Thursday, June 29, 2006


Here it is in all its unvarnished ugliness: I got fired last Thursday.

Or what amounts to the same thing.

I've known it was coming for a very long time -- but when it smacks you in the face, the upset is just a real.

Mostly, not because I'll miss the job, but because I have to start all over again and get a new one and figure out how to fit in to a new environment.

And damn. I have to update the resume which I lost in the computer crash of 2004.

What management did was tell me that after July 14th they had no need of my services. Unless I wanted to work 16 hours a week for them until they could unload me for real. And they knew that wouldn't fly because I can't afford it so it was their way of weaseling out without actually firing me.

I'm investigating options -- heck, I never just vanish into the night unless the job is temporary. The job really had gotten ugly in the past 12 months, so I may have a small bone to hold over their heads.

It's probably a blessing in disguise but right now, at this moment in my upside down life, it just feels like another blow -- that I'm not going to be able to recover from. I will, of course, because it's what I do. I cope.

But I'm kind of in hiding right now, just figuring out how to manage to cope one more frigin' time . . . why can't it just be easy for awhile, eh?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day 2006

15 reasons why we love our Papa:

  1. He’s never grumpy in the morning when we feel frisky and want to run and jump and play. He’s ready to grab the stuffy or throw the ball and we love to do that at 6 a.m. We avoid Mama like the plague if the hands on the clock don’t say at least 9 a.m.
  1. Papa isn’t afraid of anything and that makes us brave, too. Bigger animals, loud noises, frightening in the sky, our Papa faces them all down and makes them run away.
  1. We adore treats so, of course, we love Papa who brings us the treats when he goes to the $100 store (Sam’s or Costco). He hides them down by his side of the bed but we KNOW where they are and we go stand right in front of his hiding place so he will remember to give us some. He never gives just one either; we always get at least two each.
  1. Papa teaches us stuff but he’s not mean when he does. We have learned that streets are very dangerous and we must never step on them when we are off leash. He teaches us that we must come when he calls or we could get lost or hurt.
  1. Because he treats Mama gently, he is our role model. We all know that our Mama can be more fragile than Papa and we can’t jump on her like we do with Papa. Also he shows us by example that licks and love and better than growls and bites.
  1. Our papa is very patient. He helps us remember not to pee-pee in the house or run into the evil neighbor’s yard. He’s good about not yelling at us when we forget but he can be very stern with us when we forget. He also knows that we don’t remember things for very long so if we make a mistake he doesn’t punish us for it the next day.
  1. Papa is very, very smart. He can drive the big automobile that takes us fun places, he can drive for hours on a long road and end up where we meet very nice people, and he can read so he knows which are the good treats to buy for us.
  1. Our papa is so handy that he can open treat jars, dog food bags, and cans of liver with only his paws. Wow! We wish we could do that! He can also turn on faucets and fill water bowls. These are GREAT skills to have!
  1. Papa has insight into what the crazy Mama is going to do next. We never know but Papa helps us follow along with her moods, her cooking habits, and her housekeeping. He also seems to know when Mama is going to turn on the evil vacuum which always tries to gobble us up; he takes up for a ride just before the vacuum gets turned on.
  1. Papa is rich. He has an automobile which we get to ride in. He has paper in his pocket that turns into really good food at the dog food store. He has a big bed which he shares with Mama and us. He has a house that he lets us live in. Inside that house is heat when it’s cold and cold when it’s hot and running water and a place where treats and food are stored. Papa is probably the richest man in the world, actually.
  1. With his huge hands Papa gives the most wonderful scritches in the world. We nudge him all day long for those scritches. We love Papa’s scritches! But even though his hands are big and strong they are always gentle.
  1. We go on long walks every day with our papa. He taught us to walk off-lead and as long as we come when he calls we don’t have wear leashes. Running free in the park is the best gift that Papa gives us. He had to work a long time with us to teach us the rules of the “free run” and we love him for doing it.
  1. We get to ride along side Papa in his big automobile nearly every time Papa goes for a drive. He taught us the command “Get in the back” so we can ride when he has company with him. We also get to sit up front with Papa when he’s alone. We love to go for a ride in the car. We even know how to put the windows up and down by ourselves!
  1. Papa always shares his dinner with us. No matter if he eats in the best restaurant or from a paper plate at home, he always gives us a bite. We’ve eaten steak and lobster and hot dogs and hamburgers. At Baskin Robbins we get our own cups of vanilla. Papa always has enough for three on his plate.
  1. Best of all, our Papa has a huge heart and he gives his love to us and to Mama. We can feel that love when he feeds us and plays with us and pets us. He doesn’t take the love away when we forget stuff, either. He loves us every day, all day long. And we love him back.

We hope that you have a Papa as good as ours and that you are showing him all your love this Father's Day.

We love you Papa! Fritzy and Gus

PS -- the photos of our Wolfie, the best dog in the world

1986 - 2005

Friday, June 16, 2006

Finally a Real Celebration

My sixtieth birthday at the end of May was a depressing non-event. It was celebrated by a small luncheon attended by two co-workers who bought me lunch. My mother sent a card a week late. Hubby said "happy birthday" at 7:30 a.m. when he saw the date on the TV news screen and never acknowledged the event again. My sister-in-law said she was sorry she couldn't celebrate with me but since she was 900 miles away in Houston I could just suck it up. Frankly, I’ve been feeling a little bitter ever since which made me think about the kind of party I would throw, if say, I had unlimited funds, could invite anyone to attend (and they would have to come but they would also really, really want to attend), and I could hold it anywhere in the world.

Immediately, my aspirations are not set very high. Having the party right in Kansas City would be perfectly fine by me. I think I’d invite Martha Stewart to come plan the event and she could send her TV crew in to do all the work – in return they could film the party, kind of like Oprah’s Legends party except I’d the recipient of all the good gifts.

I wouldn’t be picky about the theme of the party but I would prefer it be held indoors. Late May in Kansas City can be pretty darned hot and I don’t look my best bathed in sweat. Since I was born in 1946 an appropriate theme might be Flashback to the Forties. Martha could design the perfect homemade invitations, we could serve good old comfort food like mac and cheese, meatloaf, and potato salad. We would all dress in the appropriate 1940’s clothing but we’d make it a very casual affair. We'd start up around 5 p.m. with some Old Fashions maybe and we would party until we all got tired which, based on the average age of this shindig, would probably be before 10 p.m. – but actually five hours at a party is a long time. I’d want to hire a photographer for the event because the guest list, now that would be spectacular!
My celebrity guest list (and remember everyone would come because this would be THE party) would include:

-- Bill and Camille Cosby, education activists – since both Cosby’s have their doctorates in education, I’d enjoy sharing opinions on improving public schools with them. Dr. Bill says things the rest of us are thinking but are afraid to say out loud and he does it with enough humor to make the message palatable.

-- John Irving, author – my favorite modern novelist, Irving has written books I revel in reading. Even when his books are turned into bad movies I enjoy them. I’d want to discuss the themes of his novels with him: feminism, New England, abortion, wrestling, and, of course, bears. He could also tell me about the real Robin Williams (The World According to Garp) or Michael Caine (Cider House Rules).

-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice - as a strong advocate of women’s rights, it would be great to hear her comments on her last ten years on the Supreme Court. I’d especially want her to share nasty anecdotes on Clarence Thomas.

-- Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, actors – the tales they could divulge about their movies would be fascinating. Equally interesting would be their philanthropic involvements during the last 20 years.

-- Whoopi Goldberg, comedian and actress—how I love Whoopi! I adore her style, her humor, her movies (even the bad ones), and her irreverent outlook on life. All during the eighties, aften I'd seen one of her films I’d go out and buy her wardrobe: yellow high tops or huge oddball pins for my overcoat. Now I never miss the reruns of Jumping Jack Flash or Burglar on cable. The Color Purple is one of my all-time favorite movies, partly because Whoopi was the perfect Miss Celie.

-- Rosie O’Donnell, comedian and host – another woman who tells it like she sees it. With Whoopi and Rosie as guests, the joint would be jumping.

-- Hugh Grant, actor – I’d definitely want some hunky eye-candy, and Hugh would be both a stunningly handsome and funny guest. Plus, he’s got that controversial edge going for him. We’d all be watching to see how he reacted to women in the group.

-- Barack Obama, politician – who wouldn’t want to hear from Obama just what his political aspirations really are? Does he think our country is ready for an African-American president? How many death treats has he received since he became one of the most visible minority politicians?

-- Bill and Hillary Clinton, politicians – oh, yeah, baby! If you haven’t realized yet just how liberal this child of the 1960’s really is, having the Clintons at my party would certainly be the tip off. I love Hillary. She’s been my hero since I first read about her when Bill was running for President. I want her to become President of this country. I want to believe that we have moved far enough from our bigoted past to elect a woman to the White House. I don’t think either Barack or Hillary can survive (either politically or physically) for me to see that happen, but how I want to believe that it can. I also happen to think Bill Clinton was a really good president – maybe not a perfect man – but as president, he did a fine job. Hillary stood by him – and you can claim that was only for political reasons, but there really are people who, after making a commitment to love, honor, and cherish a mate, stick with it even when the mate doesn’t always deserve the loyalty. She deserves to be praised for that, not vilified. She kept her marriage vows no matter what and it certainly wasn’t easy with all that nasty publicity.

-- Chris and Paul Weitz, brothers, movie producers, and directors – the movies these guys have made span the generations – from American Pie to About a Boy. They seem to have gauged the pulse of the movie-goer and then produced movies, which if not always art, are nearly always upbeat and entertaining. Also Hugh would have somebody to talk with besides American politicians as he starred in their About a Boy.

-- Helen Thomas, reporter – this old broad tells it like it is and won’t sacrifice the good-graces of the current office-holder when she asks the tough questions. She makes me proud of the White House press corps. Plus, she’s known and covered presidents since John Kennedy.

Andrew Wyeth, artist – the oldest guest at my party, Wyeth, 88, could tell us about his famous Helga paintings, his favorite New England haunts, and with Irving, share stories of New Hampshire.

-- Jubilant Sykes, baritone – singing both classical and contemporary music, this American singer might agree to provide grand entertainment for my party, plus Hubby would really enjoy a duet with this cat.

-- Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, writers and producers – I have so loved the TV show Gilmore Girls. I know that often the guys just don’t get it but I want to move to Stars Hollow and live with all those eccentric, beloved residents. I want to have a mother / daughter relationship like Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. I so understand the problems Lorelai has with her own mother and I love that nothing on the show is completely black and white / good or evil. I’d want to know how the writers feel about watching their show go on without them, now that they have been cut loose from it and I’d want to hear what they have in development. And I’d want to know if they can talk as fast as the dialog flows on the show.

-- Jim and Virginia Stowers, philanthropists – cancer survivors and founders of the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, MO this couple has dedicated a vast fortune to supporting basic research on genes and proteins that control fundamental processes in living cells. The institute’s goals are to unlock the mysteries of disease and find the keys to their causes, treatment, and prevention. They have created a state of the art facility in my city, offering incredible resources to those involved in finding long-term solutions for gene-based diseases. I never see them flashed all over the news; they have quietly dedicated enormous sums of money to making life better. I’d really like to know who these people are and share their vision for the future.

-- Charles Gusewelle, columnist, Kansas City Star – oh! How this man can write a short essay (500 words maybe) and just break my heart, or make me stand up and cheer, or send me down memory lane. The man does "slice of live" better than anybody! Moreover he is a native born Kansas Citian so we share the same experiences and reminiscences.

-- Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Vermont businessmen – two regular guys who made a fortune from ice cream – and if they brought some to the party that would be just another bonus of having them attend.

So that’s 24 celebrity quests, 25 if Martha would abandon her hosting duties and join us, which I hope she would. We’d crack ugly on the Bushes and their political ilk and make fun of the right wing conservative Christians, who certainly must be finding it more and more difficult to support their own leader’s political stands. We’d dream of a future where women and minorities would wield equal power with the white man and really upsetting the white father figures of the conservative right. We’d cheer on gay marriage and figure out how to withdraw from the Middle East. Illegal immigration wouldn’t even be a topic at my party. We’d sing songs, swap hilarious stories, and eat good food. I bet I’d get 25 really cool gifts, too. Now this party would make a 60th birthday one to truly remember.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Reflections of Who We Are

Intentional or not, our cars tell the world about the types of person we are. Our social and financial status, our need for outward validation, our security in our gender roles and even the transitional stages of our lives are broadcast to the world by the four wheels we choose to drive. Emotional needs filled by the purchase of an auto range from validation of sexuality to pure power. But while car-as-indicator-of-personality can border on cliché -- sports cars for age-defying middle-aged men, minivans for soccer moms, trucks for construction workers, etc. -- the desire to buck or ignore these classifications can be just as revealing.

Hubby and I buck the trends. We realized with the last new car purchase we made in 1990 that we did not find enough value in an automobile to spend more ten grand on one. Our values haven’t changed as car prices have inflated.

How did we settle on $10,000? In 1973 we bought our home for $17,900. We have lived in that house for 33 years and it has more than tripled in value. Why would we pay more for a car that would depreciate the moment we handed over cash?

So we’ve driven old cars, cars others have discarded, sometimes for very valid reasons. Our best purchase was a 1989 Cadillac Seville hubby bought for $3000. Honey of a car, it never stranded me and I always felt snazzy driving it. During the Seville’s life, I was managing my own communications company and that car made me feel like I had "arrived." It wasn’t too big, it was really pretty, and it ran beautifully. We drove it until we had to replace the engine and then we drove it until that engine gave up the ghost.

Right after I quit teaching and while I was building my business, I drive cars that cost less $1000 – combined. The first was a simple brown Dodge we bought for $400 – no frills, no toys, not even a working a radio. The second was a more sporty Mercury that was miserably uncomfortable but only cost $700. Each car lasted me at least 18 months or pretty hard driving.

The worst car we ever owned I named The Tank, a 1993 Cadillac De Ville which hated me with a passion unheard of in an inanimate object. That car never gave me a day’s worth of peace. It was pretty and it was big and it was spawned by the Devil herself. Somehow the gas flow system was screwed up and if the tank reached half full, the damn car thought it was out of gas and quite running. It never had heat when it was cold and it never cooled when it was hot. At stop lights it would quit running and not start again for upwards of 50 minutes, or longer. It stranded us all over town – and Hubby, who had found and decided it was a good purchase, wouldn’t give up on it. He had paid more for The Tank than any car since we quit buying new ones and he was determined he could tame the evil beast. We still own The Tank because Hubby can’t find anyone who will even consider buying it but we quit driving it during the spring of 2005. It sits, hulking, in our driveway with a rotting For Sale sign in the window, defying anyone to try and make it run.

Once we gave up on The Terrible Tank, we bought a beautiful midnight blue 1994 Cadillac De Ville with a North Star engine which proved way too costly to repair when things went wrong with it. That car caught fire in our driveway, melting the dashboard and half the engine. The fire, unfortunately, did not spread to The Tank. That's me on your left with Midnight right after we bought her.

Meanwhile Hubby has owned a succession of odd work vehicles – the kind of car you can dump opened cans of paint into or hook long ladders to the roofs. He’s had old vans, old pick-ups, and is currently driving an old SBC (phone company) industrial van with over 300,000 miles on it. Darned van is so tall I have to have stepping stool to heft me into it. Keeps running though when everything else poops out.

My latest vehicle was purchased after much serious investigation on Hubby’s part. He wanted a one owner, American made, big car, built before 1994 – when nearly all the engines on cars became so computerized that the driveway mechanic has no hope of tinkering on them. After a long search he eventually found a 1993 Lincoln Towncar that met his requirements.

If a car broadcasts your social and economic status to the world, then in that Towncar screams that I’m a blue haired, little old lady on my way to the bingo parlor with a bucket of makers and a carton of menthol cigarettes. Actually, the can’s image isn’t so far off from my own, darn it. Hubby and I like the luxury of the full-sized auto. We like comfy seats where two doggies can snuggle next to us while we cruise down the highway. We want to be able to stretch out our legs, and wallow around when the arthritis pain kicks in. The Lincoln serves those needs admirably.
Also the car has been very stable to drive. I travel over 300 miles a week to work so I need a car that won’t break down, that doesn’t have a flashing instrument panel of red and amber warning lights, and that can withstand travel on gravel roads. Because the Lincoln is well worn it doesn’t need washing every other rainstorm. Because it has been adequately maintained during its long life, it doesn’t need fluid injections every second day. It does, however, need a little push to provide the extra comforts, so today the air conditioning system is being reworked so I can (hopefully) drive in cool during the rest of the summer. We had the same problem at the close of last season when we had to overhaul the heating system.

If the bottom line in car ownership is "how does the car make you FEEL?" then Hubby and I feel like rebels. We won’t subscribe to the philosophy of buying a new car every two/four at a cost of $30,000 and more just to promote our image. We are a couple of old fogies who still remember the glory years of the 1960’s and we drove the "protest" cars and vans of those years to prove it. We aren’t going to drive around in a status symbol because we don’t really care how others see us. We can find better ways to spend (or save) money than on a hunk of metal. Conversely we aren’t going toddle around in a little tin box of an economy car when our arthritic knees no longer bend properly. We are driving "your grandfather’s car" but then again, we’re both old enough to be your grandfather. Rebel or fuddy-duddy, we now pay cash for our vehicles which will never cost more than our home. That's just NOT right. Also, car payments are so depressing!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Milly's Needs

Go to Google, type your name and after it the words "needs." Record the first ten items that pop up. The responses may make you laugh.

Here are ten things that Milly needs:

  • An iced coffee and a different hat
  • Maintenance manuals
  • A camp job
  • To take a break
  • To take a hard look at her future’s financial securities
  • Hydration after the walk
  • Patient, nurturing folks who have a lot of time and attention to give her in the here and now
  • A date for the prom, and doubts her ability to get one.
  • An honest God-fearing person to get the money so it doesn't fall into the greedy hands of her late husband's family
  • You messing with her head because you're horny

You know, I actually do need most of these things . . .

Who Was Your Favorite Teacher?

Recently I’ve read a couple of blogs concerning memories of the over-30 set of their teachers. The disdain and malice folks have concerning at least one of the many teachers they had throughout their school years has left me feeling stunned. Frankly, I am amazed that these writers were so impacted by a person they saw probably less than an hour a day for a time span of a little less than ten months. Based on the support of school teachers by the public I would have assumed almost every teacher's impact to be minimal at best.

I was a public school teacher in an inner city school for 22 years. Until I started my own program designed to prepare select students for college entrance, I don’t think I impacted my students much at all. Then for the last eight years I taught I had a special program to get students prepared to actually be competitive in a regular college environment.

I started the program for two reasons. First, I was worn down from always having the most problematic students in the school. Because I was a really good disciplinarian, I got the kids with the worst learning problems and consequently the behavior to match. A good teacher will tell you that it takes great skill to handle these kids, but intellectually stimulating it is not. We were always playing catch up, trying to create experiences that were positive but also extremely structured. Teaching kids to correctly spell the word "Wednesday" year after year eventually becomes intellectually stultifying.

Also, I knew that our better students were being continually cheated by earning inflated grades. An "A" in the high school I worked at did not bear even a remote resemblance to an "A" in a suburban setting. The top ten percent of our students went to college and routinely flunked out. They had no idea how to actively study, they had no background in great literature and art, and they spoke and wrote sub-standard English.

To many of the kids who went through my program during those last eight years of my teaching career I probably made a huge difference. For the majority of my career, though, I was just another cog in their failing system.

Possibly because I taught for so long I am able to realize that teaching is just like any profession. It attracts both the well-meaning and bright as well as the incompetent and mean. Maybe teaching gets more of the bad, though. We routinely pay teachers such a sub-standard wage that only the most altruistic and dedicated even consider teaching in the first place. The Ivy League graduates rarely commit to teaching in a public high school becuase the pay, the respect, and the working conditions are terrible. I’m continually surprised when adults knock the teachers they had, instead of wondering in amazement just how they lucked into having any decent teachers at all.

If a city wants a great football team, they invest millions. If parents or a community want good teachers the same principle applies. If you have a really great teacher, you have to think exactly what luxuries that teacher gives up to remain in such a poor paying, low esteemed position. Honestly, the major wage earner of a family can NOT afford to be a teacher.

Is it really reasonable for a teacher to make a huge difference in someone’s life when that teacher looks out at upwards of 150 faces a day? Is it acceptable to be forced into grading 150 essays each week and give each one individual attention? Is it possible to pick out that one miserable face during a 50 minute period when that face is buried in a sea of 30 others? If you ever had a teacher who managed to do that for you, consider that the top salary of that teacher was never over $50,000 a year – and was probably around $35,000.

I was expected to be in my classroom at 7 a.m. five days a week. My lunch break was often taken up by cafeteria duty, hall patrol, or counseling. When school ended at 3 p.m. I was expected to spend several hours grading papers and several hours more creating lesson plans. Frequently I had three to five different classes a day with special preparation needed for each. Also I was expected to contact parents who were usually angry when I finally reached them. At least once a week I was expected to sponsor a club or class event after school.

The district wanted me to know the individual needs and learning styles of each of my 150 students. They also expected that I would correctly discipline that child when necessary. Discipline was not confined just to my classroom; I was expected to monitor the halls and the grounds of the building. Moreover, even when a child came to me three to seven years below grade level, I was expected to get that child on-grade level for standardized tests. All of this earned me a top salary of $32,000 a year.

In 1990 I quit teaching. I loved the classroom but the system had become ungodly. The pay was horrible, the respect was nil, and my district decided, under court order, to turn every single school into a magnet school. Students who couldn’t read at third grade level or spell "Wednesday" would now be going to a full emersion French magnet or entering the Greek magnet which had a swimming pool the coaches could walk under to watch kids swim.

The magnet school system was lauded across the country until it failed 10 years later and suddenly parents wanted the "neighborhood schools" back. Meanwhile my district spent upwards of two billion (yes BILLION) dollars creating these magnet schools. Teachers, of course, never reaped the benefits but the construction companies in our city which built the new schools got rich.

I had had enough. Frankly, I wanted to see what it was like to actually be able to go to the bathroom when I needed to and not when I had a break scheduled by a computer (or an administrator) who didn’t care that I was teaching from 7:35 until 1:20 without one. I wanted to know what a living wage actually looked like. And I wanted some respect for the job I was doing.

I don’t actually remember my own teachers very well. Of course I’m 60 years old so my schooling was a long, long time ago. Some teachers were really good, I’m sure and I liked them and their classes. Some were just so-so and some were probably really awful. It is true that in the eighth grade my grandmother had to take me in hand because I didn’t know my multiplication tables and consequently couldn’t do long division. I’d managed to hide that fact from third grade on so clearly somebody slipped up.

But the hard truth is I don’t remember the names or faces of many of my teachers. I remember much more clearly my peers, the kids I went to school with. I remember the snubs of the snobs and the friendship of the losers who made up my little clique. The teachers were just bystanders for the most part. I learned some stuff and I forgot a whole lot more. I found I didn’t like eighteenth century American authors no matter how well they were taught and I loved the nineteenth century British authors no matter how poorly they were introduced to me. I learned that math and science were not my fields of interest.

Some teachers didn’t see me or my talent which I was sure at that time I must possess. My music teacher ignored me. So did the journalism teacher. Some saw talent I never knew I had, like the football coach who also taught English. I don’t remember many of the names of either the good ones or the bad ones.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s fair for us to curse the rotten teachers until we fix the system that denies the best and brightest, the ones who could be great teachers, the ability to earn the kind of living they deserve and to gain the respect they should receive. We are the villains because we don’t care enough to make teaching a valued, honored position in our communities. If we ever had a teacher we remember fondly we were really, really lucky. That teacher survived in a world of indifference, especially given the current environment of our public school system.

We shouldn’t be throwing stones; we should be looking at an extreme makeover of the system. The next time you want to rant about a poor teacher, remember that as a society we pay for what we get.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Going to the Movies

Since Hubby has been ill (and thankfully now in recovery mode) we’ve entertained ourselves quietly by once again attending movies on a fairly regular basis. We get out of the house, we spend a couple of hours sitting upright, and we have a bit of popcorn and share a diet soda, and we feel like we’ve had a small adventure.

At one point in our lives we went to movies regularly, at least one a week but usually two or three. We saw all the best sellers and I had almost always seen every one of the academy award nominees for the year. We were so non-discriminate in our movies selections that we made our choices based on the time of the showing, not by content. Consequently, from the 1970’s until 1995 we saw nearly every movie made.

My movie watching delight began to fade as Hollywood made more remakes or movies that got "darker" and more violent. I walked out of "Blade" when Wesley Snipes brutally butchered his 15th corpse. Hubby made it through to the end but I sat in the lobby and watched the crowds buying popcorn. Our movie going really took a dive after I had sat through "Pay It Forward" with Haley Joel Osment and Helen Hunt. With the murder of the kid, I was pretty well done with the current movie trend.

We made some exceptions, of course, but more and more we found ourselves buying tickets for the animated features or movies made for kids. If Pixar made a film we went. Hubby was always a big fan of Segall, Eastwood, Stallone, Denzel, and Willis. Then Segall got fat and faded from view. Eastwood, I suppose bowing to age, began to make either arty type flicks or the horribly violent ones. Denzel’s "Man on Fire" was a real horror for a woman looking for a happy ending.

Though it’s hard to limit yourself to ten favorite movies, my all-time list would include such classics as the "Sound of Music," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Gone with the Wind," and "The Color Purple." Clearly the movies of today are of a different genre.

Also, clearly, I am no longer the target audience for Hollywood. "The Princess Diaries" (which I caught on cable) was silly. All those Lindsey Lohan movies that I’ve seen have been pointless. I saw the original "Poseidon Adventure" and honestly, once was enough. I’ve not been hooked by the Ring trilogies and I’ve missed all but one of the Harry Potter series. I saw the one on cable.

This weekend, based on a People Magazine review which actually gave the movie three out of four stars, we went to see "The Break-up." After sitting through this piece of fluff I now realize I am so far out of the mainstream that I probably stranded on a desert island, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned.

Jennifer Aniston is way too thin. Her face is too long. She does have nice hair but she is certainly not a beautiful woman. The best that can probably be said is that she’s "cute." Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, is healthy enough but he’s also really a plain man. Neither actor or the characters they play are the stuff my fantasy is made from. If I want escapism in my movies, and clearly, Hubby and I do, then we want Carry Grant making eyes at Deborah Kerr. Now there’s some heat.

Even worse than looking way too thin and plain, as a couple they share no sexual tension. Jenn walks naked through their apartment and Vince looks but never reacts. In fact, it’s hard to tell that he even finds her a little attractive. Mostly he appears to wonder just why she would have gotten a "Telly Savalas."
This movie is about two highly selfish people with the maturity levels of ten and twelve year olds trying to maintain an affair. They are both too egocentric and immature to make it together for very long which is obvious from the beginning.

Hubby slept through most of the movie. In two weeks he’ll never remember he even attended. I watched hoping that at some point something redeeming would happen. It never did.
Sunday night cable re-showed the lovely "Notting Hill" on, a movie from 1999. Julia Roberts is lovely in the film and you feel the heat between her and Hugh Grant. Hugh, however, carries the movie, along with a handful of odd British character actors who make up the best band of friends one could hope to have. The plot is funny and sweet. The characters manage to overcome their "childish" moments to eventually create an adult love affair. This film’s fantasy level really is worthy of three out of four stars.

Even better the lovers are surrounded by friends who act like friends should. They support, they offer advice when requested, and they withdraw when they should. In "The Break-up" some of the problems experienced by the couple is caused by their so-called friends. It’s a foregone conclusion that immature people attract friends that offer advice worthy of sixteen year olds.

"Notting Hill" also has a wonderful score, so good that in 1999, I actually bought the CD from it. I loved the scene where Grant walks through his neighborhood, moving from spring to the summer of the next year, all by just adding in a coat and scarf and having the leaves and snow and rain fall around him. I have no recollection of any of the music from "The Break-up."

Movies with important messages are being made and Hubby and I are choosing not to go see them. I read about Spielberg’s "Munich" and I’m sure the message was important but I couldn’t force myself to want to grapple with it. I’m also not going to see any of the 9/11 movies that are either out or in the works. I don’t care how good they are. I saw the second plane hit the Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I saw the repeated video of the planes in New York and D.C. and I read the account of the Pennsylvania crash. I don’t want to relive it, not on any level. Maybe in 20 years I could understand why it would be important for a new generation to see movies about the events, but for me it’s way too soon.

When I was still teaching inner city high school, I would sometimes show videos to my students to enhance their reading adventures. The kids usually got something out of seeing the movies as long as we set hard and fast guidelines that had to be followed during the viewing. We made sure that movie time was not just a "free day" from lessons. After reading Romeo and Juliet one year I showed "West Side Story." Initially the kids were struck dumb by the musical because they had never been introduced to a show where people sang and danced instead of talked. They were really getting into the hang of the show and in fact, I think they loved it, until we got to the big fight scene between the Jets and the Sharks. The moment the Jets came leaping into the scene, the kids began to hoot and holler, a couple even fell out of their chairs laughing. This was after they had clearly been warned to behave. We turned off the video and tried to talk about what was expected of them but it was no go. The whole scene was just too different for them and it was funny to them no matter what I tried to say. We had entered into a generational chasm that I wasn’t going to span. The class agreed to hold the noise level down and we showed the rest of the film, which they enjoyed. But leaping around during a gang fight just wasn’t acceptable to them.

The kids’ reaction to "West Side Story" is pretty much how Hubby and I are feeling about the current spat of Hollywood films. Frankly, if I’ve lived it and it hurt me, I don’t have a desire to relive it again on a screen 30 feet high. I want my movies to be escapist fare with wholesome characters, who after a bit of trauma and a few lessons learned, come out on the far side with a rich, rewarding life. Personally, everyone can just sing and dance through the "fight" scenes and if that isn’t realistic, at least don’t show me the beheadings and body limbs severed so blood flows in the mean streets. Most certainly, don’t kill the kids. And if Hollywood plans on making a romance, take a tip from "Notting Hill" and assemble a cast that makes me want to, for just a few hours, reside in that place up there on screen where I can escape my own life.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fighting Boredom

We've been having big rain storms lately with lots of thunder and lightening (or frightening for my doggies who hide under the bed during the noisy part of storms). During the afternoon of Memorial Day the electricity went down for a little over 30 minutes. It's amazing how quickly one's life comes to a halt when the power is down.

We were fortunate to have power so quickly restored but in January 2002 our metropolitan area was hit by an incredible ice storm. Over half a million people lost power; the city was completely shut down. Schools closed, traffc couldn't maneuver the downed power lines, and every hotel / motel with a generator was booked to capacity.

Power came back slowly. Our home was without electricity for eleven long days. Fortunately the weather warmed up quickly and we were able to survive with only the small gas furnace in the downstairs recreation room heating the house. Our water heater is gas powered so we had hot water. We did not have refrigeration or the ability to cook, since we have an electric stove. The first couple of days were kind of fun, like we were on an extended urban camping trip. Quickly, though, the romance of the situation faded and we found ourselves scrambling for things to entertain us. It's amazing to realize just how much of our lives revolve around appliances and gadgets.

When the power initially went down we thought this would be the perfect chance to catch up on our reading. However, reading by candle light in the evening dark is very hard on middle-aged eyes. Here is a list of some things we did that didn't require much illumination.

-- We played cards but since we were only two in number we were limited in the number of exciting cards games we knew to play. We played Zion Check and Honeymoon Bridge until we were sick of both the cards and each other.

-- We played word games: Scrabble, Boggle, and a game where you toss dice with letters on them out of a cup to form three, four, five, etc. letter words.

-- We took drives: during the daylight, to see how the damage repair was proceeding; at night to determine which blocks had gotten electricity and how close the crews were to reaching us.

-- Then we'd lay bets as to how soon our electricity would be repaired.

-- We listened to the radio, especially the NPR station that broadcasts classical music during the day.

We invented "song" games with each other, thinking up songs about specific items and singing the first line of each; an example is "how many songs can you name that mention light?" (This Little Light of Mine; You Light Up My Life; Bright Lights, Big City; Star of Wonder, Star of Light; etc.).

-- Our hobbies pretty much revolve around electricity (for him power tools, for me the computer) but we do have tons of actual photographs from before we got a digital camera and we also have a lot of very old family photos just sitting around in shoeboxes. We went through the photos and tried to label and sort them.

Work closed for two days; schools were shut down longer. Hospitals were up and functioning within 24 hours. Grocery stores and restaurants, for the most part, were, too.

Getting dressed in the dark without my electric curelers wasn't fun. I managed to find a plastic bag of old curlers left over from the 1970's and would set my hair after my evening shampoo. How the heck I did I ever sleep on those things in my youth? I needed to bathe early in the evening so the hair would have time to dry before bedtime, and those dreaded curlers could be removed. Also it's pretty important to lay out your clothes for the next day while you can still see inside the dark hole that is a closet, unless you plan to be mismatched and the object of ridicule at work the next day.

We quickly discovered that we are not very adept at keeping ourselves entertained without our TV, stereo, eletric sanders and computers. We needed good light to read or do our favorite jigsaw puzzles. Our grooming got sloppier and we were beginning to worry about clean clothes toward the end. Certainly our diets took a nosedive as we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over and over because they didn't require refrigeration.

After a week of darkness, we found ourselves angry. During the second week we actually felt depressed and abandoned by the city (which made us doubly sensitive to the trials and tribulations of those affected by the awful hurricanes of 2005).

This May we were without power for less than an hour. We no longer feel the romance of the dark but we do have the resources to entertain ourselves for a limited amount of time. The minute power came back on, Hubby headed for the TV and I rebooted the computer and life was back to normal.

Sometimes I watch those PBS shows where folks re-enact living conditions of a pervious age. I don't want to try that. I need a thermostate to regulate my heat and air conditioning and the TV to entertain me during the quiet times. I want my electric powered steam curlers to make my thinning hair presentable. I want my computer for trading e-mails and placing my e-bay bids and for reading other blogs.

My world is better powered with electricity.