area since he traveled to Sacramento fairly often on work-related business. He took me to a mouthwateringly amazing deli in Williams (near Sacramento) called Granzella’s to use the restroom and switch drivers. He nearly lost me in Granzella’s among the rows of olives and preserves. And the cheese. Oh my. When he emerged from the restroom, he found me with a jar of olives in one hand, a variety-pack of sheep and goat cheeses in the other, and in dire need of a drooly-bib. He dragged me to the checkout, and as he propelled me through the door, I suggested, “Let’s live here.”

In the roasting-hot oven of the central valley, we stopped for lunch at a quaint roadside rest stop with a parking lot that smelled impressively of vomit. I carried our soft cooler to a picnic table in the shade, far enough from the parking lot to escape the odor. The minute we opened the cooler, a blizzard of small, fat, ground squirrels engulfed us. It was like a Hitchcock movie. (As in “The Squirrels.”) When I googled “what do ground squirrels eat,” it said they eat everything. These ground squirrels certainly wanted to eat whatever we had. Salad? Great. Kind bars? Even better. Napkins, sneakers, Swiss army knife, thermos, sunscreen? Fork ‘em over. Ron became obsessed with chasing them off and spent most of our lunch break stamping his feet, clapping his hands, hooting, and jumping up and down. The squirrels cackled. They seemed to think they had stumbled on a terrific variety of dinner theater. I speculate that they were so fat not from eating too much in general but from eating junk food from the vending machines near the restrooms. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them pick up a stray quarter, drop it in the slot, and select a bag of potato chips. I think the rest stop was near Coalinga, which sounds like an athletic position in the Kama Sutra. I don’t recommend the Coalinga rest stop for a fine dining experience unless you plan to shoot and roast a ground squirrel. (I just figured out why the parking lot smells like vomit. Duh.)

From Coalinga, we drove to Santa Monica, where we met my daughter for a dinner that was indeed fine dining. While we were eating, my son called to tell us that the baby had arrived. It was not long after 7:00 in the evening. My daughter-in-law had gone through a long and fairly difficult labor, but she was a warrior. When my son called, he could report that the mother and baby were both well. He did not know the baby’s weight yet and would not disclose the name. We had a grandson! A photo soon followed on the cell phones. He looked exactly as his father had looked as a baby. (Or maybe I was looking at my son’s baby photo on my husband’s phone. Not sure.)

We left the restaurant and transferred the sewing machine and comforter to our daughter’s car. I was standing on the sidewalk saying goodbye to my daughter when Ron joined us. My daughter yelped. Ron had left his car running with the driver’s door open when he came to give her a hug. “Never, ever, ever leave your car running with the door open in L.A.,” our daughter instructed. Then she added, “Seriously, you guys shouldn’t even be allowed to drive in L.A.” I have to agree. People drive like Satanic ground squirrels down there. Driving in L.A. goes beyond defensive driving and enters the realm of fighting off deadly alien zombies with a shovel and pitchfork.

Finally, at around 9:00 that evening, Ron and I arrived at the hospital, where we parked and found the top floor of the maternity wing. In a small waiting room, we joined our machatunim, who had waited there since the afternoon. Machatunim is a Yiddish word denoting the relationship between the respective sets of parents (and in-law families) of a married couple. There is no comparable word in English, so thank goodness for Yiddish to help us relate. Our machatunim had not been allowed in to see our children and grandson yet. Although I would have wished for an easier and faster delivery for my daughter-in-law, under the circumstances we actually arrived “in time,” despite the irresistible seductions of the most alluring deli in the world, deviant squirrels, and a near-carjacking in L.A. In fact, we waited another couple of hours with our machatunim before the hospital allowed visitors into our children’s room. It was a state-of-the-art maternity hospital where they put the baby on the mom’s chest for an hour right after he was born, then cleaned up the baby and sent mom for a shower, then weighed the baby and ran a bunch of tests (he passed the SAT with a high score in math), then moved the family from the birthing room to a hospital room, then settled them in; and all of this between the first couple of breast-feedings (which brought all other activity to a complete standstill) and changing of diapers and swaddling and cooing and arrangement of hats and booties and all the rest.

As we waited with the machatunim to go in to see our mutual grandson for the first time and to find out his name from our children, I took a moment, took a breath. Because life is not about the destination but the journey. We know it, but we often need reminding. I thought back over the years of babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, and now having adult children. I have heard that grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your teenagers. It’s funny, and true, and also not-true. My children have been a delight to me at every age and stage. They are the journey, the breathtaking path, the greatest adventure of my life.

Zev Eugene Reed Wachspress was born at 6:51 on Tuesday June 6. He is named after my father Eugene, who is alive and well and delighted to have a namesake. Zev means “wolf” in Hebrew. Our wolf cub weighed 8 lbs. 9 oz. and was 21 inches long at birth. He is an Irish/Welsh Eastern-European-Jewish Pentecostal African Native American Catholic Spanish/Mexican Hispanic. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, my friends. He is a blessing. He is my newest journey.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

About My Voice


On Election Night in November of 2016, I lost my voice. I lost it in two ways. The first way was that, as a Cali voter, I felt disenfranchised. Because of the antiquated Electoral College system, my vote counted for a fraction of the value of the vote of a heaping hayride of inbred good ole boys in Wyoming and Kentucky who put my future and the future of my children and grandchildren in jeopardy with their Paleolithic misperceptions of reality. The election left me devastated. When Michael Moore excoriated us stricken liberals for wallowing in “the seventeen stages of grief” over Hillary losing her chance at the White House, he spoke to me. That was me. He was telling us to get over it, to pick ourselves up and go out and kick some shit. He helped me laugh at myself. Because I was grieving. I’m still grieving. But that’s not a good enough excuse. I have moved forward and found ways to resist, to survive, to hope, and to laugh. I have reclaimed my sense of joy.

Moore’s words were not the main reason I managed to pull myself out of my post-election funk. The biggest thing that set me on the road to recovery was having my children come home over the holidays. They remain so optimistic, so positive, and so funny, that I feel that I can do no less. The biggest reason why I stopped blogging after the election was that I could not find the humor in things. My children swiftly found the humor and they helped me begin to laugh again. Since their visit, with a renewed effort, I have searched for, and found, more humor than I thought possible in these bleak times.

I have had a lot of unexpected laughs. The reenactment of the Bowling Green Massacre at Mar-a-Lago. Waking Frederick Douglass and Luciano Pavarotti from the dead to waterboard them into signing an affidavit stating that they are the fake-president’s BFFs. The ICE hotline the fake-president set up for people to call in and report suspected criminal activity by “illegal aliens,” which has been jammed nonstop by gleeful liberals calling to report questionable activity by space aliens (true fact, not alternative, call 1-855-48-VOICE to report Martian activity). And how about Hasan Minhaj? Don’t you just love him for his words at the White House Correspondents Dinner? If you have not read his jokes yet, go do it. He’s brilliant. Here's the link.

So even though I still feel disenfranchised, even though I continue to grieve, even though I fear that the fake-president will pause long enough from golfing to cause a disaster of apocalyptic proportions, I have found a new voice (with more than a touch of humor in it) as an active member of the Resistance.

The other way that I lost my voice had to do with a personal “dark night of the soul.” In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t published a book in five years. This is not for lack of trying. I have several books on the shelf that don’t seem to interest any publishers. They don’t interest any literary agents. They don’t even interest my cats, who would rather sleep or play with catnip toys. I completed yet another novel in October, and it has joined the tribe of Amy’s unpublished manuscripts. I feel like the world has told me to shut up. And why not? My voice is of little significance in the larger scheme of things. I lost my voice because I wondered why I bother to write. I feel unheard, unread, and simply foolish to think that my words make any difference. So I quit writing. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I liked being off the hook. I still do. I feel relieved to accept that I, and anything I might deign to say, are not that important to anyone outside my tight little circle. All my life, I have put pressure on myself to produce, to write something that matters. So maybe I can’t do that. I still believe in the power of narrative to change lives, just not my narrative.

What motivated me to consider returning to my blog? It was you. Recently, in the space of a few days, a surprising number of people in my life asked me when I would start blogging again, or went out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed my blog and how much they miss it. I had no idea that so many people were reading me, that my words matter to them. To you. Thank you for encouraging me to begin again. Maybe I have inspired a smile or a chuckle or a sympathetic nod. Maybe I have, in fact, provided a little insight or lightened your load. It’s not much in the context of the infinite universe, but the infinite universe doesn’t have much bearing on our daily lives. The infinite universe is not very funny. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even infinite since physics is not my strong suit.

My strong suit is writing. I’d like to think I’m also not half bad at humor when the light strikes me in just the right way. So here I am again. I can’t say I will go back to writing every week. But you can find me here on my blog again sporadically, when I have something to say, when I’m feeling up to it, when something makes me laugh and I want to share. Here I am again, flinging my microscopic voice out into the vast reaches of space. It’s just a blip, but it’s my blip. Whoever you are out there, reading my blips, thanks for listening. 

Hasan Minhaj at WHCA Dinner 2017