Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Life and Thighs

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

                                     ---Bob Dylan


 Remember when we looked like this in a bathing suit?  

No? Well, okay, neither do I. But I’m reasonably sure we didn’t look like this, either.

Fat is a constant in my universe.
For many years I considered myself a poster child for Weightwatchers: a success story who actually kept the weight off. But that was then, and this is now. Today I could still be on a Weightwatchers poster, but now it would be titled MOST WANTED. Time and fat march on. (By the way, did you know that is a constant amount of fat in the universe? If I lose weight, someone else gains it. It works like one of those liquid filled google-eyed dolls. If you squeeze the body,  fluid rushes to its head and its eyes bulge out. Fat works the same way. If my butt gets smaller, someone else's grows that much larger.) Anyway, things have changed enough so I am horrified by the sight on my thighs on parade. The cut-off jeans I once wore—the ones that flashed my nether cheeks—were packed away long ago. The bathing suits sat in the bottom dresser drawers so long that their elastic dried out and turned to powder. I assiduously, religiously and carefully avoided wearing a bathing suit for many, many years.

I think I've made Daniel Craig cry.
But an upcoming Florida vacation has brought my thighs back to light. I discussed the aging-body issue with one of my stalwart Stony Brook friends, Barbara. We agreed that a potato sack swathing me from neck to knee would be the kindest way to go. So I screwed my courage to the sticking-place and headed to L.L. Bean to shop for a bathing suit in the dead of January. No more two-piece deals with lots of ribs and hips and butt cheek on display. The sight of my aging, ample flesh would make strong men cry. And they would not be crying with joy.

Remote fitting rooms
I found a remote set of fitting rooms near the bathing suit racks, where I hoped to encounter as few life forms as possible. The last thing I wanted was sympathetic clucking from another surivor of the Age of Aquarius. I proceeded to drag piles of bathing suit tops and bottoms into the tiny cubicle for a brutal trying-on binge. This was a way to methodically desensitize myself to the horrific sight of myself in a bathing suit. If I saw myself in enough suits, I would numb myself to the sight. Since we have finally hit 0˚ Fahrenheit up here in the northern paradise, I was layered in shirts, sweaters, scarves topped with a down parka. That doesn’t include the requisite jeans, sweat socks and bra. Peeling off the layers of winter clothes, I faced myself in a full-length mirror. I think Joseph Conrad said it best: The horror! The horror!  I was staring at myself wearing ill-fitting swimming shorts, navy blue sweat socks and a tankini top that covered ribs, hips and still had more folds of fabric looking for a place to fall. The dimpled thighs completed the picture. I shuddered. I wasn't sufficiently numbed yet.

Finally, I settled on a tankini top (the better to cover the ribs and hips) and a bottom with a modesty panel (the better to cover as much thigh as possible).  The names alone are enough to make me gag. Tankini? WTF is that? Modesty panel? I used to strut around in teeny, tiny two-piece affairs that barely covered the cleft of my ass. Nowadays I find myself using the term age-appropriate a lot.  
My current reincarnation

So this is it. I am officially old. I am wearing an old woman’s swimsuit. This is where I should be launching into a moving meditation on aging (gracefully or otherwise) and the female body. Suffice it to say I just don’t have it in me to spin that yarn.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Wit and Wisdom of Mitt Romney

              GUENEVERE: What else do the simple folk do 
                                       To help them escape when they're blue?

               ARTHUR:       They sit around and wonder what royal folk would do
                                       And that's what the simple folk do.
                                                                     ---Alan J. Lerner, Camelot

On Yom Kippur eve, I found myself hesitating to post a snarky criticism of Mitt Romney. No doubt, Mitt has a tin ear. Tone deaf and elitist, yes. Too many years as a corporate executive, being yes-ed to death by underlings. But he seems to be a doting husband and father. And whatever else his tax returns may reveal, they do demonstrate one thing: Mitt tithes faithfully and generously.

So what is it about him? It’s the quelque manqué factor—something essential is missing. I find his view of the poor and the struggling appalling, and his detachment chilling. These are our fellow human beings, and there--but for the grace of God—go Mitt, you and I.

Five days later, I've overcome my hesitation.

1.   If Mitt wins, everything will be coming up roses.  Markets will spontaneously right themselves. Elusive capital will magically re-appear, and all will be right with the world. Or maybe not….   

…if we win on November 6th there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We'll see capital come back, and we'll see—without actually doing anything—we'll actually get a boost in the economy. If the president gets reelected, I don't know what will happen. I can never predict what the markets will do.

Conclusion:      A. Who knew governing could be so easy?
                           B. Didn't he just contradict himself?

2.   Mitt is a man of the world, with a sophisticated understanding of other countries and their cultures.

…When I was back in my private equity days, we went to China to buy a factory there, employed about 20,000 people, and they were almost all young women between the ages of about 18 and 22 or 23. They were saving for potentially becoming married, and they worked in these huge factories, they made various small appliances, and as we were walking through this facility, seeing them work, the number of hours they worked per day, the pittance they earned, living in dormitories with little bathrooms at the end with maybe ten rooms. And the rooms, they had 12 girls per room, three bunk beds on top of each other. You've seen them.

And around this factory was a fence, a huge fence with barbed wire, and guard towers. And we said, "Gosh, I can't believe that you, you know, you keep these girls in." They said, "No, no, no—this is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to come work in this factory that we have to keep them out, or they'll just come in here and start working and try and get compensated. So, we—this is to keep people out." And they said, "Actually, Chinese New Year, is the girls go home, sometimes they decide they've saved enough money and they don't come back to the factory." And he said, "And so on the weekend after Chinese New Year, there'll be a line of people hundreds long outside the factory, hoping that some girls haven't come back and they can come to the factory.”

Conclusion: The man can’t recognize slave labor when he comes face to face with it.

3.   On Ann Romney’s value to the campaign:

We use Ann sparingly right now so that people don't get tired of her.

Conclusion: I wonder if Ann owns a gun.

4.   Mitt inherited nothing. Really?

By the way, but my dad and Ann's dad did quite well in their lives but when they came to the end of their lives and passed along the inheritances to Ann and to me we both decided to give it all away. So I have inherited nothing. Everything Ann and I have we have earned the old fashioned way.

Conclusion: No, he did not inherit nothing. He may not have chosen to keep the money. But he did receive the money. Odds are he decided that it was more advantageous to turn the inheritance into a tax deduction.

5.   On the 47%:

All right, there are 47 percent who are with him [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Conclusion: Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? And who gave these parasites the right to vote, anyway?

6.   Mitt has the common touch.

I tell you what! $10,000 bet?

Conclusion: Rarely have so few words conveyed so much. That was Mitt challenging Texas Governor Rick Perry to a bet—on camera and before a national audience, no less—on whether he (Mitt) had advocated an individual health coverage mandate while he was governor of Massachusetts. Perry responded like a reasonable adult dealing with a bragging, blustering teenager, “I’m not in the bettin’ business.”

7.   More of that wonderful common touch.

[I don't follow NASCAR] as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.   

Conclusion: I think this is where Mitt bursts into a heartfelt performance of What Do the Simple Folk Do?.

8.   Empathy is everything, and Mitt has it in spades.
      I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed. 

Conclusion: That was Mitt joking with an audience of unemployed people in Florida. Can this man read an audience, or what! The audience laughed nervously but politely. They could have lynched him, but they didn't. Now that's what I call charitable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wisconsin Death Trip--Next Chapter...

College Station, TX: two dead and four injured by a deranged shooter whose Facebook page included a list of snipers he found inspiring. In the words of his stepfather, Thomas Caffal was "crazy as hell".

Make that three dead: Caffal died of the wounds he received in a wild west-style gun battle with police.

Madmen and guns don't mix.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wisconsin Death Trip

People turn their heads and quickly look away. Like a newborn baby it just happens ev'ryday.-- Mick Jagger, Paint it Black

Another vicious and senseless shooting, this time in Wisconsin. A crazy man entered a Sikh temple and starting killing people with a semi-automatic weapon. This comes close on the heels of the July 20th Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre. And the Aurora shooting followed the April 2nd slaughter of seven people at a college in Oakland, California by a crazed former student. On February 7, a student shot three and injured six more at an Ohio high school before being stopped. Oh, wait—I’ve skipped over the May 20th shooting in a Seattle café (three dead and two wounded in the café, and one more shot dead while the shooter was on the loose ).

The list goes on and on. We don’t even hear about the smaller massacres anymore. 

In the wake of the Wisconsin murders, one of CNN’s talking heads suggested the Sikh community take this opportunity (yes, the twit really did call that appalling carnage as an opportunity) to educate the world about their faith. The only thing lacking from this breathlessly tasteless comment was the teachable moment metaphor.

And our politicians? Useless. Utterly useless. If Romney or Obama utter one more platitude about tragedy and loss and overcoming sorrow, I’ll throw up. Platitudes are cheap to toss around. Do something!

A friend of mine, Susan, a doctor who spent years in South Africa providing healthcare to women and children, despises the men of South Africa. She sputters with disgust as she describes their  reckless spreading of HIV to the women in their lives. People are dying like flies from HIV, but the culturally accepted norms--polygamy and male promiscuity--are still attuned to the 1800’s. Susan is furious that these men don’t understand that the real world around them has changed, and that they must change their behavior in order to survive. It occurred to me that the South Africans have stalled at a cultural blind spot. The age-old practices are killing them, but people keep on keepin’ on as if it were 1812 instead of 2012. Hello! Is anybody in there?

And doesn't that apply to the United States? Haven't we stalled at a long-standing assumption about guns? I’m sure that wholesale slaughter is not what the founding fathers had in mind when they spoke of bearing arms.
Most of the shooters seem to be mentally disturbed and yet the NRA is still insisting on the untouchable perfection and clarity of the Second Amendment. Having guns for hunting—and even for self defense—is one thing. But making weapons that were clearly intended for battlefields and wars accessible to un-medicated schizophrenics is quite another. The NRA and gun activists would better represent their cause by joining forces with gun control advocates to solve this one, obvious problem: how to keep weapons out of the hands of the clearly dangerous and delusional. Surely this is something we can all agree on. The NRA would be enhancing its own reputation as a responsible organization leading the movement to curb excesses and dangers inherent in its sport. And the gun control lobby would be thrilled to have a working partner in its concerns.  Hello! Is anybody in there?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Pirates of Craigslist

But ships are but boards, sailors but men: there be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves, and water-thieves,—I mean pirates—Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Sc. III

We’ve been trying to sell our old dining room set on craigslist. So far, I’ve been contacted by more marine engineers than I knew existed on the face of the earth. Eva, Kimberly, Sean, Lisa and Jim are all stuck at sea, with limited access to the internet. Despite their limited access, they’ve managed to squeeze out precious minutes to comb craigslist for an expensive dining room set. And by some miraculous coincidence, each and every one of them wants to surprise a son, father, brother or some other member of the family whose life will be made complete by the surprise delivery of a mahogany-crotch veneered dining table the size of a Volkswagen minibus.

Eva, Kimberly, Sean, Lisa and Jim may have limited access to their bank account, but they seem to enjoy an easy and limitless relationship with PayPal.  And they also have transport agents available at a moment's notice. (I don’t have a transport agent in my contact list or rolodex. Do you?)

Here’s an example of their introductory spiel:

Thanks for the prompt response.. I am ready to buy it now but i am not in town at the moment as i am a marine engineer manager and due to the nature of my work, It hard to make a phone calls and visiting of website are restricted but i squeezed out time to check this advert and send you an email regarding it. I really want it to be a surprise for my dad so i wont let him know anything about it until it gets delivered to him, i am sure he will be more than happy with it. I insisted on PayPal because i don't have access to my bank account online as i don't have internet banking, but i can pay from my PayPal account, as i have my bank a/c attached to it, i will need you to give me your PayPal email address and the price so i can make the payment asap for it and please if you don't have PayPal account yet, it is very easy to set up, go to and get it set up, after you have set it up i will only need the e-mail address you use for registration with PayPal so as to put the money through. I will make a solid pick up arrangement with my transport agent after i have made the payment...

I thought the first message was odd, and I responded with the suggestion that the intrepid engineer drop by to inspect the furniture once he was back on shore. Cash and Carry only. And don’t you want to take a closer look at what you’re buying before you plunk down $4000? And once variations on the same message began to arrive in bulk, I knew there couldn't be that many ships at sea.... I also couldn't resist answering. And once the email exchange began in earnest, things fell apart. Lisa, Kim, Sean, Eva and Jim have limited English vocabularies. If the original message looks a little hinky, once my pen pals were forced to improvise, the narrative crumbled into something bordering on gibberish. I began to take perverse pleasure in watching them tie themselves into linguistic knots, and finally concluded there was nothing more coming from craigslist than the pleasure of pulling the wings off flies.

So what have we learned from this latest rich life experience?  

1.     Marine engineering does not suffer from gender bias. From my scientific sampling, fully 60% of the profession is made up of women.
2.     My life is lacking a solid relationship with a transport agent. These people are at sea, but seem to have moving companies at their beck and call at all times. Why is this luxury missing from my own life?
3.     What lonely lives marine engineers have! Every one of these missives was sent in the middle of the night. They’ve been reduced to trolling craigslist at 1 AM for dining room sets for the loved ones they miss so desperately.
4.     Surely these folks are related to that African diplomat with the million dollar bank balance who wanted only the opportunity to transfer his balance into my checking account.
5.   There be pirates out there......

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Medical Care and the Constitution (Yes, I can bleed you. It’ll cost you a chicken.)

18th century high-tech equipment
In answer to the burning question of whether the mandate to contract for medical care is constitutional or not…. Let me answer with another question: did the original Constitution—written in the late 18th century—anticipate massive and influential medical and pharmaceutical industries? I don’t think so. At the time medical care amounted to bleeding and poultices. 
State-of-the-art medical care

No antibiotics, no cancer medications or treatments. No x-rays, CT scans, MRI’s or blood tests. Precious little surgery. No maintenance drugs for high cholesterol and blood pressure, psychological issues and a thousand other chronic medical conditions. No hospitals or rehab facilities. The local surgeon (who doubled as a barber) was paid for his services with a chicken or two. There was no such thing as catastrophic medical care that would take you to the poorhouse. Infections killed you, childbirth gone-wrong killed you and the baby, and most people didn’t live long enough to suffer from the diseases of old age. So the founding fathers could not have foreseen the commercial juggernaut into which the medical industry would grow two centuries later. And trying to shoehorn today’s healthcare business into the simple medical paradigm of the 1780’s… well, it makes no sense. The logic seems to be that if the founding fathers didn’t address it, then we won’t either. By this exquisite logic, slavery and child labor would still be legal.

Lady Justice is blind. Not stupid.
As for the Supreme Court—secure in the safety of their own guaranteed, life-long medical coverage—and having the nerve to spout obviously partisan questions about the political policy of the healthcare mandate…. Scalia’s and Roberts’ partisanship is not even thinly veiled. I’m speechless. In this century the court has twice proven that it is not above partisan politics (Bush v. Gore and the more recent—and quite crazy—ruling that PACS and corporations are people), and it looks like they may head down the same path this time. So much for the Court’s impartiality: Judicial activism in the name of conservatism is still activism.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Life in Real Estate--Part 1

Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!---John Wilkes Booth upon shooting Abraham Lincoln

We bought our first house in late 1985. It was a 1920’s Dutch colonial on the main drag of Westfield, NJ. At first glance the house had two strikes against it: it was on a busy road, and it was across the street from a municipal building--a big old red brick schoolhouse. The trees around the house, planted too close to the house as saplings 60 years earlier, were overgrown and brushing the roof of the house. From its front, the house looked neglected and dark, with moss growing on the roof where the trees blocked the sunlight. was gracious, dignified and somehow familiar.
Doris, the realtor, had listened patiently to our list of must-have’s, wants and no-way’s. She recognized two babes in the woods when she saw them. And although we were clear that we didn’t want to be anywhere near municipal or commercial buildings, and certainly not on a heavily trafficked street, she suggested that we ‘just take a look’ at the house on East Broad Street. I walked in the front door, took one look at the 30 foot living room, the French doors and the fireplace, and I heard Chopin rippling in the background. “Peter! Do you hear music? I hear music!” Peter took one look at my enraptured face, and offered his own take on the situation, “Stop gushing!” I knew this house. I’d lived in this house somewhere, sometime, in some other life, and I had found my way home again.
So much for the romance. Now we moved on to the business of buying the house. The sellers, Larry and Marge Pipes, were corporate nomads, misplaced, displaced and disconsolate South Carolinian's. Larry worked for ITT and was being dragged around the continental US forcibly and by the nose. He had been relocated from South Carolina to NJ in May, and by October he had been reassigned to Colorado. No doubt Larry was being well compensated for his inconvenience, but his charming wife, Marge, was clearly not taking these life changes in stride.
The Rhett and Scarlett of East Broad Street, as we came to think of them,  had not completely unpacked their moving boxes when ITT packed Rhett off to Colorado. And Scarlett, aside from being in her first trimester of pregnancy, morning-sick, openly racist and anti-Semitic, was left alone in New Jersey to sell the house. Well, not completely alone. She had half a dozen nasty Lhasa Apso’s and a house full of fleas to keep her company. (When we moved into the house we learned that she had thoughtfully left the flea infestation for us.)
From the end of November until mid-March, the run-up to closing on the house was spent with Scarlett on the phone to Peter each weekday evening. Rhett came back east on the weekends, but in his absence she needed to vent her concerns about the progress and state of the sale, informing us repeatedly that she’d once had a civil service job with the state of South Carolina, and how awful the North was. Scarlett ranted about New Jersey real estate law, insisting that she shouldn’t be required to hire a lawyer to close on the sale. And if she was, her good ol’ uncle from South Carolina could advise her by phone. And why wasn’t she getting interest on the escrow account with our deposit? (Why? Because that isn’t part of a standard sale agreement in New Jersey, and since she refused to have an attorney read the sale agreement, she hadn’t asked for anything outside the standard. Doris, either wasn't taking Scarlett's calls, or wasn't explaining the terms of the contract to her satisfaction.) Scarlett was in a constant and consuming hissy fit.
At Scarlett’s request, the closing took place at a place convenient to her—rather than, as is customary in NJ, at our attorney’s office. Scarlett took her sweet time and arrived 45 minutes late for the closing. Then she warmed up the crowd by regaling us with tales of how cold Yankees were, how she really felt about Jews, and wrapped it up with a charming anecdote about the only friendly person she’d met in the entire nine months she’d been captive in the North—a NY State Trooper. Finally she returned to her favorite topic—the interest she was due on the deposit in the escrow account. Since the $25K had been sitting in a non-interest bearing account for 3 months, Scarlett wanted us to write her a check for the interest. Peter and I said flatly,  "No". There was a long pause while Doris, the realtor, contemplated the sale swirling down the drain. Then Doris pulled out her own checkbook and offered to write a check for the $200 Marge wanted from Peter’s and my Jewish hides. But Scarlett paused for a dramatic moment and finally announced, "Oh no, dawlin’, I don’t want your money," and let it drop.
Scarlett and Rhett left us a dirty plastic jar full of unidentified house keys, a flea-infested house and a roll of mailing labels to forward any wayward mail. No stamps, just mailing labels. No doubt, they went on to charm the pants off their new neighbors in Colorado.  And by now, Scarlett’s baby is well out of college. But whenever I think of Scarlett, I usually wish her lifelong morning sickness, just as I have for the past 26 years.