Monthly Archives: May 2011

Overriding concern

Once again, the town coffers are running perilously low. To keep things rolling along, including our cars on our currently pothole-riddled roads, we need to pass an override to Proposition 2 ½. For younger readers, this law, which came to roost in 1982, limits the amount that real estate taxes can be raised in any given year to 2.5% of the total worth of the town’s taxable properties. In a town like mine, Arlington, MA, which has neither a technology highway running through it, nor an office park to speak of, taxes come primarily from homeowners.

When I bought my first house in Arlington, over twenty years ago, I was single; I had no children; my social life happened largely elsewhere. I didn’t get the local paper or watch local access television. I was oblivious to town politics and I certainly didn’t vote in local elections. Then I got married, had a baby, pushed her stroller around the neighborhood and started to meet people. I began to pay attention to more than the state of my yard.

I worried about cars driving too fast on our street, fretted when streetlights were out, waited impatiently for plows to come by. I looked forward to garbage day with happy anticipation. I started to vote in town elections. Then I sent my daughter to kindergarten and my world expanded even more. I don’t expect my interest in the town’s health and well-being to dissipate when my daughter graduates from high school in three years; I will still care about all the things I’ve learned to care about. To quote a friend, “You can’t not know what you know.”

I walked around my neighborhood last week sticking Vote YES for Arlington flyers inside storm doors and under welcome mats. I met an older man who challenged me with, “Why should I care?” I responded that we were going to lose a bunch of DPW positions, police and fire personnel, and teachers. He said, “I’m on a fixed income, did you think about that?” I said, “Yes, you can contact the town for an abatement.” He tossed the flyer onto his driveway and said, “I don’t see the point.” “All right then,” I said, as I picked up the flyer and headed back down his driveway. For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with an appropriate response. I didn’t think I’d convince him by saying, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

I don’t know what research says about the local voting habits of young adults, but I do know what I was like. If someone had asked me to help maintain our town’s health and prosperity when I was a new, happy-go-lucky homeowner, I like to think I would have responded positively. Reach out to all the young people you know, whether they own property or not. Tell them your own stories. Share this post with them. There’s not much time left before the town votes on whether or not to pass the proposed override. With a little help from our young friends, I think we can do it.

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On the occasion of my daughter’s birthday

We recently celebrated my daughter, Hannah’s, fifteenth birthday. We named her after my maternal grandmother because who can resist a palindrome? (We briefly considered naming her Able was I ere I saw Elba, but thought that the other kids might make fun of her.) Hannah is my favorite child (yes, she’s my only child, but let’s not quibble), but she hasn’t always been the easiest person to live with.

Two years ago, Hannah had her Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish ritual that marks the beginning of adulthood. She read a portion of the Torah, and wrote an essay that explored its meaning in relation to her world. At the end of her speech, she allowed as how she thought she was a “difficult child.” I was horrified to realize that my loving, tolerant, long-suffering nature had not been enough to disguise my true feelings. Fortunately, the parents also get to give a speech (about the child, not the Torah reading, since by that time most of us have forgotten everything we learned in Hebrew school) so we can rebut anything that needs rebutting. In part, this is what I said:

“Hannah is a wonderful person and her father and I love her very much. When she was a baby we thought she was the most beautiful thing we’d ever seen, and we told her that all the time. Then I realized that telling her she was beautiful was probably not the most important message to impart so I started telling her she was smart and funny and kind and beautiful.” You’ll note that I never actually said she wasn’t a difficult child.

Andrew took a crack at it too, but he tackled the question head-on. “I wonder, where could difficult have come from, your parents? Let’s pause for a moment and consider your parents’ personalities. … For example: I am NOT difficult… but Mummy IS. Well, question answered!” He then went on at great length to describe what a chimera is, thereby losing all credibility. He had a big finish though, “We LOVE your identity, with all its bits and pieces.”

So here we are, two years later. She’s still smart and funny and kind and beautiful. But something’s different. She’s not difficult anymore. Instead, I’d describe her as passionate. She feels things deeply; sorrow, joy, anger, all the feelings on the spectrum. Maybe she never was difficult. It is after all, a hard thing to judge, and people sometimes label others as difficult when that couldn’t be further from the truth (see above).

For Hannah’s birthday, we got her tickets to see Matthew Morrison, Mr. Schuester of Glee, perform at the Wang Theatre. The day after we gave her the tickets, he canceled most of the tour, including his appearance in Boston. Apparently there are other things he’d rather do, like join New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys on their joint summer tour. That’s the story on the street anyway. If you ask me, he’s just being difficult.

Writing prompt

I was having trouble coming up with a subject for this week’s blog post, so I decided to check out a website that purports to have a year’s worth of writing prompts, although they list only three hundred and forty-six. (Apparently you’re expected to take a few days off during the year.) Here’s the one I got, “Where do you go when you want to get away from the pressures of life, family, work? Write about that place.”

As it turns out, that’s not a very useful prompt for me because the answer to the question “Where do I go” is sleep. I go to sleep. That’s not where I want to go. I’d prefer to curl up on the sofa with a book and read, but that invariably leads to – sleep.

Other people have hobbies they can lose themselves in. I was raised by a serial hobbyist. I’m still wearing some of the bangles and earrings my mother made during her silversmith phase. Some hobbies came and went quickly; rock polishing, as I recall, did not hold her attention for long. Other hobbies grew until hobby no longer seemed the appropriate appellation. Some spawned sub-hobbies. Her passion for computers has not wavered since her first Commodore 64, and while the PC is now her machine of choice, she has worked with a variety of operating systems, always more drawn to the ones she can get down and dirty with, like Linux, and she’s never happier than when she’s teaching herself a new piece of software.

I envy my mother’s curiosity and drive. When she wants to get away from the pressures of life, family and work, she goes inside her own head and finds countless ways to amuse herself. When I look inside my head I see a woman asleep on a sofa with a book on the floor.

In the form of a question, please

We’re all Jeopardy champions on our sofas, but once you leave the family room, it gets a lot harder.

A couple of months ago, I took Jeopardy’s online test. And when I say “I,” I mean the three of us, Andrew, Hannah and me. The first answer was about the reality series, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I’m happy to report that I didn’t get it right, and a little sad to report that Hannah did. Every fifteen seconds there was a new question. When we had sweated through fifty of them, the automated test thanked me and that was that: no score, no ranking, no nothing.

When I subsequently got email inviting me to audition in person, I assumed it was spam; the email did not come from Jeopardy. A little sleuthing uncovered that SPE is the domain for Sony Pictures Entertainment, the owners of Jeopardy. The invitation was legit. On the appointed day, I hied myself to the Sheraton in downtown Boston. I had considered pulling Hannah out of school to back me up, but they were quite clear — guests were not allowed. I was on my own.

There were about twenty-five would-be contestants there, several from out of state. One had flown from Colorado, another from North Carolina. One woman drove down from Burlington, Vermont. Several of them were auditioning for the second, third, and even fourth time. None of them were obvious egg-heads, although there were some whose lack of fashion sense indicated a strong cerebral bent.

First we took another fifty question test. I was only able to answer thirty-four, and of those I now know I got several wrong. We were asked not to talk about the questions used at the audition, so I can’t give you examples, but if you get the opportunity to audition some day, I suggest you buff up on opera and potatoes. We also participated in an abbreviated game complete with buzzers. I knew several answers, really. I just couldn’t retrieve them in time, and I think my buzzer was broken, and…

I may not be able to beat Watson, or even the homemaker from Burlington, Vermont, but I could ace the interview. We had to supply a few interesting anecdotes about ourselves that Alex could use if we were on the show. We trotted them out for the mock interview. The Jeopardy road crew was wowed by the fact that I had interviewed Barack Obama and played pinball with Ray Davies of The Kinks.

Despite my poor showing, I will be in the pool of potential contestants for the next eighteen months. While I would love to be able to play the game for real, I’d sacrifice that opportunity if one day there is an answer on Jeopardy to which the question is, “Who is Judy Mintz?”

A fitting end

This morning I woke up to the news that Osama Bin Laden had finally been found and killed. I couldn’t suppress a small, internal “Ooh Rah,” even as I thought, “Uh oh, now what?” That’s a lot to worry about first thing on a Monday morning so instead I decided to confront a simpler question: Should I swap out the kitchen sponge?

I realize that to the casual observer that sounds like the mother of all non-sequiturs, but you’ll have to trust me on this one, there was a long, organic thought process that led me from Bin Laden to sponges. The tail end of that process equated hiding in caves in Pakistan and Afghanistan to the holes in sponges in which bacteria breed. Sound a little less nutty?

For years we kept two sponges in the kitchen, one on either side of the sink. One was for washing dishes, and one was for cleaning counters and the kitchen table, etc. Helpful, albeit oblivious, guests would often pick up the dish sponge to wipe up a spill, or use the counter sponge to wash dishes. The enlightened ones would ask before they used either one.

Right now I’m hard pressed to remember why we thought it necessary to keep two sponges in play, though I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about someone using the wrong one so we must have had a good reason. Nor do I remember when or why we decided the hell with it, and dialed down to one.

Another thing I can’t remember is how long my mother kept a sponge in use at the home I grew up in. But my mom is quite the packrat and my dad fixes his cars with duct tape, so I’m guessing sponges had a good long life in their house. As I peer over the far edge of middle-age, I’ve finally discovered something that should have been evident to me long ago: sponges are cheap. If I wanted, I could use three sponges in the kitchen, hell I could use a different sponge for every day of the week! But because it’s not good to add more to the waste stream than we need to, this house continues to use sponges until they are tattered.

Sponges come from the ocean; once upon a time, they were alive. Osama Bin Laden has just been consigned to the ocean, where he will feed fish, build up the ocean floor, and do other good deeds for the environment. Years from now, we could be washing dishes with help from Bin Laden. That’s a far cry from cavorting in heaven with a bunch of virgins. Since washing dishes is my idea of hell, maybe this is a fitting end after all.