Apricot Sour: The Stories Grandma Told, Part 2

To make you laugh…

An acquaintance pointed out to me that part of the motto of this blog is “…make you laugh”.  But recently, very few of my essays have been amusing.

She was right, of course.  And (also of course) it’s mostly because since the advent of Covid-19, I’ve found very little to laugh about, either worldwide or personally.

Or have I?  My friend’s remarks set me thinking about my grandmothers, Marie Gregory and Mayme Snoddy.  As I pointed out in the post, Clickbait, my grandmothers laughed easily and often.  Laughter was their finely-honed survival skill.

Of the two of them, though, Grandma Marie was the better–th best–storyteller, and never more so than when she was telling tales upon herself.  I related many of these in The Stories Grandma Told,  but she had dozens of entertaining sagas.  I now regret having never recorded them, but here are just a few more of her lighthearted tales.

Despite the fact that she lived a long life, surviving the majority of her peers, Grandma held no reverence whatever toward the common rituals associated with death—although she never missed a funeral!  But her eyesight was failing, and more than once she once called me to request that I drive her to a funeral calling.  “I need a ride,” she would announce, adding casually (and always to my utter shock), “I have to go look at a stiff.”

Late in her long life, Grandma’s not-so-secret vice was playing the horses.  All winter long she would hoard quarters, plopping her stockpile into her biggest “potchit” (pocketbook).  Come springtime, she would head out to the track and use those quarters to liberally place two-dollar bets on any horse that took her fancy.  Grandma never won much, but she enjoyed the whole process immensely.

What drove her to madness, though, were the friends who didn’t understand that a two-dollar bet was the minimum one could place.  She would be besieged by those who handed her a dollar with instructions to “put it on a good horse for me”.    “So,” she’d fuss bitterly, “I have to make up the difference!  And they never win anything, so I don’t even get my buck back!”

Those quarters once proved her downfall, though.  Grandma and some of her cronies met monthly for an inexpensive restaurant meal. At one of these get-togethers, conversation drifted around to the mixed drinks that everyone had enjoyed in their youth.  Grandma and another friend fondly recalled apricot sours. Out of the blue, they each decided to order one. 

The drinks came and were duly enjoyed. Later, to everyone’s consternation, a single bill was presented to the entire table. And that was the moment when Grandma discovered that she had left the house with the wrong pocketbook. Scarlet with embarrassment, she realized she didn’t have her wallet. She was going to have to pay for both her dinner and her apricot sour in nothing but coins.

The pre-calculator generation, too polite to belatedly ask that checks be separated, were scratching their heads to figure out the divvy.  Those two apricot sours, though, had greatly increased both the tax and the tip.  So Grandma was able to partially redeem her situation by offering to pay the entire tax and a generous tip, while the others split the rest of the check.  She escaped the restaurant with her dignity partially intact, leaving a gigantic mound of quarters on the table to tip their server. 

That story led her to also remember one from years earlier, when she, as a young working woman, met her girlfriends for lunch.  They’d gotten together one Monday after her weekend spent in the great outdoors…when she’d been bitten by chiggers.  In a Very Private Place.  Itching unbearably after sitting for an hour, on leaving the restaurant she’d ordered her girlfriends to circle the wagons and then, hidden, but to their horror, walked splayed-legged down the city sidewalk, hiking up her dress and scratching madly to relieve the bites.

But perhaps my favorite story was one from the last few years of her life.  Never one to suffer fools gladly, Grandma always had a ready retort on her lips.  On this occasion, she was backing her huge yacht of a car from a parking space when two foolish teenage girls, blithely unaware, strolled directly behind her.  Grandma stomped the brakes and narrowly missed hitting the imbeciles, who then took great offense, one yelling, “Watch what you’re doing, you old chicken neck!”

Once they’d passed, Grandma pulled out into the lane,  came level with them, stopped, rolled down the window, and snapped back, “Oh, back up to a mirror and look at your own fat ass!” Then, chuckling, she drove coolly away.

I was shaken to my core when Grandma left this life, finding it hard to believe that such a vital, bold, sassy matriarch had passed.  But I knew what she would have wanted, so, at her funeral, I squared my shoulders and marched up to her coffin, where I whispered, “Oh, Grandma, look what you’ve gone and done to me!”  Then I listened for her laughter as, tears sparkling, I finished: “I have to go look at a stiff.”

If you had a good chuckle from this essay, you might also enjoy “The Stories Grandma Told”, which you can locate in the Archives, below, from March 31, 2021.

Dinner Parties From Hell

Judging by the many tales I’ve heard over the years, many a dinner party ends in total disaster!

My mother-in-law gave perfectly marvelous dinner parties, and, in fact, taught me everything I know about holding one. And although I have rarely had the opportunity to do so except for very special events such as Christmas Eve or significant family birthdays, I’ve been faithful to her instruction. A proper dinner party requires days of preparation, and there are never any guarantees that everything will go smoothly. I still recall the total mortification of The Apple Crumble Catastrophe, and cringe at the memory of the Too Many People Crowded Around the Small Table Due to Unexpected Guests Christmas Eve dinner. (With regard to the latter, just thank heaven I always cook too much!) Still, most of my dinner parties came off well enough that guests were sated and satisfied, if not impressed, and I myself recall them, if not with pride, at least with relief.

However, judging by the many tales I’ve heard over the years of dinner party disasters, my experience has been the exception, rather than the rule.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as I recounted in The Dinner Party (you’ll find that in the Archives from September 4, 2019), most of the truly awful dinner party stories I’ve heard have involved brides and their newly-acquired families. Maybe that’s because family hierarchy and interactions haven’t been decided when someone marries into the group—or simply because some in-laws are really, really rude and judgmental. But of the many Dinner Party Disaster tales that were related to me over the years, there are some that I still recall vividly, and most involved newly-minted family members.

The first, told me by an acquaintance about her sister, was The Spaghetti Dinner. Now, spaghetti is a meal that many young people serve to guests when they’ve first begun housekeeping. It has the simple honesty of a well-loved peasant dish. Add a salad, garlic bread, wine and a dessert, and one has all the ingredients for a jovial, easy meal.

In this case, the Young Bride invited her new husband’s parents and his younger brother for a meal. With five for dinner, she made her mother’s meatball recipe, which was meant to yield two dozen large meatballs. Instead, as an inexperienced cook, she ended up with 19 very large meatballs, and a single little small, squashed meatball that looked more like a ping-pong ball. YB spooned them all into a bowl and placed everything on the beautifully-set table.

When the meatball bowl arrived at her place after having been passed around the table, there was a single meatball left. One. Just one. The little spare squashed meatball. YB looked around at her husband and guests. Her husband had taken five giant meatballs; her mother-in-law, two. Her new brother and father in-laws each had six on their plates.

Her new mother-in-law helpfully offered to refill the meatball platter from the kitchen, and YB, abashed, had to explain that there were no more. Since none of the carnivores offered to relinquish any of their kill, she nibbled her single ping-pong meatball and filled up on salad and pasta.

But, as her sister concluded the tale to me, when YB served dessert, she served herself first.

Another dinner party disaster tale told me was The Vegetarian Dinner. In this case, the hostess was the Unpopular Fiancé making a special effort to ingratiate herself with her soon-to-be mother-in-law. Having interrogated her almost-husband regarding the food preferences of his family, including his unmarried, disdainful adult sister, UF received only the not-very-helpful information that Mom and Sister were vegetarian, while Dad (who already liked her, anyway) would basically eat anything put on his plate.

So UF read recipes, and experimented with unfamiliar forms of cooking, and finally put together a lovely vegetarian meal with a carefully selected, expensive accompanying wine.

Only to learn, as they all sat down to the table, that her future mom and sister-in-law were not, after all, vegetarian. The were vegan. And teetotalers.

Dad packed away everything that was placed in front of him in calm enjoyment and tossed back multiple glasses of wine, while Mom and Sister nibbled on the salad and home-baked bread, sans butter, eschewing the cheese-laden vegetarian lasagna. They concentrated on the green beans almondine, of which there was obviously not enough, since it was only a side dish. The dessert of baked-from-scratch cake with ice cream was a total disaster, also.

As they left, Dad congratulated UF on a fine dinner. Mom only remarked, “Well, at least you didn’t give us food poisoning.”

Astonishing though it was, UF still married the guy whose clueless information had provoked this dinner party disaster. But they never invited his family to dinner again.

So, as I say, even those of my most imperfect past dinner parties come off looking pretty well, by comparison. Although I must admit to never again having served apple crumble!

As mentioned, you’ll find “The Dinner Party” by scrolling down to the Archives links. It was posted September 4, 2019.

We Need a New Pronoun!

She, He, Ze or Te, that is the question.

I’ve just read (well, actually, skipped over reading most of) yet another story of some celebrity about whom I know little and care less who has come out as bisexual / transgender / asexual / lesbian / demisexual / gay / pansexual / cisgender / “I only have sex with Martians.  Green Martians, not purple ones”, or some other variation on the apparently-boundless spectrum of human gender and sexuality.  Well, here is me coming out with my reaction: Who the (multiple bad words deleted) cares?! 

Why is announcing this information to the entire planet not considered to be simply in bad taste, let alone the uttermost extremity on the far intergalactic end of the narcissism spectrum?  Why is it anyone’s business, except for the individual’s own partner? (Or partners, to be more likely accurate.)  Normalizing variations of human sexuality can no longer be considered an excuse for these vainglorious announcements, since “normal” comprises an extensive range these days, while those who do not accept such differences are never going to do so, anyway.

This most recent declaration included the expository remark that the individual in question wished to be known by the pronouns them or they.  And THAT, as much as anything, set my teeth on edge.

I fully understand and agree that those who’ve concluded they fall into a previously-unremarked gender category may feel disconcerted by referring to themselves using the gendered pronouns she or he.  But, frankly, in light of these unremitting public revelations,  we badly need a new, genderless pronoun added to the English language.

Language, not just spoken language but written language, changes. In the longer-ago-than-I-care-to-remember era in which I grew up, the only pronoun of general reference was “he”.  It didn’t matter than an entire magazine issue might be geared toward the female of the species; “he” was the pronoun of indeterminate reference used within its pages.  This was galling and irritating to all females everywhere; it was simply wrong.  I even endured one minister, God help me–pun intended, by the way–who insisted that we were all, male and female together He created them, Sons of God.  That’s right. Sons.  Only Sons.  No Daughters. Not even Children.  Just Sons.  (Here insert the sound of grating teeth…)

Eventually—I believe it may have been sometime shortly after the introduction of the prefix Ms. to replace Miss or Mrs.–one began seeing writing which used the phrase “he or she”.  Yes, always, always that damnable “he” first!  Or occasionally even “s/he”.  (As an aside, this could lead me spinning off into a discussion of why it is always the male noun now used when gendered nouns were once the norm; i.e., always actor, rather than actress—why is it always the male noun that becomes the norm?  But I suppose that’s a grumpy discussion for another blog post.)

In any case, despite these permutations, the pronouns of multiple reference were always “they” or “them”.  A student who misused the words they or them in writing that school essay was likely to see a blatant red circle on the sentence and a lowered grade.  Worse yet, students who had, as I did, the misfortune to attend a parochial elementary school were apt to have the Ruler of Death smacked across cringing knuckles.

Consequently, I will never be able to view the pronouns they or them as anything but pronouns of multiple reference.  An individual referring to her or his (Ha! Take that, Wielders of the Ruler of Death!) person using they or them will forever indicate to me that the speaker suffers from multiple personality disorder. It’s not just grammatically incorrect; it’s downright confusing.

The simple fact is that, if we are to accept, acknowledge and adhere to our new understanding of the fluidity of human gender while using the common pronouns of personal reference, then we  need new pronouns.  The English language is endlessly malleable. New words are added at an alarming rate. We have, after all, come up with new words to describe these many variations of human sexuality.  The word transgender; the uneuphonious cisgender, which I personally so dislike (more about that in a future blog post) —those words were not commonly used until at least the 1960s, or even much later.  Why, then, not new pronouns?  Why not words which genuinely eschew gender, and simply reference humanity?

I have seen Ze or Zhey used, as well as Te or Tey.  (I suppose it should actually be Ze or Zhey or Zheir or Zhem, or Te or Tey or Teir or Tem.)  I have no preference for either form, and a consensus could probably only be reached by whatever words see the most use—sort of like the antique VHS/Betamax debate.  And while learning to use brand-new words instead of trying to hammer old puzzle pieces into the picture in an attempt to make them fit might be disconcerting to many, it is actually the appropriate thing to do.  One should  genuinely bend with the winds of change, rather than try to break in a word that’s already seen gender-filled usage for generations.

Until that happens, though—until the English grammar texts and the grave arbiters of language correctness settle on a pronoun of indeterminate gender reference, I shall continue to use my preferred “she or he”, if only to avoid the Universal Ruler of Death.  I have very tender knuckles.

Liked this essay?  Then you might also enjoy “Who or Whom? That is the Question!”, from April 17, 2018.  Scroll down to the Archives link to locate it.

I Told You So!

Then came Lockdown…

I admit it: I absolutely LOVE saying, “I told you so!” Love it, enjoy it, and particularly relish saying-not-saying-it with a very evil, falsely self-deprecating grin. Oh, I am usually tactful enough that I don’t actually say the words aloud. I just think them very, very loudly.

But I am hereby declaring, stating and announcing that I WAS RIGHT, I TOLD YOU SO, HA! SO THERE, YOU WACKADOODLES!

What I am (in my mad, gleeful dance of triumphant delight) referencing is my blog post of October 8, 2019, titled Apples to Oranges, the subject of which was that scurvy little mailing that I receive periodically from the local power company; the one which purports to tell me how well (or not) I’m doing in managing my power consumption.

As I pointed out in that earlier post, that unwelcome notice always explains that my power usage is being compared to “similar homes” within the area. It then continues on to state various methods (90% of which I am already doing, barring the quite ridiculous ones) by which I can reduce power consumption and so, one presumes, my bill.

But, as I also pointed out in that previous post, just one dynamic among the many factors which the Gods of Power Consumption fail, in their infinite wisdom, to take into consideration is whether all those people living in all those “similar homes” are (or at least were, prior to pandemic) usually out of the house for ten or more hours a day every weekday, as they go to work or attend school. Never once considered when the Electric Deities make their ridiculous calculations are whether those “similar homes” (which, as I also pointed out, ain’t so darned similar at all) are occupied daily, all day, most days, as mine is. Are the people who live in those homes present in their houses for long periods of time—retired, as I am, or stay-at-home parents of small children? Do the occupants of those houses regularly work from home and therefore are using lights and stoves and microwaves and TVs and computers and power tools and furnaces and air conditioners and whatever, at times when the majority of homes are sitting empty and idle—powered down—unplugged–evincing little draw upon the power grid?

Nope. Neighborhood location seemed to be only actual factor figured into their bogus calculations.

But then came Lockdown. Stay-at-Home orders. Families home together all day long: working from home, doing virtual schooling, cooking three meals daily, using lights and stoves and microwaves and TVs and computers and hair dryers and water heaters and the whole darned schmear the entire livelong day. Home. Consuming electricity. Just like those of us who are retired, or who are stay-at-home parents or who work from home on a regular basis.

Next began to roll out the news articles, one after another: the increase in utility consumption due to lockdown. Gas, water, electricity—all off the charts, over the top, as families whose homes usually sat empty and idle every weekday were occupied 24/7. Increases in electricity use of as much as 37% for some families.

And so, at last, the proof of the pudding. The prize in the Crackerjacks box. The reality in the show. For when the “how you’re doing” mailing appeared in my mailbox last fall–the one that should have encompassed mostly the period of lockdown–it carefully did not cover only those weary weeks of quarantine. Instead, it averaged the preceding multiple months. And I know, absolutely and unquestionably why: because all those who had previously been told how astoundingly slight their power consumption was would have received very bad news indeed, while we, the stay-at-homes, drawing constantly upon the power grid when so the majority of other homes usually sat empty and idle for hours daily, could no longer be told that our power consumption was, comparatively, merely “Good”, or even “Poor”. Instead, our usage would have had to have been recorded as (skirl of bagpipes, blare of bugles, ruffle of drums) great. GREAT. Wonderful. Fantastic!

Well, truth be told, my power consumption has always been great. The very fact that I could be told, time after time, that my usage, when compared to those empty and idle homes, was Good, when my own home was occupied all day long and drawing upon the grid (as well as the many other factors I mentioned in that earlier blog), meant that my careful use of electricity was actually, all along and every single darned day, just great. Cautious and sparing. Stupendous, in fact.

I’ve received several more “How’re You Doing” mailings, as the Divine Managers of All Power use the money that their customers pay them to print up and send out all these scurvy little missives telling us just what power-consuming-gluttons we customers are. Funny thing, though. Lockdown having ended, those mailings once again reverted to covering only the period of the most recent couple of months. Learn the game, change the rules…. I’m not that big a chump, guys. Onto you.

There are few things I like better than being proved right. Especially when it comes to besting a utility company.

If you enjoyed this post, you will probably really, really like Apples to Oranges, in the Archives on 10/08/2019!

The Savage Reviewer, Part 2 (or, Revenge Isn’t So Sweet!)

§ Revenge isn’t always so sweet, Author Who Cannot Spell! §

As I mentioned in the post “The Savage Reviewer”, I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews. I was a lot more hesitant to criticize—much kinder, and certainly far more generous with praise–when I was initially writing book reviews. Now, having gotten into the swing of the game, I’ve become far more critical…and a lot more honest.

This all came to mind a few weeks ago as I was clearing out spam from the Comments section of this blog. I admit it with wholehearted shame: I am really, really bad about checking the Spam section and removing comments that have been diverted there! I’m far too trusting of WordPress’s excellent spam filters, which seem to catch most problems. Regular comments arrive in a notification to my e-mail, with a request that they be approved—or not. I rarely fail to approve a comment, since most of my few followers are friends and family members who are actually quite crazy enough to enjoy reading my weekly maunderings.

But an occasional genuine comment gets diverted to the Spam section that I am so dilatory about monitoring. And so it was that a few weeks ago, as I ran a “search and destroy” on the multi-car pileup in that folder, I came across a rather snide remark responding to an older post.

The commenter observed that my essays were “so rife with misspellings that it made what should have been a pleasure into an ordeal”.

Hmmm.

Now, while I’m not precisely spelling bee championship material, I’m can say, in all honesty, that I am “knot to bad” (pathetically poor humor, yes) at spelling. During elementary school, I usually received an “A” in that category on the majority of my report cards. And while my abilities have declined a bit since that long-ago era, I am wise enough to NOT trust the spell-checker. Oh, I rely on it—I just don’t trust the darned thing. I’ve never forgotten that brilliant little poem, Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, by Dr. Jerrold H. Zar, that circulated so constantly several years ago:

I have a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
I ran this poem thru it
I’m sure your pleased to no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My checker told me sew.

But, spell checker or not, since I am editing my own material, an occasional error does slip through. Nevertheless, I felt that “rife” was pushing matters just a bit. So I began to comb through recent posts, coming across a mistake or two here and there, most of them more in the form of a typing mis-stroke than an actual spelling error. I checked with some friends, also, who read my blog posts regularly; they claimed to have rarely found spelling errors. Having satisfied myself in this regard, then, I deleted the obnoxious comment.

Yet something about the remark still bothered me. I finally put my finger on the problem: They were my own words.

You see, the site where I post most of my book reviews has a Profile section. And that profile mentions that I am a blogger and states the title of this blog. Any author whom I disparage–or praise–can run a quick search and locate my blog.

That comment was lifted, word for word, from one of my own reviews–a rather negative review that I had posted about a book I’d tried to read—tried to read, and found painfully unreadable, due to the fact that it was, indeed, rife with errors in spelling and grammar.

I began to regret having blithely deleted the unkind comment without noting the name of the person who’d attempted to post it. As I have, in years of writing them, placed several hundred book reviews on the site, I realized that it would be a complete waste of time and effort to scroll through all of them attempting to discover the author whose work I’d so disparaged.

But I had to admit to a sensation of evil glee as I realized how bitterly furious the resentful author must have felt when the attempt to turn my own (honest) words back upon me failed so completely. Even had their comment survived the Spam filter to land in my in-box, awaiting approval, I would never have permitted it to be posted. By ending up as Spam, though, it caused me to dig a bit deeper, and to come up laughing with snide delight at the failure of the maligned author to troll me.

Revenge isn’t always so sweet, Author Who Cannot Spell. But I’m just rotten enough to admit that having the last laugh surely is!

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to check the archives for “The Savage Reviewer”, posted on 09/02/2020; “Book Reports: Do Kids Still Have to Write Them?, from 09/23/2020, or “To Review or Not Review”, posted 12/13/2017.)

Aging Is Difficult Enough Without…

§ At least some of the tests on which we rely for determination of diminished brain and physical function are completely, utterly and totally bogus! §

I recently read that an efficient self-test for diminishing brain function was to count backwards by seven. Huh, I thought.

Now, the truth is that I was cutting class on the day God handed out the math portion of the brain, so I can barely count forward by seven. It requires a wrinkled brow and strong concentration, as I carefully add seven to the preceding figure. Seven, fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight… Then I run into trouble. That’s because I’ve never been able to recall my “Eight Plus” tables. I have to stop and think carefully, “What the hell is eight plus seven? Oh, yeah, seven plus seven is fourteen, so eight plus seven is….” I realize that, even to those people who are otherwise uneducated, my inability to calculate indicates that I am an idiot born of morons. But in the dashboard of my brain, the trouble indicator light for mathematical functions is always lit.

Language and literature, now, that’s another matter. Except for an occasional need to punch out to a grammar site to determine whether to use who or whom—and then argue with their conclusions–I have a fair degree of literary competency. (How many people, after all, know that might is the past tense of may? Oh, yes, it is! Look it up.)

This literary ability does not, however, extend to reciting the alphabet backwards. Years ago, when breathalyzers were uncommon and police relied on ridiculous “field sobriety tests”, an older acquaintance discussed being stopped by a traffic cop. Stone-cold sober, he was asked not only to do the silly touch-nose nonsense, but to walk heel-to-toe in a line—then given a pass on that one when it was apparent that he would have to use his cane. Instead, he was told to recite the alphabet backwards. At this point he awarded the very young officer a stern look, explaining that sixty-plus years after the first grade, he had never learned nor had any occasion to need knowledge of the alphabet in reverse. (The young cop gave up and let him go, telling him to drive safely.)

But what all this nattering is in point of is that so many of the tests on which we rely for determination of diminished brain and physical ability are completely, utterly and totally bogus. Shoving totally aside the “seven backward and forward” question, the brain function test administered at the doctor’s office to those 65 and older is simply demeaning. Condescending. Belittling. (Of course, after now having dealt with an entire citizenry that endured weeks of pandemic quarantine, the medicos might finally realize it’s almost useless to ask a retired person what day of the week it is. When one is no longer bebopping off to an office every day, that question simply has no relevance. None whatever.)

I once ventured onto a site containing those “Alzheimers Test” questions, and was doing quite well with the test until I came to the question regarding the Prime Minister’s name. Uh… I’m in the US. I hadn’t, unfortunately, realized that I was on a UK site. The best I could answer I could frame was, “Well, it’s not still Tony Blair” (that being, at the time, the last Prime Minister to whom I’d paid much attention).

Then there was the time that I attended a Senior Fair, and was asked to place my hands behind my back, one over the shoulder and one under, and link my fingers. Say what?! This was not something I could have done even in my twenty-year-old heyday, and certainly not now that I’ve experienced a broken collarbone in my time. But even without that consideration, what does this test really say about limberness, or lack thereof? Are the buffoons devising this type of idiocy aware that people’s arms vary in length? So do fingers, for that matter. Not only that, but (having attempted this many times since) I find that I come a lot closer to having my fingers meet using right-arm-over-shoulder/left-under, rather than the reverse.

At the same Senior Fair, I was asked to grip a handle that calculated my hand strength. The problem with this was, though, that in the days leading up to this fair, I’d been doing an enormous amount of work at my computer; my carpal tunnel syndrome was so troublesome that my toothbrush felt heavy. So it seemed to me that what was being measured was not my hand strength or lack thereof, but how close I was to requiring surgery.

There are enough limitations, humiliations and concerns associated with the slow process of aging without being troubled by senseless tests devised by youthful minions who remain quite clueless about the realities of aging until it assaults them.

And, by the way, I’d still flunk that UK test. For the life of me, as I wrote this, all I could think was, “Boris Bad Hair”!

Tales of the Office: Under the Weather

§   My scam worked without a hitch. I was excused from work, feeling neither compunction nor apprehension. None whatever. After all, I’d used just one of my accrued store of legitimately earned sick leave days, and I hadn’t lied.   §

A friend confessed to me once that when, during her working years, she wanted to take a “mental health day”, she couldn’t bring herself to lie about being sick. She just knew the Universe would kick her butt for the falsehood, paying her back with a genuine, nasty illness. So before calling in to her boss to request sick leave, she would write “WEATHER” on a piece of paper and hold it over her head. Then she would call her boss and say, “I’m afraid I can’t make it into work today; I’m really under the weather!”

I liked her idea. The occasional consumer myself of a desperately needed illicit day off, and having plenty of accumulated sick leave, I’d made it my mission in life to learn the power of a really good lie, well told. Male bosses, I found, were unlikely to argue with anything that included the words “female problem”. Female bosses were unimpressed with that particular explanation. After all, they themselves had suffered through too many a day at the office while enduring grinding cramps. But they were generally sympathetic to the “stomach flu” routine, since that nasty little bug had a habit of sweeping through offices and was the very last thing they wanted to catch themselves. (There is nothing more accurate, though, then the fact that generalities are rarely true. I had one termagant of a boss who complained that I was “getting this stomach stuff far too often!” Sadly for me I was,  at the time, genuinely ill, having contracted a serious stomach ailment from my mother-in-law, who had carried it home from an overseas trip.)

Nevertheless, despite my friend’s compunctions, and with the exception of that stomach flu debacle, I hadn’t really noticed that my fibs for “Luxury Time”, (as I thought of it) caught up with me. After all, I rationalized, I’d struggled into my job many a day while deathly ill, hoarding my sick leave to cover those times when my child was sick and I had to be at home, caring for her.   Looking after my sick  daughter, I’d  catch whatever bug she’d towed home. Then I’d drag myself into the office to work a full day while feeling so unwell that I wanted nothing more than to lie down and die.  But using my sick leave for my own genuine illness wasn’t even a consideration when I was a young mother. Consequently, it seemed perfectly all right that I now sometimes took a day off when I wasn’t really physically sick at all. It all balanced out, I consoled myself.

Nevertheless, once my daughter was grown, I found myself worrying that payback was in the offing. I no longer needed to hoard sick leave for childcare, but I did hoard it, and my unused vacation time, nonetheless.  Some personal emergency—severe illness, an accident—might occur, and such an event could render me unable to work for a long while. I needed that reserve stock of unused leave days. Besides, the pathetic three personal days doled out annually by my employer failed to cover even a few appointments for doctors, dentists, or ophthalmologists, let alone genuine emergencies (like that slashed tire on the morning after Halloween).  Much of my vacation leave stockpile went to cover those contingencies. But sick leave, ah! Sick leave was there, I reasoned, to be used not only for genuine physical illness but for those days when I was just damned sick and tired of facing one more day in that office.

So, taking counsel from my friend’s shenanigans, I went out and bought a plastic bug. A really ugly-looking, scary, big, realistic plastic bug. And the next time I called in for a Luxury Day, I pulled Big Ugly out of my bedside table and dialed, holding it in my hand. “I’m sorry; I need to take a sick day,” I explained to my boss in my best pathetic manner. “I’ve got a really nasty bug!”

My scam worked without a hitch. I was excused from work, feeling neither compunction nor apprehension. None whatever. After all, I’d used just one of my accrued store of legitimately earned sick leave days, and I hadn’t lied. I really did have a very nasty bug—right there in my hand.

Confiding this ruse to a trusted coworker, she followed suit, selecting her own Big Ugly. And occasionally we even passed our pets back and forth, so that we could change our plaint to, “I’ve caught that bug that’s been going around!”

Big Ugly did not retire when I did; I bequeathed him to a another coworker. I understand he’s been called upon to work his Buggy Magic quite a few times in the intervening years, both for her and for others at the old office.

Works like a charm, every time.

Second Hand Rose

 §  To celebrate our upcoming Independence Day, I will extol a different way to buy American!  §

One of the worst aspects of the Indiana coronavirus lockdown was, for me, the inability to spend my free time shopping at flea markets and thrift and consignment or charity shops.  Tracking down wonderful and unexpected treasures at these markets has been one of my favorite pastimes for the past couple of decades.

Now, to be quite frank, there was a time in my youth when I would have been horrified at the notion of bringing second-hand goods into my home or wearing them on my back.  Even the name “flea market” (yes, it is unappealing!) sent a shudder down my spine.  That was, however, until one rainy weekend afternoon when I was convinced by an acquaintance to give the activity a try.  With nothing better to do and utterly bored, I agreed to traipse with her through a local flea market, figuring it would at least get my butt up off the couch.

Joining her on that first marketing adventure, I was amazed and astounded.  Yes, the shops contained an immense amount of junk, much of it dirty and obviously unloved, but there were also hidden riches just waiting to be unearthed.  I was astonished and delighted. Shopping at a thrift store or flea market was, I realized, a whole lot like a treasure hunt.  Often I came away empty-handed, but other times, why, at other times I was rewarded with masses of unexpected and unlikely prizes.  My “fleaze” I called them, the lovely things from furnishings to beautiful china and glassware that I delightedly discovered on my thrift shopping trips.

My obsession with second-hand goods has been possibly helped by the fact that my family is in no way pretentious or supercilious about gifts.  Instead, tightfisted and genetically bequeathed with the thrifty habits of our Scottish forebears, we are thrilled beyond measure when the giver, handing us something we really love or want as a birthday or holiday gift, can exclaim in excitement, “I found it at a consignment shop! You wouldn’t believe how little I paid for it!”  Yes, we are definitely all anti-snobs, gleefully gloating over our Scrooge-like frugality.

Some—most—of the furnishings and accessories in my home that I best enjoy have been purchased at flea markets, or at thrift or consignment or charity shops.  My adorable distressed dining room table and chairs and gorgeous antique rocker; the favorite green armchair that comforted me through a bad bout of flu; my converted-from-an-entertainment center china cabinets–all were purchased second-hand, and I genuinely value them.  Recycled goods have also nearly saved my bacon on a few occasions, such as the time when I, newly divorced, had to furnish an apartment for my teenage daughter and myself. I was leaving nearly every piece of furniture I owned behind with my ex-husband. But my sister-in-law contributed a loveseat that had been stored in her mother’s garage, while a friend provided a used entertainment center for our living room. Another friend bequeathed me a cast-off bunk bed for my child, while a neighbor sold me a daybed that she no longer needed.  Without those furnishings, my daughter and I would have been laying our heads to rest in sleeping bags and sitting on the floor to watch TV.

Despite constantly patronizing the second-hand shops and garage sales, I’ve never made so wondrous a discovery as an aunt who purchased a used cedar chest at a garage sale and, upon arriving home with her prize, discovered it had a false bottom where a hand-made antique quilt had been secreted.   I’ve never been that lucky.  Nor do I anticipate ever being one of those fortunate individuals who stumble upon a Van Gogh hidden in a rack of amateur artist’s paintings.  Instead, I’m over-the-moon if I can just find a fine piece of the hand-blown glass my brother treasures to add to his collection.

But perhaps the best thing about buying and using and really enjoying these recycled bits and pieces is that I am supporting the very smallest of small business owners: the little people who scour the moving and garage and estate sales and auctions, and who then rent a booth to peddle items ranging from the odd and unusual to the astounding.  The merchandise they sell, no matter where it might have originated, has been bought and owned and then discarded or contributed; purchased again and then prepared for resale.  And by the time any product has been through all that, been passed through so many citizen’s hands, no matter where it was once manufactured, it is an American product!

So I, proudly and happily, will continue on my treasure hunts to buy American “Fleaze”.

Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em!

§    I took an informal housework survey of some of the women I know and garnered the following intel on the housekeeping tasks that everyone loves and/or loathes.  §

I had an acquaintance once who explained rapturously that she just loved running the vacuum.  I looked at her like she’d lost her mind. There are two household chores that (despite doing them with monotonous regularity) I despise above all else: running the vacuum and changing the bedsheets. I have no explanation as to why these chore irk me so much. I don’t avoid them, but I absolutely and completely loathe doing them.

Of course, this same woman was one who, when guests were present and the evening had not yet quite wound to a close, always made everyone a bit uncomfortable by beginning to wash up the snack plates and wine glasses before people had even begun making “going home now” noises. Since her house was, like mine, an open floor plan, there was no disguising the fact that she was in there splashing merrily in the dishwater; she’d been seen to snatch up a cheese plate just as a guest popped the last toothpicked cube into his mouth. The sight of an unwashed dish in her sink apparently drove her to distraction, as she mentioned once while pointedly eying the neatly rinsed-and-stacked plates and glasses in my own sink whileI tidied up after a get-together. On that occasion, I thought she choked a bit as I turned out the kitchen light and walked away from the sink. But as I’ve explained before in an earlier blog post (The Dishwashing Analogy, 06/29/18), those dishes were going to sit in the sink until at least after breakfast the next morning, and quite possibly lunch, when enough would have accumulated to waste my time and water on. This was despite the fact that I actually enjoy washing dishes–so much so that my dishwasher is run only once weekly, and then just to keep the belts from rotting from disuse. I find dishwashing to be almost a meditative act; it proves to me the truth of what one of my grandmothers (a simply marvelous housekeeper) told me: When the hands are busy in a simple task, one’s mind is completely free.

Nevertheless, Grandma’s maxim doesn’t explain why some of those simple and repetitive tasks just drive me, or others, to the brink.

I took an informal housework survey of some of the women I know.  (I did not include any men because, [a] there are few of them in my life; and, [b] the only man I know who actually willingly does housework is my son-in-law).  I garnered the following intel on the housekeeping tasks that everyone loves and/or loathes. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were a lot more responses for the “LOATHE” column than the converse—including one heartfelt reply from a woman who said bluntly that she was “totally over” enjoying any form of cleaning. But what struck me in their responses was that I found myself not to be so odd, after all: tasks that one person simply could not stand doing were actually enjoyed by another person.

Into the Love To Do column fell the tasks of vacuuming (obviously, I do not choose my friends on the premise that companions must think alike!), folding laundry, washing windows, dusting, mopping, and (bizarrely) shampooing rugs. Many more responses, though, were entered into the Loathe Doing category, which included the self-same dusting and washing windows, along with scrubbing floors, cleaning baseboards, unloading the dishwasher, cleaning toilets…and on, and on, and on. I genuinely felt the pain of one woman who replied that there was nothing worse than dusting furniture that had grooves and curves and hollows. And I nearly dropped to my knees and praised heaven that I, OCD as I am, had never, as one friend explained, been in such housekeeping competition that when she learned someone had put three coats of wax on her kitchen floor, she rushed home to put a fourth coat on her own!

I am already in the throes of spring cleaning, the madness of which always overtakes me at some point near the vernal equinox and Easter–cleaning out the cave after a winter’s habitation, I always think of it. Preparing for that psychological and physical onslaught, I’ve also been considering my informal housekeeping survey. It struck me that, since few of us, if any, are in a financial position to hire our housework done, then how sad that we can’t all form some sort of housekeeping commune.  Each person would bop happily about to the houses of the others, accomplishing the tasks that she finds enjoyable—while someone else, who actually likes doing  her most hated chores, works at her home accomplishing her  “Loathe List” of housework.

If only…!  I feel absolutely certain that, not only would our homes be totally spic and span, we’d all be a much happier bunch of women!

 

The Evil Empire of Tech

§  There are still some aspects of  technology that should really make no sense to anyone–not even the programmers. §

For someone born in a pre-tech era, I am reasonably good at using technology, although I recognize that, in many respects, I’m far past my “use by” date. I actually dare to be proud of the few more complicated things that I’ve managed to learn. After all, as a person who learned typing on a manual typewriter, it’s quite a mental leap to comprehend tasks such as uninstalling the masses of recalcitrant factory-installed bloatware on my new computer, or to periodically locate and clear all the hidden temp files that disk cleanup doesn’t catch.

But I honestly believe that, despite my personal unfamiliarity with so much of the constantly changing landscape of the technological world, there are still some aspects of it that should really make no sense to anyone.

Take, for instance, the response of search engines when one either mistypes a word, or the voice-to-text misunderstands it. No matter what search engine one uses, pushing the cursor back over the errant word brings up two options: Add To Dictionary, or Delete.

For the love of heaven, I don’t want to do either of those things! I don’t want to add a mistyped word to the dictionary, and I don’t want to delete it. I want to fix it! I want to correct it.

But is there an option for “Correct”? Nooooo. I can’t count the number of times I’ve accidentally added some ridiculous misspelling to the dictionary as I try to backspace over to correct just a letter or two in the highlighted word.

Worse, the same dictionary that cannot seem to locate any of my personally added words or names when I do want them can always seem to find a mistaken word!

Also under the heading of “missing choices” is the fact that there has never been a keyboard containing a STOP! button. You know what I mean: the button you desperately need and want to hit when you’ve tapped or clicked the wrong icon. “No, oh crap! Stop! Stop!” There is no “Oh Shit Stop!” button on any keyboard or in any program.

Then there’s the fact that the Home edition of the most common system software believes that all those using it are bubbleheaded space cadets, incapable of deciding for ourselves when it is convenient to download and install updates. Nope, downloading usually begins totally without warning, right in the middle of some important transaction, such as logging into our banks or trying to make a purchase, slowing down or even completely locking up our computers. Usually when this happens, I find myself wondering if I’ve been hit with a computer virus or spyware, before the synapses in my brain finally fire enough to make the connection, “For the love of heaven, another damn update?!”

Then, of course, having totally botched whatever important transaction I was working on, that irritating flag slides across the side of the screen, proclaiming, “We’re Making This Program Better!”  No, you’re not. You’ve already locked up and slowed down my PC, and now you’re going to prevent me from turning the darned thing off without installing an update that I may not even want, thereby preventing me from (as I always do, since I am very conscious and careful about my utility use) turning off the computer and power strip completely at the end of my session.

Worse, the Evil Empire is never, never ever, going to make the program genuinely better by actually acting on the incalculable number of suggestions from its clients– such as the one I and others have made repeatedly, about creating a way to add a message to the Lock Screen without having to revise the whole (very bad word) registry.

My favorite, though, of all the nonsensical aspect of this ongoing home technological warfare was the time that The Evil Empire  pushed through a download of a new program version build while I was trying to set up my brand new PC.  That’s right. Given no advance notice, and, as a home user, no opportunity to stop the download while I got my new PC out of the box and began uninstalling bloatware and installing software that I actually desired, figuring out how to silence that bloody irritating Helpful Voice From Hell and to refuse their preferred browser in favor of one I actually liked, transferring my years of files and photos from my old (but beloved) Windows 7 computer, and finding ways to make Windows 10 bearable…nope, nope, nope! Instead of a straightforward computer set-up, I dealt with having my brand-new computer locked up like Alcatraz as it attempted to download a colossal installation.

It didn’t work, of course. The installation, not my new PC setup. I hit the off button, unplugged the computer, slammed the laptop lid shut, and left it to sit while I seethed for several days. Before I finally went back to work on it, a cursory examination of websites let me know that this particular download had massively corrupted a LOT of computers. I count myself lucky for having interrupted the download when I did.

No, technologically, I may be of the Neolithic period, but there are simply some aspects of the world of tech which simply should not be sensible to anyone. Not even the damnable programmers.