The Great Battle of the Shower Curtain

A few years ago I expressed (for the second time) a laconic interest in buying a gun and learning to shoot. My brother, who had done firearms training for a good portion of his career in law enforcement, was not letting me off the hook this time.  He bought me the gun, ammunition, and countless other accoutrements, gave me two hours of personal instruction using his standard gun-safety course, and then took me to the range and taught me to shoot the darned thing with reasonable accuracy.

I took the gun safety training to heart and immediately purchased a fingerprint touch gun safe to store the weapon securely beside my bed. And later that year I had good reason to put all my training to use as someone attempted to break in my front door in the small hours of the morning.  Standing in my entryway in approved stance, phone beside me where I had called for help, I rehearsed every minute of my instruction in my head as I pointed the weapon and shouted, “I’ve called 911!  I have a gun!  I will shoot you!”.  As determined by the police who arrived a few minutes later, my intruder turned out to be nothing more than my drunken sot of a neighbor, yanking and pulling at my security door, as he tried to gain entry into what he believed was his own home.  Nevertheless, rattled as I was, I knew I was very glad I had the gun to handle the situation.

The gun has come out of the safe on a few other occasions, as well, most notably the light of early morning when a squirrel, having discovered the cache of pine cones for my fireplace stored in a copper tub on my porch, again rattled the front security door. When I crept up, gun at ready, and flung the main door open, the startled little fellow scampered off to the tree in the front yard, leaving behind the cache of acorns he’d been burying in the tub.  I’m sure we were both equally upset.

But nothing will ever equal the Great Battle of the Shower Curtain.

I was roused from a (rare) sound sleep, startled awake by an inexplicable noise. As I thought to myself, “Did I really hear that?” I realized that the three cats who were sharing the bed with me were all poised in approved “Cat At Alert” stance, one of them even perched like a meerkat sentry.  I quickly removed my gun from the safe and crept carefully to the balcony rail outside my bedroom door, where the landing overlooked the cathedral ceiling.

From that space, with faint exterior light spilling from the stairwell clerestory window, I could look down on the French doors at the back of my lower floor. They were undisturbed, the glass unbroken, the curtains in place.

Swiftly I slapped on the light from the switch at the head of the stairwell and rushed down, gun still at ready, to the spot in the entryway where I could see both my front door and the door to the garage. Both were closed, locked, undisturbed; the “screamer” alarm on the garage door certainly had not been activated.

Still stealthy, I crept further down the stairwell and swung rapidly around the corner to the kitchen. No one was there; nor was anyone in the half-bath.  I flung open the coat closet, in case someone had darted within.  Nope.  No burglars hiding in the closet.

Ah ha! I thought.  They’ve gotten the door up and they’re out there in my garage.  With a dramatic flourish, I threw open the door to the garage, pointing the gun. No dice. The main garage door was down, the car undisturbed.  Bewildered, I closed the door and switched off the screamer before it could begin its klaxon.

Defeated and confused, I was slowly wending my way back upstairs when I remembered that the attic space of our three conjoined condo units was accessible to every unit. I dashed into the spare bedroom and flung open the closet door where the attic entrance reposed.  But the attic door was still encased in the unbroken bubble wrap that I’d taped in place to prevent drafts.

Now completely bewildered, I tottered slowly out of the room, finger now carefully removed from the trigger, gun dangling loosely from my fingertips.  What the hell was the noise that I—and the cats—had heard?

By this time, considering the past moments of stress, I needed the bathroom rather badly. Sighing, with dragging steps, I faltered my way into my main bathroom and switched on the lights.

And it was there I discovered that the springform curtain rod which held the shower curtain in place had unsprung itself and crashed  from the wall, loudly hitting the side of the tub in the process.

I am happy to report that I did not shoot the shower curtain.

Who or Whom? That Is The Question!

I bless the easy availability of internet grammar sites whenever I have to decide whether to use who or whom in writing.  That’s because, despite knowing that if the word to is included in my sentence, whom is the form that should follow, well, that’s the only situation in which I can be confident I’m using the correct form of the word.  It doesn’t matter if I rearrange the sentence and substitute the pronouns her or him, she or he, as an aid in figuring out the problem. I’m still unsure about the correct form of the word.

Certainly I can’t be the only person who, despite a passable ability with writing, is confused by the sheer insanity of word forms such as these in the English language. Sit, set and sat.  Lie and lay.  Those verbs confuse almost everyone.  Irregular verbs are even worse; is it dreamt, or dreamed?  Awakened, waked, awoke, woke, awoken?  Shined or shone? Weaved or wove?  Inevitably, reading these words in novels, I find myself arguing with the author’s selection and punching out from my e-book to a grammar site.  (Ah, yes, and for that I also bless e-books.)  Happily, I often find out that I am, yes, I AM CORRECT.  I break my own arm patting myself on the back.  Much less happily, I find that the grammar in most direct-to-e-book novels is execrable. Worse, even edited books contain an astonishing number of grammatical errors these days – subject/verb disagreements seeming to top the charts.  Are students no longer taught that “might” is the past tense of “may”?!

Even worse than books, though, I find, are the voice-overs of TV commercials. I was delighted when the commercial for a large medical center spoke of “a list of insurance programs with which we’ve worked”.  Dear heaven, it’s a miracle.  The prepositional phrase correctly spoken.

Unfortunately, in its next incarnation, the phrase returned to “insurance companies we’ve worked with.” Despite Winston Churchill’s famous (but probably misattributed) declaration that, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”, most prepositions should not fall at the end of the sentence.  That’s the way it was drilled into my recalcitrant student head, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Period.  End of discussion.

Except that I both speak it and write it incorrectly most of the time.

Even more painful was a commercial for a cleaning product, in which the announcer declared that it “works so good”.  So good?  So good?!  Arrrggghhh. Well. The correct word is WELL.

And then there are songs. I can’t bear listening to Rod Stewart’s voice, which reminds me of a dying frog with laryngitis.  Even if another singer had performed “Tonight’s the Night”, though, I would never have liked the song.  But even had I enjoyed both Stewart’s voice and the song, I would still be driven to violence by the line, “….just let your inhibitions run wild”.  Uh, if one’s inhibitions are running wild, one is EXTREMELY INHIBITED.  Not doing anything.  Inclinations.  The correct word for that line should be inclinations.

I readily confess that I am incredibly picky about matters of grammar. For instance, I sat through the entire movie Inception arguing to myself that those little objects the characters used—the ones that were supposed to determine if they were in reality rather than a dream– should have been called talismans, not totems.  I knew that this was a matter of semantics only, but it irked me.

But, returning to the question of who and whom, I have developed a standard three-part rule for dealing with this situation.  First, if the word follows to, it is whom.  Second, I should try rearranging the sentence and substituting pronouns; if the pronoun is she or he, the word is who; if the pronoun is her or him, the word to be used is whom.  And, finally, if I still can’t figure out the darned mess, I will use whom.  For, you see, almost no one else will be certain of the correct word form, either.  But because whom is generally used only by those truly conversant with the complex rules of grammar, my readers will be certain that I’m not only correct, but am really smart!

Just Jeans That Fit!

As an adolescent reading “improving” Catholic youth literature, I recall reading a story about two young women anxiously preparing for a school dance. In this stuffy little tale, the girls confided their worries ( no, of course, not to their mothers) to a kindhearted neighbor.  They discussed their concerns about waistlines too wide, complexion breakouts, and smiles marred by teeth not white enough.  The kindly neighbor gave them such helpful advice as brushing with baking soda and peroxide to whiten their teeth and patting witch hazel onto their zits.  (Trust me on that witch hazel thing: totally worthless advice, but something I kept trying for years, since it was also endorsed by my Grandmother.)  Girl #1 confided that she had been “slipping into my older sister’s girdle” to get her waistline into shape, and was told by Helpful Neighbor to do isometric exercises because, “All a girdle does is push flesh into other places where you don’t want it.”

Darn, I wish today’s manufacturers of women’s jeans had read that article!

If there is one factor that is constant and consistent throughout the entire United States of America, it is that there is no such thing as a pair of women’s jeans that fits correctly. Talk to any woman who wears a size above 2, and you’ll hear kvetching, moaning, and complaints about having to try on thirty pairs of jeans to find just one that fits correctly.  Even two different pairs in supposedly the same size and created by the same manufacturer will fail to fit one’s body in the same way.  How is that even possible?!

If a pair of jeans fits through waist and hip, miles of cloth will be flapping about one’s thigh. If thigh and hip fit correctly, the waist will either be gapping hugely or so snug that the button can’t be closed or the jeans zipped. If the jeans fit through waist, hip and thigh, they will be miles too long, even in the supposedly “petite” length – or will fall across the ankles at the high water mark. Skinny jeans, appropriate only for the aforesaid Size Two (may Audrey Hepburn rot in hell), are still unaccountably manufactured, and finding anything flattering to a more common figure is virtually impossible, even when spending a small fortune for what should be casual wear.

But of all the jeans foisted on a long-suffering female populace, the Spandex-enhanced, “stomach panel” jeans are truly the invention of the Devil. In keeping with the Hollywood ideal of a female body straight out of the rigors of Dachau or Auschwitz, the normal, slightly-rounded stomach of a woman who is of appropriate weight for her height is, for some unknown reason, supposed to be as unrealistically flat as an ironing board, if not concave.  But (as so perfectly described in that decades-ago improving literature for young women), all that darned constricting panel does is push flesh up into other places where it isn’t wanted, creating the notorious muffin top.  Rolls of flesh that puff up under one’s shirt.  Yep, so flattering!

Worse is the dichotomy between men’s pants and women’s. Stroll down the rows of men’s jeans sitting snug on their store shelves, and one will find nicely delineated increments of waist and length. Short and slim?  There’s a pair sized for that.  Tall but chunky?  Ditto.  Long-legged?  There’s a pair of jeans manufactured for guys built like a stork.

And none of them have a stomach panel.

I remember reading the excellent novel The Color Purple, and marveling that the main character, at the conclusion of the novel, had created her own small business called People’s Pants. She knew that women wanted a pair of pants created for their bodies — not for the body of some sub-male.  Not for the body of a “you aren’t a man so you don’t need a good fit”.  I thought at the time that it was one helluva business opportunity and someone who knew a bit about fabric and fits and stitching clothing should actually do it.

I will never puzzle out why women’s clothing is based on the tradition of “one-size fits all even if it doesn’t and you’ve just got to live with it”, but it’s tiresome and frustrating, and long past due for a change.

But I would genuinely settle for just being able to find one lousy pair of jeans that fit.

I Really Hate Brussels Sprouts

I confess it: I do not like watermelon. I realize there is something almost un-American about this prejudice.  Tell this to my fellow citizens around the 4th of July, and I’ll probably be looking at a visit from Homeland Security.  But, there you have it: I simply can’t stand watermelon.  It isn’t just the flavor but the texture which repels me, for I don’t actually enjoy any type of melon: musk melon, honeydew, cantaloupe…you name it, I can’t bring myself to eat it, despite having tried each of them many times.  Just the smell of cantaloupe makes me want to yak.  I can’t even imagine eating one.

This continuing distaste flies in the face of my enduring belief that our tastes alter over a lifetime and that we should keep trying foods that we find unpalatable, since we may one day surprise ourselves by actually enjoying them. As a child, I wouldn’t have eaten a lima bean to save my soul, but as an adult, reintroduced to them in my Grandmother’s incredible vegetable soup, I found that I not only enjoyed them, but preferred them to most beans (which I also usually dislike solely due to texture.)  Nevertheless, decades after I first began doing so, I still pick the red beans out of my bowl of chili.  They disgust me.  They smush in my mouth.

And then there’s my arch nemesis: Brussels sprouts. My parents loved Brussels sprouts and they were constantly on our table as I grew up.  I vividly remember the absolute torture of trying to ingest just one single Brussels sprout so that I could be excused from the table.  “Think of the starving children in the world,” I was told anytime I disliked a food that I’d been served, and, trust me: I would gladly, joyously, generously have found a starving kid anywhere and handed over my whole plateful of food if it had meant that I didn’t have to eat that damned Brussels sprout.

As an adult, though, I found that (although I was never going to go out of my way to ingest one) I could endure the dreaded sprouts if I prepared them by halving them, basting the halves with olive oil, generously spreading them with garlic and pepper before finally broiling them until crispy. I still knew, overall, that this was a Brussels sprout, but I could eat them, if not enjoy them.  Some of their essential Brussels-sproutiness still crept through, nonetheless.

When cranberries became the latest entry in the healthful foods array, I was horrified. My only acquaintance with cranberries was that awful jell in a can, which was served by opening both ends of the tin and pushing the jell out, whole, to lie on a bed of lettuce and be sliced.  That was how it had been served at holidays throughout my childhood, and I don’t think I quite realized that cranberries were actually berries.  Reintroduced to them, dried or in muffins and as a side dish blended with other ingredients, I found them tangy and interesting.  If hardly my favorite berry (give me blackberry any day), cranberries made me realize that how a food was prepared made a great difference in whether I enjoyed it.  Don’t like it cooked?  Try it raw.  Don’t like it boiled?  Broil it instead.

I put my “your tastes change” philosophy fully into action when raising my own daughter. We followed the Three Bites rule.  If I served a food she did not like, she had to eat only three bites of it.  Of course, as she so often did, the kid outsmarted me at my own game.  Told to eat her green peas, and barred from sneaking them down to our cat, Rerun, who (god knows why) adored them, she would carefully place one pea on her tongue at a time and swig it down with her glass of milk, like a pill. She did the same thing with lima beans. I suspect that even now, as an adult, green peas and lima beans are never seen on the table in her household.

Nevertheless, she who once shared my own dislike of the red beans in chili now delights in them.

Case proven: Just keep on trying to eat the foods that you simply can’t stand. Our tastes do change.

Strawberries, Blackberries

Most people think the strawberry the pinnacle of fruit, an epicurean delight.

I’m not that crazy about them myself.

Oh, I enjoy them dipped in chocolate or even just lightly sugared. I confess to adoring them topping a shortcake, too, especially if smothered in whipped cream and vanilla ice cream – but that has more to do with the additional toppings than the strawberries.  But when others swoon over a strawberry pie, I just shrug.

If I were to pick a favorite berry, it would probably be the black raspberry.   Or possibly the blackberry.  Or a red raspberry.  Or a blueberry.  Or a boysenberry. Or…well, you get the point.

Obviously, with the exception of strawberries, berries are high on my list of favored fruit. That is probably a little odd, because when I was growing up, berries were barely regarded as a viable fare, and certainly not a staple.  The cooks of my childhood used berries for pies and cobblers, but rarely for anything else.  Fruit in the households of my childhood consisted of apples and bananas, peaches or nectarines and oranges, perhaps some grapefruit or tangerines.  Pineapple was seen only on an upside down cake, and cherries were mostly baked into pies. Cranberries appeared on the table only at the holidays, and then in the form of  disgusting canned, jelled sauce. Kiwi or star fruit were unknown, and I really can’t recall papaya or mango being in the grocery bins, either.

Perhaps I came to enjoy berries because, when I was 10, my parents moved to a house in a neighborhood still under construction. Our new home, one of only three houses on that street, was surrounded by empty fields, full of milkweed and wild onion, but most of all growing wild with blackberry bramble.  I quickly discovered the berries.  I began going out the back door in the early mornings, clad only in my nightgown, to pick fresh berries from the bush at the end of our yard and add them to my bowl of cereal.  I was devastated when the builders arrived to clear the brush from the surrounding fields and begin building houses.

A few years ago, when I stumbled across the first few articles illustrating the amazing health benefits of berries, it was like discovering those fields of blackberry bramble all over again. My childhood love affair with berries was validated at last.  Not only were they the most delicious of all fruit, but they were good for you. It was exactly like hearing the first announcements that dark chocolate was good for you.  Delicious and good for you, full of polysyllabic nutrients that do wonderful things for the human body.  What more could one ask?

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry,” Dr. Butler famously said of the strawberry, “but doubtless God never did.”

Well, I may not have doctor as an honorific before my name, but I beg to differ. Give me a black raspberry any day.

Things in Movies That Drive Me Nuts!

I loved the original Star Wars movie.  I saw it at the theater the second weekend of its release.

But I spent the entire movie wishing that Luke Skywalker would just comb his damned hair.

This is just one minor chapter in a long, long list of movies, TV shows, books and songs in which one niggling little thing pretty much drives me over the edge and nearly ruins the entire experience for me. Hair issues in movies seem to comprise a surprising number of these irritants, for I felt exactly the same way about Meg Ryan’s hair in You’ve Got Mail.  “For the love of heaven, comb your hair, woman!” I longed to shout at the screen.  Fortunately for the other moviegoers, I kept my peace and just seethed in silence.  Weeks later, reading a magazine article by a hairstylist,  I almost choked when she referred to “Meg Ryan’s adorably tousled hair”.  My eyes rolled upward so hard they almost lodged there permanently. Adorably tousled?  Adorably tousled is a toddler’s hair after a long day.  This was a grown woman who just needed a comb and a mirror.

Despite my griping, let me point out that all of these were movies that I really liked. That fact in itself may be the key to my irritation.  Had I seen people wearing these ridiculous hairstyles in a movie I didn’t actually enjoy, I would probably just have shrugged.

Hair issues aside, there are the moments in movie plots that just seem so completely unrealistic or totally wrong that they simply set my teeth on edge.  For instance, I’ve watched My Best Friend’s Wedding a number of times,  which only goes to prove that I’m a complete masochist, because the ending always infuriates me.  Why? Because he marries the wrong woman. As the newly-wedded characters drive off into the night betwixt the romantic sparklers, I always think, “Well, there’s a marriage that’s not going to last six months past the honeymoon.”

I felt the same way about the characters in Sleepless in Seattle, although hardly anyone agrees with me, being blinded by the romantic “I just knew!” nonsense that comprises the heart of the script.  I myself got over that “I just knew!” rubbish at the age of 17, but apparently many grown people are still suckered in by it.  This may explain the national divorce rate.

Far more minor incongruities annoy me in other movies I love, such as The Holiday. I absolutely adore that show and watch it ever holiday season.  But the entire movie would have been made even better for me if a few improbable scenes had simply been smoothed by careful scriptwriting.  After all — let a total stranger have one’s home for a two weeks, without even a background check?! All that needed to come out of the American character’s mouth was something along the lines of, “I’ve been registered on that home exchange website for a year now….” and the whole scene would have been made realistic.  And being able to obtain a transatlantic plane ticket on less than 24 hour’s notice at the start of the Christmas season?! Why not a cry of protest – “We’ll never get tickets!” from the British character, and a response from the Hollywood American, “Don’t worry about that; I’ve got contacts.”  Simple Realism 101.

I felt even more flabbergasted watching a scene in Steel Magnolias, in which Sally Field’s character, working in the kitchen as she talks with her severely diabetic daughter, takes out a giant bag of sugar to begin cooking.  The first time I watched the movie I lost the next several seconds of the film because my mind couldn’t focus on anything but that five-pound bag of sugar…the five-pound bag of sugar being used by the mother of a diabetic while they discuss the girl’s condition. Yes, the scene was set during the Christmas treat-baking season; so what?  What mother of so seriously ill a diabetic would be cooking a ton of sugar right in front of her?  Had the director been lobotomized, I wondered?

And then there was that moment in the first Indiana Jones movie, in which Karen Carpenter’s character, having been gagged and bound in the heat of an Egyptian desert all day, is untied and served a meal and reaches for the sandwich first.  Say what?!  The water!  She would have chugged that water like a young partier doing Jello shots.

As picky as I undoubtedly am, I’m sure you’re wondering why I ever watch a movie in the first place. I wonder it myself sometimes. Nevertheless, if there’s ever a magic button that lets one change these little problems while home viewing a movie, I’ll certainly wear out my finger poking the darned thing!

The Name of the Goddess: Isis

Surely I cannot be the only individual worldwide who objects to the co-opting (only by an ignorant American press, I must point out) of the name great Mother Goddess of ancient Egypt to signify the Islamic militants. To employ the acronym ISIS, the same letters that compose the name of Isis, Goddess of compassion and enduring love, to signify terrorists who are anything but compassionate and loving – who do not even exemplify the tenets of the faith for which they claim to be waging war – is wrong.  Simply wrong.

During the years when Downtown Abbey was one of the most popular shows on TV,I read all too many reviews containing references to the “unfortunate” name of the fictional Earl of Grantham’s beloved dog.  So I was not surprised when the show’s final season made a carefully contrived reference to the ancient Egyptian origins of the name Isis.  British press, I understand, tends to refer to the militants as IS or ISIL, not ISIS, so obviously it was the American fans who were being coddled with this explanation.  But, I wondered grumpily, why was an explanation even necessary? Did most American viewers fail  to realize the name was that of a goddess of ancient Egypt? Obviously so.  The untutored American audience was, apparently, largely unaware that the name Isis was chosen as a compliment to the setting of the popular series, Highclare Castle, where Downtown Abbey was filmed.  Highclare was the onetime home of Lord Carnarvon, who financed archeologist Howard Carter’s magnificent discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.  The dog’s name was an historical reference. Surely, I thought, everyone must know that.

Uh, no. It would seem not.  Not everyone, I finally acknowledged, was passionately interested in ancient Egyptian history.  Not everyone was a fan of the inimitable Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of archeological mysteries.   The subtle compliment to the series’ setting apparently did a complete flyby right over the heads of most of its American fans.

Still, if I were a member of the press, selecting an acronym for Islamic militants and terrorists, I would prefer to call them almost anything else. Probably something very rude. Sadly, I suspect that the acronym ISIS is too firmly entrenched in American minds to make the change.  That saddens me, and makes me long to beg: Please, please, stop using it!  Restore to grace the name of ancient Egypt’s great Goddess, she who was the Protector of Children, Resurrector of the Dead, Patron of Artisans, Protector of Slaves, Friend of Sinners, and Universal Mother: Isis.

Live Long and Prosper

I just read yet another article about a person who was celebrating a centenarian-plus birthday. As always happens, the aging individual was peppered with questions from the press about how it happened that they had managed to live so long.

These articles drive me nuts. I don’t know why I even read them, except that I am, perhaps, slightly masochistic.

I always long to reach out and grab the questioners by their collars and shake them silly. “For the love of heaven!” I want to shout.  “They’ve lived this long because they got a lucky shake in the gene pool!  And they were fortunate enough to avoid fatal accidents and survive epidemics! That’s why they are still alive!”

No matter what these centenarians claim when responding to inane questions, their longevity wasn’t really due their habit, however enjoyable, of having a shot of single malt daily – or flossing their teeth every morning – or even due to an irrepressibly sunny nature which saw the silver lining in every event, from the mundane to the dreadful, throughout a lifetime. Those things may (or may not) have contributed to their longevity, but the simple answer is: They got lucky.

They got genes that did not switch on diabetes or clogged arteries. Their bodies recognized cancer cells and immediately shut them down.  They were the product of long-lived ancestors.  They didn’t drink enough to destroy their livers with cirrhosis, and if they tried various illegal or potentially addictive drugs, they had the intelligence to recognize the their peril and stopped. They gave birth easily or had great medical care and so didn’t die in childbirth. They had strong immune systems. They were wise enough to choose spouses who did not abuse them.  They rarely took unnecessary physical risks.  There was no way to take selfies, so they didn’t pose at the edge of the cliff—and, anyway, they were bright enough not to go near the edge of the cliff in the first place. They had access to birth control and so weren’t worn out by constant childbearing. They were prescribed antibiotics to beat the very infections that once slaughtered thousands. They either didn’t encounter  or survived  house fires, muggings, wars, car accidents, or a myriad of other assorted personal disasters which could have ended their existence.

Good nutrition may have played a role in their survival, but here’s one thing I’ve noticed from reading about many of these survivors: Often these long-lived people began life in dirt-poor conditions, eating only subsistence rations. Nor can an absence of stress or tragedy explain their longevity, for many have lived lives so filled with calamity that an ancient Greek playwright would shudder.

So before I have to read another of these mindless stories asking, “How did you live so long?”, here’s the answer, short and simple: If you want to live long and prosper, choose the right ancestors. Pick the right DNA.  Behave wisely.

And get lucky. Very, very lucky.

Riding Past the Graveyard

I spent many years taking the bus to and from the office. Five days a week, wincing under the scorching summer sun in 99% humidity or shivering in the morning darkness while temperatures plunged well below zero, dashing through hailstones that began to fall just as I stepped off the bus, sliding across ice or slogging through snowdrifts, soaked and shivering when my umbrella turned inside out, furious when buses were late or broke down or completely failed to arrive because the regular driver had been co-opted to a training run….

It was rarely fun, but there were compensations, not the least of which was knowing that I was doing something, however small, for the benefit of Mother Earth. One less combustion engine on the roads – there I was, using mass transport in a city in which mass transport was, for the most part, pathetically inadequate.

Further compensations came in the form of what I referred to as my “bus buddies”: other dedicated riders, who, for a multitude of reasons, also braved the poorly-designed routes, the weather, and the many irritations of being a bus rider in a city with a terrible mass transit system. Over the years I knew many a great bus buddy with whom I shared conversation and laughter and even tears.  We persuaded one another to read favorite authors and discussed TV shows.  We supported each other emotionally through illnesses and myriad personal disasters, and celebrated joyous events, like engagements and weddings and  the births of children and grandchildren.  We commiserated over route changes and tardy buses that made us late for work.  We whined about bosses, spouses, intractable offspring and unpleasant in-laws. We looked at photographs of new homes. We doled out hugs when needed.  We criticized unfriendly drivers and lauded the ones we liked.  Bus Buddies were a great compensation for the frustrations of ridership.

However, probably the greatest compensation I found for the rigors of using mass transport was scenery. No, I’m not referring to meadows and vistas; those were largely absent as the bus lumbered through the grungy near-southside of the city and into the suburbs.  But there was a graveyard; two of them, in fact.  And one of them I inevitably found very entertaining.  Yes, you read that correctly: Entertaining.  It never failed to cheer me on my gloomiest afternoon.

It was an older section of the graveyard down by the road; most of the tombstones were bleached white, a little crumbly, small. But one stood out with startling clarity.  It appeared to be of brown granite or marble (I was never close enough to determine which.)  It was polished, shining, and very tall – probably five feet tall, at least.  It was a cylindrical monument with an odd, domed cap.

It looked, in fact, exactly like a giant penis.

Right in the middle of the graveyard.

The first time I noticed it, my reaction was, basically, “What were they thinking?”  What sort of family would erect (I apologize for the pun) such a monument on the grave of a loved one?  Then it occurred to me that perhaps this was their intention – a sort of character statement for the deceased.  Perhaps he — and I use the pronoun advisedly — had truly been a real dick.

Whatever the reason for that particular headstone, I always chose a bus seat where I could glimpse it as we drove past. And, as I say, it never failed to cheer me, and to draw a disbelieving laugh from those to whom I pointed it out.  Even now, writing this and remembering, I am smiling.  Or rather grinning.

Yes, despite everything, I always enjoyed riding the bus.

Dreaming in Technicolor

Gathered About the Yule Log

The first surviving photograph is dated from approximately 1826, and daguerreotypes were publicly available beginning in 1839. These are facts, incontrovertible. Those early processes used silver salts and sometimes metal plates, and the results were printed in tones of either sepia and ivory or grey and black and white.

How, then, prior to that, could people have dreamed in black and white when almost no one had ever seen the world that way? (Achromatopsia, a form of color blindness in which the sufferer sees the world only in shades of black and white, is the rarest form of the disorder, and my logical self bets that those in primitive societies who suffered this vision disorder did not long survive.)

Considering these facts, I’ve always wondered how the myth behind the question, “Do you dream in black and white?” evolved, unless it was a direct response to the invention of photography.  For about the last 200 years, I suppose, people who had seen a photograph might afterwards have translated the images of their dreams into monotones.  But why?  Why, when they had always seen the world in color?  Prior to photography, the only black and white landscape was seen by strong moonlight or firelight — candles and lanterns – and even in those pale lights, some very faint, washed-out color is discernable.  Few people living in the middle ages had ever seen a drawing done in pen and ink.  Why on earth then, I’ve always wondered, would people dream in black and white?  Why would anyone even ask that question?

I’ve always had a predilection for thinking through fables and urban legends this way. Just ask all the upset mothers who descended on my Mom when I, at the age of seven, announced to all my little playmates that there was no Santa Claus.  How, I asked them reasonably, could he get to all those houses in just one night? It wasn’t possible.  It wasn’t logical.  Ergo, Santa Claus was a myth.  (I was persona non grata at school for many weeks after this small fiasco.)

Then there is the currently popular “ you must sleep in a completely darkened room” fable.

Now look here, my logical left brain pronounces, it may have been years since I slept out under the stars, but I seem to recall that there were a couple of times when the full moon was pretty darned bright. Moreover, in those long ago camping trips, we had a campfire burning all night, even getting up in the wee hours to feed the fire until it burned very brightly.  I remember the dance of the flames against my closed eyelids.  And during those camping trips, we were keeping the fire up just for comfort and warmth–we weren’t using it as protection from marauding sabre tooth tigers or the odd prowling cave bear.

Our primitive ancestors would not have survived to be our ancestors had they been foolish enough to sleep in pitch-black darkness. Even deep within a cave, there was always a chance that some predator would arrive to claim the cave as its new den and make a meal out of handy little human snack packs.  A campfire was not a luxury, but a necessity.  And if our distant ancestors slept outside, then the waxing and waning of the moon added another layer of light to sleep cycles.

We humans are, I’ve concluded, programmed to sleep beneath varying cycles of soft, diffused and low, dancing light.

True, the lights we try to sleep under these days are different. I pull down room darkening shades against the ambient light from the nearby interstate highway  that filters into my second-floor bedroom.  I switch my Kindle to the blue-filtering setting when reading before bedtime.  But needing complete darkness to sleep is as big a fable as Santa Claus.

So the next time you hear that stupid question, “Do you dream in color or black and white?”, or lie awake with insomnia, wondering if  the light from your clock radio is to blame…think about it. Just think about all of it.

I bet you’ll fall asleep and dream in glorious, vivid color.