Friday, December 24, 2010

My Christmas list (no shopping required.)

Sometimes I think I’m really two people. One part of me is relentlessly pragmatic, reasonable and logical. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except when it gets in the way of the magic that can be found in everyday life. The confounding counterpart to this is that another part of me is just as relentlessly sentimental, emotional and hopeful.

Here’s an example. I can’t read an email that cries out for help regarding a lost child without immediately hopping onto to check it out. (They’re always fake, by the way.) I also find myself reading emails that contain heartwarming stories of love, fellowship and encouragement; the kind people often send to friends and family with the best intentions. Deep down, I’m glad they include me in their list of those who will enjoy the story; they’re mostly right about that. Yet even as I read it, I think (in my logical way), do I have time for this today? I have sit on mute for back-to-back conference calls! I have to create two more Powerpoints today!! I have to work out a P / L by ten a.m.! God knows I’d rarely seek these things out on my own.

That’s why when I read a holiday story a few days ago, I couldn’t imagine why I stopped on it in the first place. I had little doubt I’d be left wallowing in sappy Christmas schmaltz. Without going into every detail, the story told of a young boy who comes to understand the spirit of Christmas. In an effort to prove that Santa Claus is real, his grandmother gives him ten dollars and drives him to a store, telling him “to buy something for someone who needs it.” After much thought, the boy decides to buy a coat for a classmate who doesn’t have one. (All of these stories paint a picture of someone who is sad, alone and needy or someone dead or dying, along with someone who steps in to help. Sorry; that’s an editorial comment from my reasonable side. In this case, the student in need never joins his class in recess because he doesn’t own a heavy coat. He pretends to have a cough so he has an excuse to stay indoors. )

The young boy chooses a jacket and takes it to the counter to buy it. When the clerk asks if it’s a present, he explains the story of his needy classmate. The clerk smiles as she puts it a bag and wishes him a Merry Christmas.

Your typical Christmas story, right? I probably don’t have to tell you that as the grandmother helps the boy wrap the coat, she removes the little tag and places it in her Bible. They hide the gift outside “Bobby’s” house, knock on the door, then watch him come outside and discover the package. The rest, as they say, is warm Christmas history.

Except it wasn’t. The story ends with the boy recalling that he still remembers the spirit he felt that day. As the author puts it, “Santa Claus was alive and well and we were on this team.” Fifty years later, he still had his grandmother’s Bible, and the Christmas coat’s price tag she tucked into it: $19.95.

The tears that filled my eyes when I read the ending of the story sprang directly from my sentimental side. I loved the quiet notion of sales clerk, seemingly just a bit player, turning out to embody the spirit this boy was seeking.

So where does that leave me, this Christmas Eve? My practical nature has me counting up the cookies I didn’t bake, the cards I haven’t written and the gifts I haven’t wrapped. The logical part of me is already making plans about how this absolutely will not happen again next year. I’m mentally writing a list of the list of things I won’t forget to do earlier next year so help me God.

And where does that leave the softness, the magic, this Christmas Eve? It’s buried, under layers of planners and errands and tasks. It pokes its head up from time to time: when I hear my boys sing Christmas Carols, or watch them decorate cookies and imagine them fifteen years younger, when their cookie icing and sprinkles were simply out of control.

Everything I want to give to those I love can’t be wrapped and placed under a tree. Mostly, I want to help them feel the spirit of Christmas. When our sons grow up, I want them to give in to sentiment, much more than I do. I want them to give up – at least temporarily - on the measurable. I want them to relinquish what’s practical from time to time.

I want them to pay the difference for the jacket.

That’s hope. That’s love. That’s Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why do I have the feeling I'd be tempted to say: watch this.

With particular thanks to Jen H. and her book group for the inspiration:

You won’t be surprised to hear that I was horrified but also amused to learn the details about some fresh hell called The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition or some such nonsense. I don’t know how long this elf has been wreaking havoc in homes around the world but thank God my boys are young adults. I can practically guarantee you we would have been the family that never had an elf on any shelf on our home. Or we would have been the family with the reluctant mommy dragging an elf out of storage every November and regretting every moment she spent rearranging it for a month.

But my own acceptance or rejection of this is an unanswerable notion, really. I may have bought into this “tradition,” given my sentimentality about Christmas. I still may have regretted it but I may have been right there along with other parents who wanted to add to the magic of the season for their children. Let’s just say I’m assuming everyone is adding to the magic, not trying to traumatize their children, which is all too possible according to some of the reviews I’ve read.

Here’s the idea, in case you aren’t already living through this elf / shelf mania. The book tells the story of this helpful little elf that joins your household – your family must give him a name, by the way - to do nothing more than spy on the children who live there for the express purpose of reporting their behavior back to Santa on a nightly basis. He's Santa’s helper, on the job daily, who sees everyone while they’re sleeping, and watches them when they’re awake. Not to put to fine a Christmas point on it: he knows if you’ve been bad or good. But let’s make this distinction: his message isn’t to be good for goodness sake. No, this spy-elf more or less promises good children that Santa will reward them with every gift on their lists. The bad children will be left with nothing, no doubt.

Talk about behavior modification! Every night, the elf returns to the North Pole to make his report, but he’s right back on the job before day breaks, ready for a new round of noticing every move the kids make. The parents help create the illusion of a globe-trotting elf by carefully placing him in a new spot every day, so it’s clear he’s been away filing his report while the children slept. Upon his return, he settles into a new spot in the house, ready to keep his eye on the kids. Some children apparently just love searching for him each morning.

So let’s summarize this from a child’s point of view: a daily recap to Santa on your every move, and a promise of material rewards for good behavior. Charming. What’s not to like about that?

First, I love that kids seem excited about this little guy. It’s adorable. Little children at Christmas are mostly adorable. Second, well…there is no second.

I think it’s kind of risky for parents to invite a fictional Christmas spy – even a sweet little elf spy - into the home to help keep the children in line. Believe me, they’re not doing themselves any favors. In fact, more than a few reviews I’ve read on websites indicate that once Christmas has come and gone, the resolutions about good behavior last about as long as the dead tree no one has watered since December 21.

I’ve heard first-hand stories this mid-December from parents, strongly indicating that they’ve reached just about at the end of their tether when it comes to moving this cockamamie elf to a new location every day. Do you hide him? Leave him in plain view? Make it easy for kids to reach or position the elf in some inaccessible places? (And I think all the elves are boys, by the way. Which is annoying for some reason but I don't have the energy to wage a battle about that just now.)

Tales abound of parents leaping out of a sound sleep at 3 am because they forgot to move the elf before going to bed. [Moment of recognition: I used to slip tooth fairy money under pillows as I woke my kids up in the morning. Yes, we often – perhaps almost always – forgot to place the silver dollar we gave them under their pillows before we went to bed for the night. I’m positive I’d forget about this ridiculous elf at least four times a week.]

I heard the story of one mother who made the mistake of dangling their elf from a lighting fixture and he was slightly singed as a result. Her children were inconsolable. I can only imagine what cover-up story she told them. Maybe he stood too close to the fireplace in the workshop at the North Pole.

I guarantee you had we owned an elf on the shelf, I would have moved him incrementally from day to day. I’m not certain but I don’t think the rules call for him moving from room to room or floor to ceiling. He would have moved from one side of the sofa to the other, or one side of our bookshelf to another all month long.

So where are we with this? I don’t know. It’s kind of cute but kind of odd. It’s indicative of what we’ve become in a way. It’s not enough to tell our children about Santa Claus, with some kind of benign “he’s keeping an eye on you!!” story. In the good old days, elves made toys, they didn’t spy on children. In the words of the chipper little song that accompanies the book on CD,

"Every year at Christmas Santa sends his elves to watch you

And they go back to tell him who’s been bad and who’s been good!

The elf on the shelf is watching you – what you say, what you do…

The elf on the shelf is watching you each and every Christmas.

The elf on the shelf is watching you each and every Christmas

Dear God. I wonder if the elf on the shelf would watch me not write out the Christmas cards that have been sitting on our coffee table for two weeks. Watch me hop online and order more gifts that I’m positive will arrive promptly on December 28. He could watch as I have yet to bake even one cookie.

I’d love to hear from parents who have invited this little fellow into their Christmas holidays. I am probably entirely wrong about this and it's delightful and I need to lighten up. Maybe kids love it. Maybe parents love the fantasy as well. God bless.

But it’s still a little creepy.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Quite literally, I am missing the point here.

Honest to God, I think we all must have too much money again.

I was reading the Continental magazine on my latest trip and came across an article titled Presents of Mind, that offered the perennial "gift ideas for everyone on your list." The point here was that we need to be creative and give gifts that speak to the recipient's interests or character. Yes, who would dispute that?

I doubted that I'd find any real ideas but hey – it’s already about two weeks until Christmas and I’ve purchased exactly two gifts so maybe I needed a push. Maybe there were ideas here after all.

LEGO Container Truck ($69.99) – nope. Fun - especially since it had functional steering and a motor and a linear actuator - but we’ve been out of the Lego world for years now. I don't know what a linear actuator is, anyway.

An Apple Magic Trackpad ($69), which could be a good idea for someone except I read the description twice and I still don’t know what it does. Plus, the description said it requires OS X 10.6.4 or higher. I don’t know what that means.

Some kind of combination light / speakers things ($599) that delivers different songs to different speakers throughout your home: “ a stand-alone transmitter sends audio wirelessly to an LED bulb, which fits into a recessed light fixture…and because you can send signals to different bulbs, you can pump beats into one room while enveloping another in soothing jazz and yet in another….” Whatever. I haven’t figured out how to turn on our stereo at home and we’ve lived there for about eighteen years. Like the Apple product, this description contained many words and phrases I couldn’t define accurately.

A Bugaboo Bee stroller. Finally, something I understand. I’m not in the market for a stroller but even if I were, I can’t imagine spending $600 on anything even remotely connected to transportation that doesn’t also come with a key.

A pretty overnight weekender bag ($240) – maybe. But I really wanted it for myself when I saw it so I’d buy one and want to keep it. Not good.

A diver’s watch – except it cost almost $5,000. Plus, I don’t really know anyone who dives regularly and frequently enough to warrant a watch. Plus, anyone who would wear this without diving is annoying. Plus, this was available from a high-end, used watch dealer, which makes me worry about the diver I never met who wore it last.

Wait a minute – here we go! A croquet set! Lovely! Fun for everyone!! And a rule book, and a history / tactics book. And a handmade, gold-lined winning post. Wait a minute. Here we don’t go: $1,650.

A Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame jacket ($64.99). Nah.

A coffee table book full of gorgeous dessert photography ($29.95). Could be fun for the right person but I don’t have that person on my list. And if I owned it, I’d want to eat dessert even more often than I already do. Nope.

Ah – here we go, yet another item that doesn’t work for my list. Bark’n’Boot Polar Trex. Extra traction booties of some kind for dogs to wear to protect them from ice, rocks, frozen terrain…and salted sidewalks. They’re $89.95 and I couldn’t tell if that was for a set of four Bark’n’Boots or for just the one. No matter. I’m not buying them for any dog I know. And I don’t care how sturdy they are, I guarantee you our Charlie-dog would have chewed them to bits before sunset on Christmas Day if we had ever tried to affix them to his paws.

This isn’t working. I’ve found nothing for anyone on my list. Most of this stuff is too expensive, anyway. Is there nothing for under twenty bucks? Something perfect and fun and quirky and unique?

Hold on. Here you go. And before you read any further, I swear to you I am not making this up. For just $15, Artisanal Pencil Sharpening (yes, you read that correctly) will choose a standard #2 pencil for you – or send them your own! – and craftsman David Rees will sharpen it by hand “to as fine a point as you have ever seen.” He’ll even bag and send the shavings to you; shavings that were “painstakingly removed from the pencil during the sharpening process.”

And please don’t worry about being misled (Get it?? Mis-led?). They’ll stand behind their excellent work and send you “a certificate that attests to the sharpness of your writing implement.”

“ .”

I’m mostly speechless, here. And not to put too fine a point on this (see what I did there?) … but … what? You send this guy, David, a pencil and $15 and he’ll send it back sharpened by hand? Along with the shavings he took off the ‘writing implement?”

Dear God, we are in danger of dying off as a species if we can’t quite manage, nor are we satisfied with, a pencil that hasn't had its tip crafted and shaped by hand by sending it off to

But I’d like to think I’m a glass half full girl. Someone please call the AP and the other wire services. Send press releases to The Economist, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, Financial Times and Kiplinger’s. The recession – long rumored to be over – is truly behind us.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different was you." Hmmm.

It’s been a week.

That sound you don’t hear is the sound of mothers from coast to coast, sitting amidst the quiet in their homes this evening. They’re walking past doors they slip a chain lock across at the end of the evening, past beds that remain smoothly made in tidy rooms and past towels that hang neatly – for days on end - in the bathroom. They notice the car parked outside, albeit with only half a gallon of gas in the tank. They walk past kitchen cabinets where favorite cereals, snacks and drinks that were on hand just one week ago, are all gone.

They’ve all said a post-Thanksgiving goodbye to sons and daughters who headed back to college following the holiday break. And almost no part of it feels very good.

This is the third year I’ve sent someone back to college after Thanksgiving. In 2008, my oldest son came and went, exhibiting a bit of the “you’re not the boss of me” attitude I’d anticipated from my college freshman but somehow was still not fully prepared to handle. In 2009 and again this year, my second and third sons joined in the fun of arriving home, hovering in and around the family for several days, and then leaping back into what had quickly become their new normal.

So – three rounds of this and you know what? It doesn’t get easier. At least for me it doesn’t.

What became evident to me, this year more than in the past, is that no matter how much you want it to remain safe and familiar, and no matter how hard you try to recreate a moment, you can’t do it. Life continues to evolve and the people in it do, too. Salinger expressed this so much more poetically in ‘Catcher’ when Holden talked about walking through the unchanging exhibits and figures in the Museum of Natural History: “Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. … Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”

Well, let me think about this. Our rooms remain the same, with the same picture still leaning against one wall, waiting to be hung properly (it’s been there for eleven months – I’m not joking.) Other photos sit on a table, waiting for the right frames. The rooms remain filled with the papers, books, magazines, notes, flyers, and newspapers. [For years, I’ve believed in the ‘butterfly effect.’ A butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing and a piece of paper lands on a flat surface in our home.] But even if all that remains unchanged, I feel like we’re all different, in small almost indefinable ways this year.

For example, despite their protests, I used to “wait up” for the boys, dozing on the sofa until I heard the door open and I could hug them all good night. I don’t know why I thought this made a difference to the outcome of any activity on the planet, or why sofa-sleep somehow indicated I was more attentive than bed-sleep. (It didn’t by the way, although no one could convince me of that at the time.)

That has given way to “waiting up” while lying comfortably in bed, and sleeping lightly until I hear their footsteps on the stairs. I’ve told the boys that no matter the hour, I will hear them arrive home. At night, I have the hearing of an Egyptian slit-eared bat. Last week, I heard one, then a second son enter and exit a bathroom, then heard two bedroom doors close. In my mind: “Two? Only two? “ Someone’s missing… Click. A third door. “Ah, there he is.” And then I snuggled under covers and dozed off.

So what does that make me? Less concerned? Less committed to motherhood? Neither of those things. It just proves my point: the setting remains but the people evolve.

But I guess I’m wondering what Holden may have meant by having “certain things” stay the way they are. I don’t really want to stick anything or anyone in a glass case but the idea of preserving the moments I’ve cherished as the boys grew up is tempting. Then I remind myself that this is real life, not a museum of life. The only person I can think of who preserved the past to help him live in the present was Norman Bates, for God’s sake.

Every stage of their lives has been a fascinating journey of discovery as we all found out - incredibly incrementally I might add – who we were. Who we were when we were fighting, or furious. When we were thrilled with our circumstances and laughing uncontrollably. Or when we were bereft and very nearly inconsolable. And who we were for every single hour in between. Every moment left its own little footprint, and each one was a discovery we wouldn’t have made had we been frozen in one spot.

Here’s the thing. I watch my boys – who are really no longer boys, but young adults – and I think, for the nine millionth time – are you okay? I’m wondering if any of the fourteen thousand decisions I made about anything that was super-critically, God-we'd-better-get-this right important while you were growing up – not one of which I can name right now - meant anything in the long run.

At the same time, let me just say: they’re amazing people. All on their own, they’re each one an amazing young man. It’s been my enormous good fortune and blessing to have them in my life for more than twenty years. And in these last few years, as they wander in and out of our home on their way to the future, I keep thinking about another line from Holden’s visit to the museum: “The birds nearest you were all stuffed and hung up on wires, and the ones in the back were just painted on the wall, but they all looked like they were really flying south…”

So yes; I see them but they’re moving further away, on their way to a new destination.

But it’s all good! I’m good! I’m good with that. And I’m bad with that. And thinking: only about two more weeks until winter break.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

There are two kinds of women on the planet.

This is going to be one of those posts that could get me in trouble. And while I welcome – and cherish – all comments, tonight’s little rant is mostly directed at the women reading this, women who may decide never to stop back here, and never comment, again. But I hope that’s not the case because you often prop me up and keep me from teetering right off the edge. (And for the men who read this, and the men who comment: you are some of my favorite people ever, even if we've never met.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a theme keep resurfacing in my life and today, a woman I work with synthesized the whole thing in one succinct statement. As we caught each other up on the details of our lives, she explained some of her attitudes and behavior by saying, “You know I’m really gay man inside, right?”

Now, before anyone gets offended, this was in no way a slight to men or women, gay or straight. I knew exactly what she meant. She described herself as someone (in her case, at least partially) driven by testosterone, who is attracted to others mostly driven by testosterone. Put another way, she meant exactly the same thing another friend of mine and I said to each other earlier this week. We were discussing our (admittedly perhaps, harsh) approach to a business challenge and I said something like, “I must have misplaced my estrogen somewhere along the line.” She totally understood what I meant.

Let me sum up here: sometimes I feel like I’m SO not a girl. I don’t understand how women tick, and I don’t mean that in a nasty, catty way. To coin a phrase, some of my best friends are women. It’s just that often, I watch other women, or listen to them, and realize that I’m about seven lifetimes away from doing or saying anything like that. What follows is a partial list of stuff I don’t seem to have a natural affinity toward doing, any inclination to do, or any real interest in pursuing:

Decorations: The one and only time I decorate our home is at Christmastime, and I do have to admit I go a little crazy there. But when my boys were younger, I tried to be a good mom and celebrate holidays in a ‘mother of small children’ kind of way but even I can admit it was half-hearted, if that. (Quarter-hearted?) Suffice it to say I never put out flags of any kinds, or valentine hearts or shamrocks or gourds or turkeys or pilgrims. On or about October 29 each year, I’d unpack a few pumpkins and skeletons from a box tucked away in our storage area and scatter them around. Sometime every spring I’d find some bunnies and eggs, just in time for Easter Sunday. That was it. Absolutely it.

That’s kind of pathetic; you don’t have to tell me that. Put it this way: walk into our house on February 14 and take a good look around. I guarantee you it will look exactly the same if walk in again on July 4.

Thing is: I love to see a beautifully decorated room. I love to walk into someone’s home and see that she’s taken some time to welcome a season or a holiday and has shown it in her surroundings. So what’s with me? How did I not learn this?

Decorations, part 2: sweaters. There are two kinds of women in the world: women who own holiday sweaters and women who don’t. This isn’t a judgment; just an observation. You won’t be surprised to learn I don’t own a holiday sweater of any kind. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t dislike them, and in fact felt a little out of place NOT wearing one while my boys were younger. Seemed like every woman I ran into at various school events had the season cheerfully displayed on her sweater (some more, err, cheerfully than others but let’s leave that discussion aside for now.)

And yet – never bought one. Never wore one. How did I not learn how to do this? How is this not a natural part of my middle-class American Mom DNA?

Supplies: First aid, snacks, wipes, and various other small miracles women pull out of their purses on a daily basis. I never carried a small bottle of Tylenol, a pack of Band-Aids, tissues, or a small scissors on me to be prepared for possible small emergencies. (Still don’t, to this day.) I never carried a tiny container of goldfish snacks for the boys; I never had a damp washcloth in a Ziploc bag to wipe sticky hands or faces.

I love that some women can reach into their bags and practically stitch up a minor injury or splint a fractured finger on the fly should it be required. They always carry treats, comforting little extras of all kinds and always enough for everyone. Amazing. Admirable. And absolutely foreign to me.

And speaking of their bags, I never quite got that memo, either. I went through a brief purse phase when I was in my twenties, and I sort of outgrew it. Purses haven’t meant much to me since, although I have purse envy quite often. Women always have better, nicer, cooler, more stylish purses than I. And I never really seem to do much about that.

Okay, I think you’re getting the picture here, right?

My point is that given my interactions with the women I mentioned earlier, maybe I’m not such a freak. Maybe there are more of me out there than I think. (Maybe not.) Then again, it’s probably not an accident I would connect with women friends who are simpatico with my point of view.

It could also be that because I’ve been in the workplace for more than thirty years, I’ve lost touch with some of the softer sides of womanhood. The sides that celebrate things like valentine hearts and purses with a million cool little sections to hold dozens of cool little things. The sides that remember that Halloween comes every year at the end of October and any thinking about the costumes the kids would wear to go trick-or-treating should probably take place earlier than the afternoon of October 30.

So is there a conclusion here? Can I really just fall back on my “I blame Gloria” catch-all explanation for everything I find confounding and mildly disturbing about the reality of womanhood these days?

Why yes; yes, I think I can. Somewhere along the line, Gloria and her cohorts planted some kind of seed in at least some of us, a seed that grew into a veritable garden of overcompensating for our gender – as if that were a hindrance - and trying too hard to be “neutral.” At this point in my life, I can’t tell how much of this is me and how much of it is her. And it’s kind of pissing me off to tell you the truth.

But I don’t think I’m entirely a lost cause. I still totally have faith in my shoe-of-the-month club concept, for example. And I have, right now, at least eight kinds of black slacks hanging in my closet because you can never stop shopping for the perfect black slacks. Let’s not even get into my Colin Firth issues.

My real question is: how did I get to be a certain age and still have so many doubts? Are we all kind of faking it – the confidence, the stiff upper lip, the Helen-Reddy-ness of it all? Maybe some of us don’t. I’d love to meet the woman who doesn’t. She would be formidable and fierce and fabulous.

Maybe we all go on ‘girl weekends’ or ‘girl getaways’ and ‘girls night’s out’ or ‘in’ so we can reassure each other that we’re not insane. That taking divergent paths toward womanhood doesn’t mean we’ve traveled on parallel paths that never intersect. Not at all. Sometimes I feel like we’re just a nation of Kate’s and Allie’s, trying to figure out the next steps as we enter the last 30 or 40 years of our lives. And if that’s the case, it feels good to have all kinds of companions along the way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No. No one needs one of those, either.

Despite what the last post implies, whenever I’m perplexed about what to buy someone, I usually solve the problem by visiting a bookstore. I ask you: where else can you shop for people on your list who have interests that might range from Harley Davidson to Jacques-Louis David?

Which is why I cannot understand the items you find near the checkout in bookstores. Well, yes I can, from a purely marketing perspective. Like all retailers, booksellers design “cash wrap” displays specifically to appeal to buyers on an impulse level, and entice us to pick up just one more item on our way out the door. We’re already in line, credit card or cash in hand – why not add the little bonsai in a box kit or a startling little journal called “All About Me?”

Impulse is one thing. But from a “what can I buy Aunt Alice this year” perspective, I just don’t get it. Browsing this eclectic display, much less buying anything here, makes no sense to me when the bookstore itself lays the entire universe at our feet.

Sadly, this selection of “gifts you might never ever think about buying someone” isn’t a bookstore-only phenomenon. You can’t navigate any retail establishment this time of year without bouncing off a kiosk packed full of “does anyone really need this” right next to the ”I’m positive no one needs one of those.”

I’d like to go on record here but before I do, let me say this: If you already own one of the items that follow and simply love it to pieces, God bless and enjoy. If you’ve purchased one or more for someone on your list, may they live long and happily with it. The spice of life, and all that. But for me, I’ll know I’ve inexplicably reached the “she’s impossible to buy for” list if I ever receive any of the following:

1. A pillow with the word “dream” stitched across it. Or “love” or “serenity” or “breathe” or “vision.” It’s not that I begrudge these feelings or states of mind, but embroidering it on a pillow doesn’t make it so no matter how much we all channel our inner Julia Roberts. [Yes, I do sometimes wonder where I’ve misplaced my estrogen.]

2. One candle and one bottle of bath oil packaged up as something called “spa in a box.” I’m far from the most worldly, the most cosmopolitan woman on the planet but if this is a spa in a box, I’ve been sadly led astray about the spa experience.

3. And if only because it sets my teeth on edge, I don’t ever want a “pocket ‘brella,” although it might come in handy during the next ‘understorm.’

But far be it from me to suggest you bypass those “great gift ideas!” kiosks you’ll run into over the next few weeks. You never know what gems night be hiding there. Just be aware that some enthusiasts are better served than others. Golfer on your list? You’re all set. Buy a golf business card holder, a snow globe containing a golf ball, a mini-golf bag designed to carry toiletries, a barbecue set where the handles look and feel like golf clubs, a talking pop-up putter cup, golf club bookends, gold ball finder glasses, or a golf picture frame.

For the wine lover on your list, create a gift set with the battery-operated corkscrew (“no more twisting or tugging!!”) and the electronic pocket wine master, so he or she will always select the perfect wine in a restaurant. I’m sorry, I thought that nugget of information was exactly what a wine steward lives to discuss with you. Not every single bit of information in the universe has to be captured in a handheld device, does it? How did something so organic – wine- become so gadget-laden?

Moving beyond the special interest groups, let’s review the annual standards: the ubiquitous lock de-icers, electric windshield scrapers, and electronic tie-spinning racks. All useful enough, I guess, but each one cries out: “You’re so hard to buy for! I finally picked this up after I spent four hours wandering around the store.”

But not one of these are quite as useless as the basketball shot glass game, the mini-helmet display case, or the diaper dude pacifier pouch.

But I suppose it’s true enough that one woman’s lavender aromatherapy is another woman’s sleep sound pillow, so to speak. At this forgiving time of year, I’m trying to remind myself that the magic of the gift-giving season lies in the joy behind the giving, even if that joy comes wrapped as a mounted, singing, plastic bass. So if you know someone who will absolutely cherish the Chihuahua who dances to “Oye Como Va” at the touch of a button, knock yourself out. The smile that morning is what you’ll remember, long after the present disappears in the yard sale next spring.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Christmas Treacle

Nothing like a quick Sunday evening trip to Barnes and Noble to wind me up.

Before I hear from everyone who is ready to accuse me of jealousy and envy, let me stop you right there. I LOVE to read good writing and have nothing but admiration for authors who challenge me or entertain me. How any writer breaks out of the pack of thousands and thousands of titles and finds a following is beyond me (obviously.)

Mostly, I deeply admire and yes, maybe envy, writers who can make me laugh. It’s not that I’m difficult to please. It’s mostly that “writing funny” is pretty difficult and few people do it well.

This post isn’t about any of that. It’s about Christmas. Or more specifically, about Christmas books.

For some reason, this latest trip to the bookstore made it obvious that one of the components of publishing success that has somehow eluded me is using the word “Christmas” in your title, preferably linked with something admirable, lovely, warm, promising or comforting. lists indicates it offers 90,899 books that contain “Christmas” in the title. I offer the following partial list to review:

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The Christmas Box

The Christmas Sweater

The Christmas Shoes
(This is of particular note in our house for many reasons. We mock this one relentlessly and without remorse every single year.)

The Christmas Secret

The Christmas Hope

A Christmas Promise

The Christmas Promise

The Christmas Pearl

The Christmas Clock

The Christmas Dog

The Magical Christmas Cat

The Christmas List

The Christmas Cookie Club

A Plain & Simple Christmas

The Christmas Bus

The Christmas Train

Christmas Jars

Christmas Jars Reunion

Subtitles also matter here:
The Christmas Spirit: Memories of Family, Friends and Faith

The Christmas Box Miracle: My Spiritual Journey of Destiny, Healing and Hope

The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Book

Had enough yet? Me, too.

Let me clarify one other point here. I adore Christmas. I do. Ask my kids or my husband.

I start listening to Christmas music without apology in November.

I’m the one who arranges our theater evening every year to attend Civic Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol. Over the years, two of my boys have appeared in the show. I watch the movie on television every year, the George C. Scott version. (Don’t even speak to me about any others, including the Alistair Sim version. Not open to debate as far as I’m concerned.) I read the Dickens story.

I find a performance of The Messiah each year.

I bake. I send cards. I decorate. In fact, Christmas is the one and only time of year my house gets any kind of decorative treatment.

I get sentimental about Christmas. There. I said it. But I don’t “get” the ideas behind these kinds of Christmas books. I haven’t read even one of them but I guarantee they all tell a story of love and sacrifice and compassion and humanity and fellowship. A story of a despairing someone meeting a wise someone – and the source of that wisdom can be older (see The Christmas Box) or younger (see The Christmas Shoes), makes no difference – and then learning the “true meaning” just when they need it. The story of how almost anything you can name is a metaphor for Christmas.

Well, I guess not almost anything. Admittedly, I paged through only ten pages of the Amazon list so I barely cracked the 90,000 +, but I’ll bet I won’t find these:

Christmas Turtle

Wrong. That book exists. And guess what? It’s “a heartwarming story that explores the special love a grandmother has for her grandchildren.”

Maybe choosing an object to symbolize the season isn't a good idea. What about using those moments of life that aren’t so darned happy? I’ll bet I won’t find any of them in Christmas books. Wrong again. Pages of titles described less than golden moments around the tree: Oscar’s Lonely Christmas, The Lonely Snowman, Byron the Lonely Christmas Tree, All Alone at Christmas, Oliver All Alone, A Cold Christmas, and Kitten in the Cold. (Several of these had adorable yellow lab puppies on the cover who looked sad.) Dear God! Who buys these? Are you crying yet?

Or how about this? A Stranger for Christmas. Guess what? It’s a “very special story about love, family, and miracles…the true meaning of Christmas… a story to remind us of the values we cherish, the people we love, and the lessons of the holiday season.”

Ugh. I’m about to get Christmas Nauseous. Or Christmas Cranky. I wonder if anyone would buy Christmas Curmudgeon, the story of a woman of a certain age who discovered ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ after she was inundated with cloying, vacuous Christmas books one night in the bookstore. She discovered ‘the lessons of the holiday season’ by resolving to eat more cookies, drink more eggnog and surround herself with people who celebrated the season by never reading books like these.

My day feels more merry and bright already.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

5 hours? Try 30 seconds. That's all you'll need to view proof that the "women's movement" was an illusion.

Opening shot: a harried, attractive woman arrives home. She walks in, and closes the front door behind her with her foot. Two young boys who look about ten years old go running by, without acknowledging her, waving toys and making noise. She drops her shoulder bag on to a bench and continues into the home, carrying two packed grocery bags into her kitchen. She’s talking to us about her “2:30 feeling,” as she arrives home after her ‘first job’ to begin her ‘second job,’ presumably with her family.

She enters her spacious, spotless, granite-filled kitchen. At the table sit two other children, more sedate than the high-spirited youngsters who ran through the foyer earlier, children who appear to be either happily working on homework or otherwise quietly occupied. Note: neither of them greets the woman either.

At this point, I’m confused. I can only guess she’s either the hired help everyone feels perfectly comfortable ignoring for some reason or their over-worked, exhausted mother who demands not one thing from them, not even a greeting when she enters the room.

A cautious, responsible woman, she despairs about her stressful, tiring day and then informs us of her recent decision to load up on legal stimulants. She admits that she was “nervous” at first, but her husband reassured her of the efficacy and safety of this miracle drink. She takes two packages out of her grocery bag – his and her, I guess – and as she tells the story of his endorsement, she mimics his yapping mouth and rolls her eyes, as if he couldn’t possibly tell her anything of value about any subject at any time that could be trusted. Her husband – the moron! – this stuff works for him. Somehow, despite his seemingly poor track record for sharing relevant, factual information, she decided to give him a chance and give his suggestion a whirl. It has only a few calories – thank God! She can keep her girlish figure. Zero sugar – again, so she can fit into her skinny jeans easily.

[I’m interrupting this narrative to admit that this is nothing new. Men shown in commercials have been the recipients of derisive comments, mockery and other uncharitable depictions for years. This one is sort of like that but it’s more than that, too. It’s an equal opportunity insult-fest. Read on.]

She walks over to him to deliver his own little set of bottles, presumably to help him overcome his debilitating “2:30 feeling” and…wait a minute! I know what you’re thinking but you’re wrong. Unlike his wife, he’s not frantic with activity and just trying to make it through his own slump. He’s not vacuuming or changing the oil or raking the yard or cleaning the gutters or doing another load of laundry or starting dinner. He’s on the sofa. Sitting on the sofa quietly, as two boys run amok, as two other kids do homework and as his wife – between her two jobs apparently - carries two full bags of groceries in to the house. There he is – just sitting. And even better: reading a magazine.

She plops down next to him and then admits he was right about one thing: exactly what she needs to drink to get more energy every day. He delivers one line in this marketing masterpiece: “Told you so.”

Is it me? (Don’t answer that.) This makes me insane. I hate that it’s nearly 2011 and we’re subjected to a little commercial tableau featuring a wife/homemaker/working woman, reminiscent of Ms. Helen Reddy circa 1972. I hate that this husband sits around like a king in his castle.

And all this time, I thought AMC’s Madmen was supposed to be a period piece, pointing out the quirks and wrong-headed thinking of a different age. If this commercial is an example of the sales pitches created by ad agencies these days, it turns out not one thing has changed on Madison Avenue in fifty years, except possibly the smoking policies.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I dearly wish I could tell you I made this up. Wrong.

Just in time for the midterm elections, I have some news to share. It’s official: the recession is over.

Exhibit A: the placenta teddy bear.

In an amazing display that combines equal parts narcissism and queasiness, new parents can now preserve the awe-inspiring, nourishing, life-giving force from a mother’s womb as a leathery, frightening-looking teddy bear, made entirely from a placenta. It looks kind of like a bear that would lead to night terrors, if you ask me.

I don’t know about you but I have just about had it with the egocentricity of people who have a child, and then proceed to act as if they are the first parents ever on the planet. You’ve been around them, I know you have. They give themselves away by using phrases like “teachable moment.” They read things like Cookie and Brain Child, The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. They worry endlessly about stuff like high-fructose corn syrup and other poison-laden Halloween candy. And now, apparently, they make teddy bears out of a placenta.

It’s exactly what you imagine it to be; in fact, it could be even worse. Let’s take a look at this, shall we?

After delivering your genius-to-be, you lovingly and ceremoniously cut that cord, then save and prepare your placenta for what’s to come. You stretch and “cure” the membranes for a while. [Stop reading right now if you’re anticipating step-by-step instructions with a time frame, a list of curing ingredients and other details from here on out. I was too incredulous to take notes on this.] Then you stuff it with something – God knows what – and sew it up with something else – no idea - and there it is. Arms and legs; a body and a face without eyes that, sure, looks kind of like a bear. The no-eye look is kind of creepy, and that’s saying a lot since this whole thing is a world of creepy to begin with.

But sure, it's a bear I guess. The kind a prehistoric toddler may have dragged around the cave while the Neanderthal moms had playgroup together and cured meat/skins in their cave kitchen area, meat and skins not unlike the cured materials used to create the teddy bear their child never puts away in the cave toy box. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here – or behind ourselves, maybe?

I couldn’t tell from the website whether or not 21st century children actually ever play with their placenta bear or not. I suspect not since it was displayed in a glass container. It didn’t look all that sturdy to tell you the truth. Instead, it appeared to be kind of decorative, if by decorative, you mean ‘Silence-of-the-Lambs-basement’ decorative.

I blame the mother, here. I really do. Isn’t it enough that she experienced a healthy pregnancy and delivered a child? I would imagine the existence of the child is proof enough of the miracles her nourishing womb is capable of producing. But no, that’s not enough. She needs her placenta on display, albeit shaped and stuffed, to prove to the world that she and her body nursed a child to life.

I ask you: why else would someone do this? It’s the worst kind of “look at me,look at me, look at me, please” behavior because it’s not even honest. They disguise it as something ostensibly for their child. And the worst part? If this is what they do after just a few weeks or months of motherhood, what will they do after years? Oy. This is just the beginning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm a true Capricorn. (A statement that would mean so much more if I believed in astrology.)

Possibly surprising facts that may not be entirely obvious nor entirely congruent about me. I don’t promise this will be cohesive or satisfying. You’ve been warned.

Am I getting more impatient or are people getting dumber?
I hate when people make you stop giving out a phone number because they have to interrupt you to repeat the number after you. You know what I mean. You start with 101 (the area code, since we all now have nineteen phones with 14 different areas codes), and then they jump right in and say, “101”, then you say “202,” (“202” they exclaim, with great concentration), then you try to finish with 33 (“okay, 33”), and you finally conclude this complex algorithm with 44. (“44. So: 101-pause-202-pause-33-pause-44.”) Hate it. It makes me clench my teeth. How is it possible that you can hold no more than three numbers in your head at one time? How?

I’ve found that I can fool people into skipping this moronic routine by giving out phone number like this: 101 (pause) 202 (pause) 3 (pause) 344. That way, I have to endure only two pauses, because very few people will actually take a moment to repeat just one number back to you.

I prefer to think of it as dedication.
I play ENTIRELY too much solitaire online.

I used to play in the early evening, during the years I wrote the weekly newspaper column. As I did this very, very mindless exercise, I would compose the column in my head. I would organize it, think about the pace of it, the structure, the phrases I wanted to use, the parallels, the analogies and how it should begin and end.

All of this was quite unconscious to a large extent – not all of it – but much of it was. It was kind of in the back of my mind, simmering and fermenting and coming to a rolling boil, all while I did something else in the front of my mind. And then when I was ready to let it out, it went from the back of my mind to the keyboard, usually in one continuous session, almost as if I were taking dictation from my head.

It wasn’t done by any means. But it was there. And I could read it and fix it and cut entire paragraphs out of it before I turned it in, usually the first one. I would rarely love the column when it appeared, but it usually didn't make me insane to read it. Once in a while it did, though. When that happened, I would call them "the columns that got away."

But these days, I find myself playing solitaire and composing very little in my head. I seem to be in some kind of “this writing is crap,” “this reads like garbage,” and “this is so uninspiring it’s awesome” mode, which may well be all too true.

Music transcends life.
I LOVE gospel music. I must have been a Baptist in another life, who sung in the choir every week. It’s just so heartfelt and so passionate. It’s so full of hope and honest emotion. The singers seem to put it all out there, which is something I doubt I’ve ever felt comfortable enough to do even once in my life. And there’s a small part of me that regrets it.

You say obsessive; I say scarily, enthusiastically focused.

I can be just a little, just a smidge, just a tad…obsessive. I tend to immerse myself in something that fascinates me at any given moment. When I love a movie, I LOVE it. Same with a TV show. I have been known to watch hours (literally) of Law & Order or In Treatment or Lost.

If I read a non-fiction book I like, I’ll read everything I can about that topic for a while. I’ll discuss it like crazy with people I more or less force to read it just so we can talk about it. Or if I like a novel, I’ll re-read it a bunch of times – I’ll leave it at that (“a bunch”) – and try to find something new that fascinates me. I usually do, too. Somewhere along the line, my re-reads become explorations, mostly about the language or the choices the writer made. I wonder why and I wish I could have him or her over to dinner to chat about it. Until dawn, maybe.

I'm outing myself. Give me credit for that, at least.
I really don’t “get” NPR. I tried for a long time. I really did. But when I stopped listening, it was because I finally realized this: the best way to make a bleak day even bleaker was to listen to NPR. And the last thing I need is to find a way to add more bleakness into my life.

Maybe that makes me a moron. Or at least not nearly as smart as everyone who simply adores NPR. There’s that whole “I’m smarter than you are” aspect of NPR that makes me insane. (This feeling is connected by a dotted line to the contrary streak I have that makes me want o dislike things that almost everyone likes.)


Hmmmm. Does any of this resonate with anyone? Am I simply too mean to live sometimes? I’ll try to think of some more pleasant aspects of my personality to share. That should be interesting.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

In praise of HBO's 'Darkness,' Bruce and being perennially 19.

“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore. Show a little faith!

There’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re all right. And that’s all right with me.”

I can tell you exactly where those words take me. I’m 19 again. It’s August 18, 1978…just after 2 a.m. outside the recently departed Spectrum. There we stood, first with a crowd of 100 people or so. And as the hour got later, and then later, we dwindled down to a group of maybe 15 or 16. People who were, for that moment in time, our closest friends. Springsteen fans all, gathered by that inconspicuous little door, daring to imagine how the evening might end before we all headed out to our deserted cars in the parking lot.

It was different times, back in ’78. We were different. It was long before we had jobs, husbands, houses or kids. Before our 401(k)s and Visa cards and life insurance. Before the stretch marks and tiny, fine lines; before we patronized colorists and invested in Spanx. Everything about us was 19. We were all about the warm August night and the cold beer in our hands. All about dancing and singing and clutching each other as we paid homage with 20,000 other faithful. That night, we were all about Bruce and the band and the music and the moments he spoke to us from his soul, from the stage.

Janice, Cathy, Leslie and I – all 19 – wondering just what in the world we thought we were doing there. Not quite understanding why we hadn’t simply hit the road and headed for the shore after the concert, which had been the plan from the start. But we’d already invested $8.50 a ticket in this show, plus parking; and already waited this long. Maybe he’d come out and say hello.

I’ll see this forever in my mind. A small window in the door. One of the girls pressing her face against it for what seems like one solid hour. She backs up – and with a small shriek, throws her arms around his neck. And then, just like that, there he was. White T-shirt, jeans, walking toward what had become our intimate little group, asking us what we thought of the show. Bruce. The man we’d all zeroed in on through our binoculars not three hours earlier that night, now, literally, within arm’s reach.

Another clip from my mind: one of the guys had skipped out on his wife to go to the concert with his buddy – the night of his first wedding anniversary for God’s sake. He confessed it all to Bruce who took the beer bottle from the guy’s hand, then wrote a note to her on the label, something like: “Forgive him – he seems like a good guy – Bruce.”

We all came up with scraps of paper and ticket stubs and anything else we had to get an autograph and wouldn’t you know – Bruce had nothing to lean on to sign our scraps. I immediately stepped up – with my binoculars’ case the size of Delaware (’78, remember?) – and held it steady so he could write out his notes to all of us.

Then we all gave him a hug and a kiss – maybe even the guys did that, too – and snapped pictures to prove it. He drove off in a canary yellow Camaro with a smug-looking blonde in the front seat who looked completely bored by the whole thing.

We screamed from Broad Street to Seaside Heights.

Fast–forward several decades. Now wearing our Springsteen T-shirts with the 1978 photos silk-screened across them, we’ve gone on many extended tours with Bruce and the band. At Madison Square Garden in 2000, Janice, Leslie and I staged our own reunion. Fans read the date on our shirts and asked, “Is that you? I was five years old in 1978.”

Les and I have attended many other shows over the years with our husbands, who have no interest at all in hanging out by the loading dock afterwards. Something about Turnpikes or Expressways and backups at the exits…

But you know what? Even as we tramp out to the minivan and try to beat the traffic, we’re all 19 again. But we’re more than that, too. We all hear that screen door slam in our minds. We’re all old enough to understand that should one of us fall behind, the other will wait. We know that lots of times in life, it does feel like you take one step up and two steps back. We’ve learned to live with what we can’t rise above. We’re ready to grow young again.

And that’s all right with us.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

My Tank and Me: One Woman's Search for Peace

Oh my God.

I swear to you this kind of kismet-y stuff seems to happen to me all the time. ALL THE TIME.

So I open USA Today – which I do on a semi-annual basis – and what’s the lead story in the "Life" section on Monday? A story about a new book, from Gotham Chopra and Krishu Chopra, with Deepak Chopra. This amazing new book is titled Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs and the Search for a Happy Life.

Anyone who has even visited this blog even once has probably heard me say this before but I can’t help myself: Oh my dear God in heaven, help me please. I can’t stand this.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. I need to chill. I need to direct this outward. I am doing that. This is my outlet, okay? I might implode otherwise.

I ask you: was the world looking for a guide to stress-free living, the kind that results from walking a dog? You’re kidding me, right?

But let’s assume we were. Everyone was looking for the perfect book about stress-reducing via canine exercise. We all were desperate for guidance on how to walk our dogs, ruminate about life and love and lollipops (or whatever the three Chopra men chat about during their walks in Central Park) and figure out how to release our anxiety, let it travel down the leash in a manner of speaking and away from our inner cores. Assuming everyone was searching for it, is there any reason we had to find it in a book from Gotham Chopra? And, even better, from his three-year-old son, Krishu?

We’ve had books emerge from Mrs. Dr. Phil, from Jay McGraw, Dr. Phil’s author-son, and from Sean Covey (of the Seven Habits Covey’s), among others. Question: Do they have any credentials, other than their personal relationships? Irrelevant, and already addressed by every marketing exec in publishing. They have what passes for credentials these days: the ability to capitalize on an enormous and fawning fan base and sell them even more crap that they don’t need.

Let’s get back to the dog-walking lessons, or stress-free lessons or whatever the Chopra’s have to sell, errr, share with us, shall we? This is my favorite quote in the USA Today article, and the kismet-y part of this story: "My father is all over this book in his own words, so we thought the 'with' was the best way to recognize that," explains Gotham, 35. Having the Deepak Chopra name on a book cover isn't a bad thing, either. He has sold more than 20 million books over the years.

[NOTE: “Having the Deepak Chopra name on a book cover isn't a bad thing, either.” When I was much younger, we used to think about this confluence of favorable circumstances, where one naturally followed the other, a little differently. I think we used to recognize it with a poetic phrase that went something like, “No s--t, Sherlock. “]

Honestly, I found many, many more moments of pure gold in this article. I can only recommend you read it for yourself and enjoy. But here are a few I couldn’t resist noting here:

"She grounds us. We're going in so many different directions. Cleo teaches us to live in the present. She doesn't take herself too seriously." What humans need to do, adds Deepak, is to "tap into that."

"Infinite flexibility is the secret of immortality, and dogs have that ability to adapt," says Deepak, who once again lapses into workshop-speak. Speaking of workshops, he has worked the power of dogs into his seminars, meeting with celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan to talk about leadership.

Apparently, people buy this stuff, literally and figuratively. Remarkable. Maybe I need to turn this around and just be more positive. Maybe I can do this and share the love. Why not? Why not me?

Before we go there, let me make this clear. We all need some form of peace; I get that. And if that means you take a moment each day with the Bible, or you spend time contemplating the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path; or you do TM or run a 5K; or you create a mandala or play a mandolin - God Bless. Namaste. You get no argument from me.

But this kind of specious, vacuous, insipid, cloying attempt to "sell" peace to the masses is repugnant to me. Especially when it trades on the name of someone who has millions of "followers" who are inclined to continue feeding their self-help habits. No matter what form the new "lesson" takes.

So - onto my idea: I’m going to set up a gorgeous, colorful, soothing and restorative tropical fish tank in my home. About two weeks after that, I’m going to submit an outline for the following book proposal to my agent and see where we land: Swimming Smart: Three Generations, Nineteen Fish, and the Search for a Splash-Free Life. (I'll ask my six-year-old great-niece to be my co-author and give my mother a "with" credit.)

The chapters shape up something like this:

The Palette of the Sea: how the many colors, shapes and sizes of fish happily swim side by side, and through their serenity and their (how did the Chopra's put it? Of yeah..) "living in the present," teach us the secrets of living in peace together. (Note to self: do NOT include the fighting fish in this chapter.)

Less is Enough: how fish can teach us the top five tips about healthy nutrition and the dangers of emotional eating. (Tip 1: Eat when you're fed!)

Silent Waters: why talking is highly overrated.

Castles Aren't Roadblocks; They're Beautiful Ways to Teach Us a New Path: swimming through, around or above obstacles with ease.

Moving Is Life: ‘cause if you stop, you’re floating; and if you’re floating, you’re dead.

What do you think?

So scootch over, Gotham. I'm going to be sitting on that couch on Oprah right next to you and Krishu. Just me and my tank. And my 'wisdom.'

Saturday, October 02, 2010

"The way people speak and write nowadays makes my head hurt." Act 1, Cyrano deBergerac

I have no idea how to get an “official” day declared but I’d like to figure it out and suggest one. It will be called: “In Honor of ‘With’” Day. With? With whom you would rightly ask? In this case, the day will be set aside to thank and celebrate the talents and collaboration of the “With” who sits solidly, quietly and barely noticed beneath the “By” name on book covers these days.

Like most blog posts and columns I write, several stars (AKA stories and headlines) collided and I started to think about the underappreciated, workhorse writers whose words make certain books come to life. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not sure many of these books should ever come in contact with a printing press or see the light of a Kindle, but I don’t make that decision. What’s done is done, and in cases like this, done in large part due to the skilled writers who tell the story of the celebrity “author” on the cover.

First, the good news. According to the New York Post, no publishers appear to be interested in publishing the memoirs of Nadya Suleman, the Octomom. She’s been shopping a book around but so far, no takers. I’m positive that’s not due to a wave of rational thinking crashing onto the shores of Manhattan; more like overexposure for a woman who doesn’t have a story that hasn’t already been told on the pages of People or Us magazines. Nonetheless, I guarantee you Suleman’s book would have carried a “with” credit.

Now the bad news: Nicole Polizzi is publishing her first book. A novel, for God’s sake. From the mind of Snookie. It’s due in January and titled something like “A Shore Thing.” Some kind of ‘falling in love at the shore’ epic, no doubt. The book’s online listing doesn’t list her “With,” and I can certainly understand that. The “With” in this case will probably use a pen name to ensure that he or she will continue to work in the publishing industry. And I don’t blame the writer for one second. Getting paid to write anything these days is something of a miracle. So go with God, “With,” whoever you are.

Although it occurs to me that there could be a reason to buy “A Shore Thing.” You know those books and websites that suggest surprising uses for everyday objects? I could buy this book, cut out the middle of all the pages (leaving the perimeter of each intact) and use it to hide my good jewelry in plain sight. Well, if I owned enough good jewelry to warrant that, I would. Let’s face it: once this book is on a shelf, no one would ever pull off again, right? That thing would sit there for years, untouched, and my jewelry would remain safe.

Snookie’s as yet unnamed collaborator notwithstanding - who may turn out to be quite a story-teller, who knows - the list of “With” ’s is long and distinguished. They’ve assisted all kinds of authors telling all kinds of stories: from Lee Iaccoca to Howard Stern; from Patti LuPone to Laura Bush. They listen. They take notes and tape hours of interviews. The best of them smooth out the details and evoke a “voice” we’ll all recognize on the page, while suppressing their own. They watch “their” book climb the bestseller list, and congratulate the author.

Sure, they’ll cash a check for their work. But I’d like to see them take a bow of their own. So who’s with me? I’m proposing April 1, birth date of Edmond Rostand, the French dramatist who wrote the play, Cyrano de Bergerac. If anyone knows the story of supplying someone else with words and taking no credit, Rostand’s character does.

So there it is: Let’s set aside April 1, as our official “In Honor of ‘With’” Day, celebrated the world over by everyone who loves a good read.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I feel much better now. Thank you.

I often find that when something needs saying, it helps me to just put it all out there and then let it go. This is one of those times.

Unfortunately, I also often find brooding about something for decades is almost as helpful.

Which only goes to show - once again - that I have issues.

Irregardless - wait - that's not a word!! See what I did there??!? - I hope you enjoy this piece.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The very existence of this product makes me sad.

Whenever something moves to me to words and eventually to a post here, I think it’s fair to say that often – although not always - there is some aspect of it that’s confusing, troubling, or otherwise inexplicable. This is how I felt the other day as two colleagues and I walked across 42nd street in New York, on our way to a meeting on Third Avenue.

On a big screen, an episode of The Doctors was playing, and one of the women walking with me heard something like “breast wrinkles” or some such nonsense and we all shook our heads over it. Wasn’t it enough that I worried about my eye lines and cheek lines and neck lines? I was doing my best to stop time and create smooth, line-free, pore-free, glowing skin, at least where I thought the world would take notice. Now I had to think about breast wrinkles, where, on a good day, exactly one other person on the planet would notice?

Turns out, I should be worried. According to the experts on The Doctors, if your breasts measure a C cup or larger, you create wrinkles in your décolletage every night while to have the nerve to sleep. Your breasts may rest against each other as you lay asleep, and as a result of that careless, madcap behavior, you’ll wake up with wrinkly breasts.

But no more. You can purchase something called a Kush and solve your problem. A Kush looks something like a short free weight, although undoubtedly softer and not nearly as heavy. You place it between your breasts – although how it remains there throughout the night was never quite explained – and it will ‘lift and separate’ if you will, thereby preventing breast creases or wrinkles or whatever they’re called from taking hold.

In addition to the Kush, the show featured another device that looked somewhat more severe, almost like a bra with a vertical cushion down the middle, but without cups, that just holds you apart for the night.

The most interesting part of this whole presentation for me was the model who laid in “bed” on stage and demonstrated the features and benefits of the Kush. She looked about 26 years old. Let me just say that if she’s worried about breast wrinkles, I’m worried about fitting into my skinny jeans for the big night I have planned at the Bellagio next weekend, two circumstances that are equally plausible.

Now, I’ll go on the record here and tell you that I’ve never had to consider surgery to reduce the size of my breasts. I’ve never endured back pain because of large breasts. This isn't about that, which is a legitimate health concern for some women. However, I am a woman of a certain age and like Nora Ephron, I feel bad about my neck, as well as other parts of my body. But honest to God in heaven, I never thought about nor worried about the possibility of wrinkled breasts. I never wondered if I should sleep with a device that would help reduce the possibility and appearance of wrinkles on my breast tissue.

And as long as I’m ranting about this, I’ll go you one better. You’re a woman of a certain age, doing your best to stay youthful-looking in a society that values and celebrates young beauty. You want to at least feel like you’re in the game, right? Everyone wants to be told she looks a decade younger than she is and youthful, fresh, smooth skin is one of the keys to getting that compliment. But if taking care of myself, staying healthy, staying strong and trying to stay smooth in the process now includes worrying about breast wrinkles, and separating them every night while I sleep at night, I’m out.

And, by the way, keeping them smooth for whom, may I ask? For you? Doubtful but possible, I suppose. For the Mister? Sad. For who then? Exactly. For society that makes us think we we're all supposed to look - and dress - like we're twenty. Or nineteen.

I guess I feel about this whole idea kind of like I do about my stretch marks, God love ‘em. They are the daily reminder – some days more than others – about the babies I carried and nurtured. Don’t get me wrong: They’re not gorgeous. They’re just me, and they represent a few months of my life that resulted in three of the best parts of my life. And honestly? I don't regret one inch of them. Not one.

So – if in fact it turns out I have to live with wrinkled décolletage as I enter my dotage because I never used a Kush every night, so be it. Just another sign of decades of womanhood – some great and some not so great – but all lived in the real world.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I know. It's been a long time, at least by blogger standards.

And I've missed the opportunity many of you have given me by inviting me and my sometimes lucid but often maniacal thoughts into your lives. And while I've never been an every day - or even every other day poster - I did get into a bit of a rhythm there for a while. Thank you to everyone who inquired as to my state of mind and wanted to check that I was okay. So very lovely of you!

Suffice it to say, I've had laptop issues and am now familiar with the phrase "root kit" and the havoc it can create for a hard drive. (Thank you Gene!)

Despite my best efforts to slow it down, life continues to move along and take with it some of my favorite people and things: vacation with family come and gone, my boys home and then gone away to school again, summer days fading. Then again, I can feel the promise of gorgeous fall weather in the offing and even further down the road, some of my favorite times of the year getting ever closer.

But I can't help take this time and remember another beautiful September day, some nine years ago now, and the moments surrounding it that will stay with me always. In that spirit, and in honor of everyone who carries a loss from that day - real or communal - in their hearts, I offer one woman's simple take on the madness that surrounds us.

I look forward to talking with you again as (my hand to God) the laptop comes back to life. As always, your feedback and willingness to share the post much appreciated.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Does EPL mean anything to you? If you answered no, I envy you.

Have you cleared your calendar yet?

With credit card in hand, women across the country are anxiously counting down to August 6, when they can begin a three-day journey around the world courtesy of Home Shopping Network and the little book that could, Eat Pray Love.

The book left me cold; the movie – which I will not see – sounds monumentally annoying. And now – God help us – Home Shopping Network has concocted three days of EPL shopping, offering the best of Italy, India and Indonesia to viewers and fans worldwide

Here’s a question: if the book was – and I’m guessing now, I have no actual sense of what this book was supposed to teach me – about finding yourself and getting authentic and real about what matters in your life, how does it make sense to build a commercial event in its honor? How does one woman’s journey of enlightenment, no matter how misguided and specious I believe that journey to be, turn into millions of women declaring her own self-hood by purchasing Sajen Silver and Richard Jacobs Multigemstone “Praying Goddess” pendants (only $379.90 or 4 easy payments of $94.98)?

No matter. Let’s pretend this all makes logical sense and the exact thing you want to do to prepare your body, mind and spirit for the EPL movie experience with Julia and Javier is shop all weekend on Home Shopping Network. I realize this makes little sense but just go with me on this, okay? You want centeredness? You want peace? You want a solid sense of self? Step right up, hop online or pick up the phone and get ready to add these items to your life. Let’s shop Italy!!

Begin your day with a cup of delicious cappuccino or espresso, brewed perfectly in your own kitchen with your De’Longi Combo Coffee Station ($169.90). Meet up with your friends for a morning walk after you pull on your “Fear, Who Cares” t-shirt. No doubt your friends will be wearing their “Search For Everything” and “I Deserve Something Beautiful” T-shirts, available for only $39.95 each. And in case you have to carry a couple things with you, toss your Sumatra Crossbody bag ($225) over your shoulder.

Later, you can indulge in the beauty of India. Invite the neighbors in for tea ($29.95), served while you wear your Ranjana Khan Prayer Bead Necklace ($349.95), while perched peacefully on your Taj pillows ($59.95).

By the time we reach Bali, you’ll need some “me” time. So make sure you have the EPL Perlier White Lotus Body Cream ($24.50) and the EPL Perlier Shower Gel ($22). Slip into your V by Eva Tie-Dye Print Dress ($99) and pick up one of your three EPL journals ($24.95) to record the best of your day for posterity.

One of the journals featured online showed this entry: “Endless days of sandals, slouchy bags and lip gloss. There’s a reason they call this paradise.” Or this one: “Everything tastes as good as it sounds. Or sounds as good as it tastes.” Wait a minute. Lip gloss = paradise? Something sounds as good as it tastes? What?

So there it is, courtesy of EPL and HSN. Just about $1,000 later, you, too, can be part of the “one-of-a-kind shopping experience featuring new discoveries in the spirit of EPL.”

Once again, as I have felt at different points of my life, I believe I’m missing some kind of girl gene. I remain mystified by the phenomenon that is EPL. Even if I don’t tune in to shop, and even if I don’t buy a ticket to the movie, I’ll feel surrounded by this societal zeitgeist that leaves me wishing that I, too, could escape for a while.

I know! I’ll just pack my Clever Carriage Company Hand-Embroidered Zardosi Leather Satchel (hand made in Indian cottage industries, $659.50) and escape. Maybe I’ll take a quick trip the ashram and just chill. With some outstanding wine and great pasta, after I consult my spiritual advisor.

Or I could just poke hot needles in my eyes. Which may be less painful than a weekend of this nonsense.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Neologism of the day: Incrankulous. That cranky feeling that inevitably sets in following something incredible that is - let's face it - annoying.

Not to go all 27 Dresses on you but true confession: I love the Sunday Styles Section.

Almost every week, I spend a few minutes skimming the Times wedding announcements trying to figure out which couple:

Spent the most money [although not likely their own] on college educations

Which couple had earned the most impressive degrees

Whose parents had the most notable backgrounds

Whose parents seemed to have the most humble resumes

What couple appeared to be truly soulmates / truly adorable

Who had the most charming “how we met” story

And finally –

Who was the most annoying bride, groom or couple? You knew I had to fit that last one in, right?

My rules are simple. All decisions by the judges (me) are final. And no pressure to fill every category every week. But I’m troubled when the facts appear too close to call from one couple to the next, which – if you read the Styles section – is often the case. I mean, how do you measure a Harvard, Harvard Law + Stanford, London School of Economics against a Harvard, Harvard Law + Yale, MIT PhD? I know, right? Impossible.

This past week, my most adorable couple had rather bohemian leanings. Their interests included photography and poetry, farming and learning to make cheese. I loved them. They registered for goats and farm equipment instead of china. Granted, their family backgrounds led me to believe that someone very close to them could easily deliver an entire herd of goats to their charming little farm but whatever. That’s typical for every couple mentioned, although I’ve never read about another couple asking for livestock as wedding gifts.

The couples who marry in their 60s and 70s do nothing but leave me in awe. The optimism and the “I’m giving this another shot”-ness of it all is spectacular. God bless.

Last week, though, I did find a winner in the annoying category. Not so much for me, but for every single person out there who has so much to give, with such a positive attitude. For every man and woman who, despite all good intentions and optimism toward the online dating world, hasn’t made a lasting connection. One of this week’s couples met online – yay – but the bride recounted her experience this way: “I was on literally for 48 hours before I met him.”

That’s just super, isn’t it?

Maybe this is all a result of unfortunate editing. Maybe her next lines were something like: "I know how that sounds and believe me, I know my story is unusual. I wish everyone could have the same experience with online dating that we had! We both feel incredibly lucky!!"

Let me digress for a moment here to say that several years ago, I worked with not one, but two women, who accompanied me to my company’s blood drive one day to donate blood. Not one, but both of them, were turned away because they were underweight. That’s right: They were too thin to donate blood. (Yes, your assumptions are correct. I was not turned away. Let’s leave it at that.)

So why bring this up now? Turns out, this is exactly the kind of circumstance you keep to yourself. The very notion of being too slim to spare a pint of blood could make the women around you, mmm, incredulous. And maybe a little cranky. Incrankulous. Let’s call it that.

I certainly understand that a young couple in love, telling the story of how they met and their courtship, then announcing their marriage, are insanely happy. Honestly, congratulations and I'm happy for you, in my own way. I wish you the best.

But sharing the story about your online dating membership that lasted all of two days before you met your true love? Even though I’m not in the dating world looking for love, that story made even me feel a little incrankulous. I’m guessing my single and looking-for-love sisters who read it may have felt something similar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A little slice of heaven right on earth....AKA: a marriage.

For your reading pleasure, a recent exchange at home, as I attempted to coordinate the next few days. I'm wondering if this is me (us), or if something similar plays out across the nation each and every week, with only the details changing from house to house and couple to couple. Do Barack and Michelle do this? Do Joe and Jill? Did they used to?

The people may reverse roles - this isn't a female / male thing - but I wonder.

Who is the person who keeps track of stuff and who is the person who gets updated on the details of the stuff in your house?


Sunday (as we're talking about the coming week):
Me: You know I have that Board meeting Tuesday night, right?

Him: The what?

Me: The board meeting, in Easton....

Him: What time?

Me: 5:30.

Him: How long is it?

Me: I don't know - maybe a few hours.

Him: How many people will be there?

Me: I don't know.

You remember about that meeting Tuesday, right?

What meeting?

The board meeting I told you about.

Oh yeah - what time is that?

5:30 (...and we're off and running on a second round of the above)

So I won't be home for dinner tonight.

Why not?


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Please tell me this is rare. Please.

One day, I hope to never again be taken by surprise when I read the latest news about the insecurity of women and the lengths some of us will go to in order to feel worthwhile.

That day can't come soon enough. Once again, I have to ask: didn't we march about stuff like this? And write millions and millions of words about why this is so unnecessary? And look down on our sisters who cared about insignificant details like this?

That's what I thought, too - and yet...this.

Today's Daily Caller column for your contemplation. I'm starting to believe this kind of thinking is inevitable, as long as there are men and women on the planet, and researchers determined to interview them.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Today's fun fact: men still don't get it.

Okay. That's a bit of an exaggeration. Some men get it. And the ones who do are lining up right there, outside the theater showing the the triple feature showing Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones' Diary and Dirty Dancing, with an added bonus, Sleepless in Seattle + The Holiday. See them there? All seven of standing outside the theater??

I know. I'm exaggerating. (There are only six in line.)

But honestly, isn't it about time we call a halt to the relentless and, so far, fruitless, quest for the new miracle drug, the "female viagra" that will address and resolve women's seemingly pervasive sexual dissatisfaction?

I'm not saying the idea isn't worth study. I'm saying that maybe the answers (and solutions) would be found if men (and researchers) would concentrate on a different part of our anatomy.

All that said, here's today's column in The Daily Caller. I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you have a plausible argument to today's fun fact.


Friday, June 25, 2010

It's the most realistic moment in the movie. And I know just what she means.

In 1995, I walked into a darkened theater, no doubt holding hands with a little boy, maybe one of my four-year-olds, maybe my five-year-old. We didn’t know it then, but like millions of families, we were about to enjoy a soon-to-be classic children’s movie, Toy Story. At that time, Pixar Animation launched brand new digital technology into the entertainment world that brought a unique, charming and moving story of childhood to life on the screen.

In 1999, we made our way into the theater again to see Toy Story 2. Once again, these adorable toys and their story of loyalty and love captivated us. Sure, a little time had passed since the last Toy Story film, but I was still the mother of three young boys, and they still needed me. And trusted me to be there. And knew that they could count on me, in almost exactly the same way they had just a few years earlier. We were all a little older, and just slightly rearranged in mind and body from where we’d been in ’95.

Eleven more years makes a difference in almost every life and it’s made a difference in mine. I’ve undeniably entered “middle age” and have celebrated the birthday that everyone seems to take comfort in calling “the new forty” although I can’t explain why. I’ve lost and mourned some people very dear to me in that time, but celebrated the arrival of a dozen new family members through marriages and births. I’ve felt successful; I’ve felt like a failure. I’ve questioned everything from my faith to my marriage to my career choices to my sanity. But I never questioned this: my boys and my relationship with them.

Which is exactly why I knew we would see Toy Story 3 together. And we did. On Monday night, in a theater filled with people who all appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. In other words, people who grew up right along with Andy in the movie. People who were out of high school, or soon would be, and like Andy, were very likely finding their way into the world. My husband and I were the oldest people there.

I’d heard about the final scene of the movie, and that if you’re inclined to such things, you would find yourself tearing up. Forget about that. I could barely make it through the opening, when you see a home video camera view of Andy as a young boy, exactly the kind of images you have of your own kids on hours of videotape. The kinds of images that captivate me whenever we dig up our tapes and relive our lives. It’s not possible that we were that young or the boys so small.

Twenty years. Just. Like. That.

Whatever the future holds for the Toy Story franchise, the story arc seems to have come to a tidy little ending at just the right time for my family and me. Like Andy, my boys are college guys now. Most of their boyhood toys have been given away; others packed away, possibly for other boys to come; possibly to eventually find their way out of our home and into the hands of children who will love them.

It’s fifteen years since we first entered that theater playing Toy Story, but even when we’re not in the dark, I still reach for their hands, and am rarely disappointed. All these years later, they slip their own hand comfortably into mine – or more accurately, they cover mine with theirs. They still trust that I’m there for them but now, these days I’m also trusting that they’re there for me. We count on each other for different things now, and I’ve learned to value and accept the unique approach each of them takes to life, to the people around them, to the ideas they hold dear. I’m positive they’ve discovered a different perspective on me, too. While I may not have the same energy or outlook I had at 36, I hope they’ve accepted a more realistic view of a flawed person who above all – despite the moments we’ve lived through that will never, ever find their way into a Pixar film - loves her children.

At the end of the movie, Andy’s Mom – I love that we don’t know her name – gets caught up in the moment of his departure and says something like this: “I wish I could always be with you.” I know just what she means. And on my better days, like when I'm sharing Toy Story 3 with two nineteen-year-olds and a twenty-year-old, I like to think I will be.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thoreau was wrong. We're living lives of strident desperation.

Once again, I shouldn't be surprised by the story behind the story these days. In a matter of days, we were media-anxious (which is light years away from personal-anxious but still...) about the fate of one Abby Sunderland, then relieved to find she had escaped injury (or death) and then - if you're like me - jaded and thinking more along the lines of "what the..." when you read the story about her family and the reality show that was, then wasn't, to be.

As a friend so colorfully expresses frustration, "Christ on a bike." Is everyone craving that much validation? Have we all given up our lives of quiet desperation for something more outlandish?

Every bit of me hopes that's not true. But you knew I'd have to write about it, so here you go. Today's Daily Caller column. Written with love and great admiration
(really) for the young men who inspired a great deal of it. And inspire me daily.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Multitask your way to paralysis.

Check this out of this and see if it sounds familiar.

You’re at your desk. Phone to your ear, headset on or wearing that little android earpiece thingie; and from the corner of your eye you watch a new call come in and check the phone number or name that pops up on your screen. “What’s does Todd want?” or “What now…” or “Rats – I wish I could take that,” or “Who is calling me from Baltimore (or Chicago, or San Diego or Texas)?” or any number of thoughts that race through your already distracted brain for just a few seconds as you mentally wander away from the call going on right then to breeze through the possibilities about the call you’re missing.

Then, even as you try to concentrate on the call at hand, you make yourself crazy watching the blinking red light blink that indicates the voice mail waiting for you.

As you return the call, you read an email or two or ten and start to answer one in particular just as your call gets answered. Do you then say something like this? “Hold on…just want to finish this and hit send…hold it… wait just a second … okay. Now – you called me?”

Or how about this: while you’re talking to someone – over the phone or in person - and you’re trying to concentrate on the subject at hand, you watch emails flash onto your screen and even open a few, or purposefully ignore a few and once in a while even shriek at a few.

Then you hop onto Twitter, or Facebook, or your two other email accounts, check your text messages and then browse the Times, the WSJ headlines, and any number of enewsletters that enter your inbox hourly.

All while you’re composing a Powerpoint, running a P and L, drafting a proposal, reviewing an agenda and reading a document that needs your feedback by 9 am.
Welcome to your office in 2010, or what I like to call a whirling dervish of rudderless activity that masquerades as progress.

I know this is not new. That we’ve all been walking this wireless tightrope of progress and efficiency and availability for years now. It’s just that it seems that with every new gadget, we get yet another way to be accessible.

What we’ve lost in all this new-found technology is the concept of manners. Nothing makes me crazier than talking to someone – even over the phone – and knowing that they’re not really talking to me. (I do it, too – don’t get me wrong.) But I hate myself for it. I really hate it when I do it to my Mom – who says something like, “Oh, honey...just call me back when you have time. You’re busy….” She can hear me typing, or typedissing her if you ask me.

A colleague and I discussed this very thing and he suggested someone should develop technology that darkens your screen when your phone rings. Or maybe it could lock up your keyboard. Some new gadget that forces us to pay attention. That’s kind of pathetic if you think about it. We need gadgets to distract us and now we might need something to stop the distractions.

Wait a minute. We might already have that. It’s called an on / off switch. Or a log off button. Or even just one unwired moment for God’s sake.

Maybe we should create rules around technology and stick to them:

Monday: Please Pay Attention Day. No typedissing while you talk on the phone.

: LYLOD or Leave Your Laptop at the Office Day.

Wednesday: Black-bury Day – bury your blackberry at the bottom of your purse or bag, especially when you attend a meeting, seemingly to discuss topics that need your attention and good thinking.

Thursday: It’s 10 PM – do you know where your brain is? Day - Read and compose no email once the sun goes down.

: Turn It Off Day – Take one evening a week with no cells, blackberries, laptops, ipads, iphones, itouches or any other i-thing that takes you out of the real moment, filled with real live people and real live conversation.

Would love it if some company were to adopt even one of these rules – or some version of them – then measure employee satisfaction six months later. I have a feeling productivity would be up, courtesy and respect would be on the upswing and people would experience a feeling of overall worthiness. Any takers out there?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Unlike Debbie, I don't want to do Dallas. I want a do-over in Dallas. At Gate 35E. For the DFW to PHL flight at 5:35 pm.

I’ve taken five flights and checked in and out of three hotels in the past two and half weeks. And believe me, if the trips I took had been to exotic and stunningly beautiful places and full of moments of true relaxation and rejuvenation, you wouldn’t be hearing a peep from me.

They were all work related, hectic and mostly made up of some very long days but truth be told, they were also full of some wonderful people who are delightful colleagues and friends.

But this wouldn’t be worth writing about if something didn’t irritate me, right? So here you go.

I’m waiting in Dallas to board my flight to Philadelphia. Wait – let me back up a bit. I had previously flown from Allentown to Philly to Dallas. The 18 minutes in the air from ABE to PHL were the worst flying minutes of my life. The WORST; and I have to admit I’ve flown a fair amount over the past twenty years. The flight was constantly, relentlessly, spectacularly turbulant. It bumped. Jumped. Dropped. And swayed. It was horrible and the weather out the window looked perfect.

It took me about ten seconds to decide NOT to fly back to ABE on my return trip. Instead, I’d get transporation home from the Philly airport. The timing worked, too. Even in a car, I’d be back in Allentown right around the time the Allentown flight was scheduled to depart from Philadelphia. Perfect. Done.

So – back to Dallas. I’m at the gate, waiting to board the flight to Philadelphia, fully aware that I was not going to fly the final bit although I held a boarding pass for that trip in hand. Then the gate attendant announced my favorite thing; that the flight was checked in full and it was unlikely there would be overhead space for the bags that absolutely everyone was wheeling on board. “If you are seated in Zones 4 or 5, please come to the podium and I’ll gate check your bag for you.”

Nice. No fee; they’ll gate check the bag, you pick it up in Philly as you depart, and off you go. No need to visit the baggage claim. I checked my boarding pass, although I had a sinking feeling about what I’d find there: Zone 5. Super. So go ahead – gate check. Perfect. Like a good, obedient, accommodating air passenger, I walked up to the attendant and told her I would gate check my bag. She scanned my Philly boarding pass and – what’s this – a warning screen came up and indicated I had another pass as well – one that got me from PHL to ABE. I explained that my air travel was ending in Philly that evening and couldn’t she please gate check the bag through that far.

No. She couldn’t. Absolutely not. I’m ticketed through to Allentown.

“I know. But I’m not flying into Allentown tonight. I’ll just pick up my bag on the jetway in Philly.”

“No. I can’t gate check you to Philadelphia, ma’am.”

For God’s sake of America. Here I volunteer to gate check a bag and make it easier on everyone managing that overhead space. And by the way, isn’t the point of a gate check – correct me if I’m wrong – that your bag is just checked through to the next stopping point? And that the guys on the ground will haul your bags off the plane and place them on the jetway or at the bottom of the stairs as you depart?

That’s what I thought.

She was adamant. So –I gave up. Told her I’d take my chances storing the roller bag on board.

Boarding time comes. We finally get to Zone 5 – after nearly every single person in the terminal boarded the flight – and she stopped the few of us with roller bags and insisted we gate check them. We’d never find room on board.

Once again, I got the warning screen when she scanned my pass and we had another round of her insisting to me that I was checking through to Allentown and me insisting to her that I was doing nothing of the kind. It ended when I snapped at her – I admit it, I did – and walked away into the plane, wheeling my bag behind me.

The overheads were completely full. Of course they were! I explained the situation to the flight attendants who said they’d get my bag checked to Philly – not to worry. They’d get it done.

A few minutes later, one of the attendants came back to me and sort of incredulously admitted: “She won’t give it to us either. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m so sorry – but we may have to send your bag to ABE.”

At this point, I was tired and too cranky to fight anymore. I thanked the attendant and told her I’d get hold of the bag somehow once I got home. “The gate woman really hates me. But thanks for everything and thanks for trying. Just check it to Allentown. I’ll work it out.”

Then – surprise! – she stopped back again and said they found room. Up front. I could just stop by and pick up my bag on the way out.

Victory! Hurrah! Was that so difficult?

Honestly, if I hadn’t been so aggravated by the gate attendant I would have said something like this to her instead of storming off in a huff, wheeling my bag behind me:

“Hold it, hold it, hold it - just one minute. You’re telling me you can’t gate check a bag to my midway point because of the rules? The rules that say you have to follow my entire itinerary to print out the label? Then explain to me how I was on board a flight on this very airline [US Air, by the way] and witnessed several flight attendants as well as several regular old passengers STANDING while the pilot landed the plane? What about the rules that say you must have you tray table and seat backs UP during takeoff and landing and you must have your seat belt fastened low and tight across your lap?? Then how is it possible that I saw people standing during the landing? Hmmm? What about that?

What’s that? You’re telling me you can’t gate check a bag to Philly because I have a boarding pass to Allentown? Please. Don’t waste my time. Just check the bag, please.”

Don’t believe me? You can read all about the previous standing while landing incident here. You can't make this stuff up.