Monthly Archives: August 2011

Hurricane was a bust, I’m happy to report

Hurricane Irene was on everyone’s mind for days before she arrived. We knew she was coming, we don’t live under a rock, but we had planned to go to Southern Vermont for a long weekend, and the beautiful, sunny weather we were having made it hard to think seriously about changing our plans. We drove north to West Wardsboro where we spent a storybook day and night with our extended family. The kids took full advantage of the pond while the adults took full advantage of the kids taking full advantage of the pond to play tennis, stroll in the woods, or loll on the lawn.

Alas, some of those adults were carrying iPhones, so the specter of Hurricane Irene was always present. When the New York Times reported that a quarter of a million people were being evacuated, and the subway was being shut down, we let anxiety take its natural course. We didn’t want to leave, but we didn’t want to stay. The weather maps indicated that after New York Irene was going to cruise through Boston and after that she was planning her own visit to Vermont. We decided that we should head for home.

The drive home was uneventful, and our favorite pizza joint was still open. After dinner we brought in the deck chairs and took down the hanging plant on the porch. My husband also tried to put new D batteries into our fancy Maglite flashlight. Two pairs of pliers and a lot of elbow grease later, he still couldn’t get it open. It might be useful for clobbering a robber over the head, but its days as a flashlight are over.

As it happens we didn’t need the flashlight. We never lost power; nor did a tree fall on our house; nor did our street flood. Yes, there was some impressive wind now and again, but for the most part, for us, Hurricane Irene was a bust. I was disappointed, and I’ll bet lots of people felt the same way. The build-up is overwhelming; inescapable; constant. If, however, you admit to being disappointed when a much-anticipated disaster passes you by, someone more sensible is bound to say, in a tsk-tsk tone of voice, “You should be grateful that nothing bad happened to you or anyone you love.”

After the hurricane, the same media that had whipped us into a frenzy to match Irene’s started reporting on the results. People were flooded, stranded, lost their homes. Bridges were damaged and washed away. Although the worst damage on our street was relatively benign, huge trees fell elsewhere in town, blocking roads and ripping up sidewalks. Below is a picture of the road we drive to get to the house in West Wardsboro.

Next time a natural disaster passes me by I promise not to whine. Instead I’ll say, “I am so grateful that nothing bad happened to me or my loved ones.”

Drawing a blank

I’ve reviewed the notebook where I jot down ideas for blog posts and none of them appeal to me. This week I’m drawing a blank. If I was Harold, of Purple Crayon fame, and I drew a blank, it would probably actually be a blank. I don’t know what a blank looks like, but if anyone could bring a blank to life, it’s Harold. I can’t draw anything. I wish I could.

My husband is a wonderful artist (although he’ll be the first to admit that he isn’t very good at drawing people). His mindless doodles are works of art. I have retrieved sketches from the trash that I couldn’t bear to see destroyed. We vacationed in Bar Harbor recently and while waiting for our meal he used the crayons supplied for our nephew to draw on a napkin. That napkin, which sports a lobster holding a knife and fork over a small human on a plate that is waving it’s limbs in the air, is now framed and hanging in my home office. A little blot of butter gives it a touch of verisimilitude.

I want to share something with you, so below is an illustration he created on the computer for our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah invitation a couple of years ago.

I know it’s not polite to brag, but I can’t help it. His creative ability brings such joy to my life. When we agreed that I was going to try my hand at writing, full time, my excitement was dampened by the knowledge that that meant he would have to keep working in the real world. And as we all know, the real world can be a bit of a challenge, particularly for a creative person.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from this short ramble. Maybe none are necessary. After all, I’ve already told you, I can’t draw.

Not just for kids

When I was little, my favorite picture books were The Lonely Doll series. In the first book, the doll, Edith, meets Mr. Bear, a stuffed bear, and his son, Little Bear.

In subsequent books Mr. Bear is her guardian. I remember vividly one picture of Edith turned over Mr. Bear’s knee as he spanked her for doing something naughty. Today there are many things about these books that would make parents and librarians cringe, but the same could be said for much of the beloved children’s literature of my childhood.

The author, Dare Wright, had a strange and complicated upbringing which was documented in Jean Nathan’s biography, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll.  As the original lonely doll it’s not hard to understand why she would turn to Edith and the bears for comfort.

My childhood, on the other hand, was, as far as I remember, remarkably mundane; and yet I, too, play with stuffed animals. And I’ll wager I’m not the only other adult who does. I may, however, be the only one who will admit it in public. This may be an inherited predilection. When my uncle was in the army, his beloved bear sent him notes, via my grandmother. There’s a photo of my parents, mom pregnant with my older sister, cavorting with two stuffed dogs and a ’57 Chevy. When I went away to camp, our cats wrote me letters. And when my daughter went to her first sleep-away camp, two of our stuffed animals sent her a photographic accounting of a big adventure. (It was slow going, they don’t move fast, and it took almost three dozen photos to document the outing, but they were very patient with the photographer.) Below is a shot of them near the beginning of their journey.

If you’re paying attention you may want to point out, huffily, that when I was at camp, live animals wrote to me, not stuffed ones. When it comes to anthropomorphizing, I don’t make much of a distinction between them. Neither, it appears, did Ms. Wright.

I will concede that when there are real animals on the scene they tend to demand more attention than the stuffed ones. At the time of the great outing above, however, we had not yet adopted Boo and Scout, our cats, so the point is moot. And if we had had the cats, we would not have been able to document an outing with them. It’s not that we wouldn’t have wanted to, but they would never grant us the unfettered access to their activities that our stuffed friends do.

Keeping secrets

When I was around eight or nine, a neighbor who was the same age told me that her family was going to be moving, but that it was a secret and I couldn’t tell anyone. I imagine that this must have been upsetting news because that little girl and I were purportedly very good friends; nonetheless, I dutifully kept it to myself. Some weeks after I’d been sworn to secrecy, my mother told me that the neighbors were going to be moving. I said I knew, that my friend had told me, but had asked me not to tell anyone. My mother was astonished that I’d been able to keep that secret from her. It became the basis for her belief that I was the sort of person you could trust with your secrets.

The irony is that I’m probably one of the worst people to trust with a secret. It’s not because I’m malevolent, but rather that I love telling stories, and secrets usually make great stories. I also love to gossip, which is really just another way to say I love to tell stories. I would never say something as simple as, “John quit.” If I wanted to share this tidbit with you I’d say, “I was in the kitchen after Monday’s staff meeting, making a cup of coffee, when Gary came in.” By the time I got to the punch line, you’d be late for your next meeting, and you wouldn’t mind at all.

To be fair, just as there is honor among thieves, I have my own code of ethics when it comes to gossip, or keeping secrets. If the information is of a personal nature, or would hurt an innocent third-party, I have no trouble tucking it safely away. If, however, someone says, “Peter told me this, but don’t tell anyone else,” I figure I’m not obligated to keep silent. The odds are excellent that any time someone says, “Don’t tell anyone else,” they’ve already spread the news far and wide.

When it comes to secrets, I also happily share my own. Today you might say I over-share; when I was younger, I confessed. This was not something I had any religious experience with, but as a daughter I was an expert. Whether it was the fear of being found out or a compulsive need to punish myself, I had a tendency to share all of my transgressions with my mother. Fortunately, she didn’t retain the information for long, and if she did she was likely to ascribe it to a different daughter, but she was always surprised if I mentioned something I’d already told her. “You did what? When did that happen? You never told me that!” So you see, I knew if I could live past her initial reaction it would be off the front page soon enough.

As an adult, I learned to curb my need to confess. I learned that from my chief Confessor, my therapist, but please don’t tell anyone else. I prefer to keep that a secret.

The debt ceiling and dog poop

The debt ceiling kerfuffle has been settled and as far as I can tell it was a pyrrhic victory at best. I started out paying close attention to the discussion, but as the rhetoric ramped up I got more and more anxious until I decided I had to stop listening. My plan was to put my fingers in my ears and whistle until someone told me that fiscal disaster had been averted, but that turned out to be as uncomfortable a solution as everything John Boehner proposed.

I’m not particularly savvy about how things get done on Capitol Hill. Oh sure, I watched the Schoolhouse Rock lesson on how a bill gets through Congress with the rest of my generation, but I must have missed the episode about applying common sense for the greater good. There were steps to take to lower the national debt that seemed liked no-brainers to me. Yes they involved raising revenue: corporations should not be getting ridiculous tax breaks so they can operate private jets and rich individuals should pay more taxes than lower-income folks. That would be applying common sense to solve a problem.

My town email list just had a vigorous debate on dog poop disposal etiquette. A list member posted that she had been chastised by a passerby for dropping a bag of dog poop in a garbage can in front of someone else’s home. Alarmingly, this post provoked more traffic than the subject of whether or not to out local sex offenders. Some people thought it was perfectly fine to use a private trash can for your dog’s poop. There were those who thought it was beyond the pale for the passerby to have commented in the first place claiming it was none of her business. There was even debate over whether the position of the lid of the garbage can should effect one’s decision. There was, however, one positive aspect to this discussion; it didn’t follow party lines. It wasn’t dog owners versus non-dog owners. It was a bi-partisan debate.

Nonetheless, I find myself asking ─ why was this even being discussed? It is not alright to put your trash in my trashcan. Period. Does something that reeks of common sense need to be legislated for the odd bozo who just doesn’t understand? Come on everyone, sing along with me:

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It’s a long, long wait
While I’m sitting in committee,
But I know I’ll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Music & lyrics: Dave Frishberg