Thursday, September 29, 2011

Unforgotten Moments

The most joyous moments of parenthood are not the big events, the birthday parties, the Christmas mornings, the few minutes of elation that follow days and weeks and months of planning. The unplanned, unscripted, unexpected moments are the ones that endure long after the nest has emptied.

Before Russell started school and I was working in the afternoons, he and I often went to Lake Shore Park in the morning. He was enthralled by The Wizard of Oz, and when we got to the park, he'd tell me to follow him. He'd run by the duck pond and up the hills and back down again. "OK, stop," he'd tell me and take a moment to look around. "This doesn't look like Kansas," he'd say, and off we'd go again.

Back home, he had the sound-track album, and he played it constantly. Russ never tired of Dorothy and the Munchkins and, strangely, neither did I. I had never paid much attention to the lyrics, and it was only after listening to the album day after day that I realized how much fun E.Y. Harburg, the lyricist, must have had - "How about a hippopotamus? Why I'd trash him from top to bottomamus. Supposin' you met an elephant? I'd wrap him up in cellophant." My dad, as usual, was right: they don't write songs like they used to.

Not long after that, I began working days. And because I got home from work an hour-and-a-half before my wife Debbie, I did the cooking during the week. This was matter of convenience and had nothing to do with our respective culinary talents. But one night at the dinner table when Russell was in junior high, Debbie said, "This is really good." Russell looked up from his plate, said "Look who made it," and pointed to me. It has always been my favorite family joke.

And one evening when Bethany was four or five, I was reading at the kitchen table. She wandered in, got up on my lap and then up on the table. She looked at me with her big, expressive eyes and talked about her adventures at day care. She asked me if I wanted to hear a song she had learned there. I told her I did. More than twenty years later, I can still see Bethany's face as she sang:

Say, say my playmate,

come out and play with me

and bring your dollies three,

climb up the apple tree.

Slide down my rain barrel

into my cellar door

and we'll be jolly friends

forever more - more - more!

In the words of another old song, "No, no, they can't take that away from me."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Going to the Doggerels Again

In a Word, Please

Before you commence

Your yakking, condense

The words you dispense.

Don't make your two cents

A verbal offense,

A spiel that's immense

And terribly dense

With wordy nonsense.

What if the Tulip?

What if the tulip had just one?

And what if that one lip was fat?

Why did that tulip come undone?

What if the tulip had just one

Because the other weighed a ton

And fell off one day, then went splat?

What if the tulip had just one?

And what if that one lip was fat?

Cogito too much

I wonder if Descartes's a sham,

Less thoughtful than he's thought to be.

He says he thinks, therefore he am.

I wonder if Descartes's a sham,

Why not, "I am, ergo I'm Sam."?

It's all a Frenchman's fantasy.

I wonder if Descartes's a sham,

Less thoughtful than he's thought to be.

At the Bar

Edna, the floozy,

Was feeling bluesy

And getting boozy

And somewhat woozy.

This guy, a doozy,

Did not look choosey.

She wondered, "Who's he?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Right After These Words

I know four phone numbers. That's all. One is my current number, one is the number that served the Harris household so long and so well in Bethel Park, and one is the number that served another generation of Harrises for twenty years or more in Ashtabula. All the phone numbers I need these days are stored in my phone. When it goes, the numbers will go with it.

"Wait a minute," those paying attention are saying. "You said you know four numbers and you listed three. What's the other one?"

The problem is, I'm ashamed to say I know the remaining number. It is further proof, as if any were needed, that of the bumper crop of information I took in as a lad, all the wheat is gone and only the chaff remains. The fourth phone number on the tip of my tongue:

"Ding-a-ling-a-ling, give Roth a ring:/ Emerson-two-two-eight-oh-oh./ Mr. Roth is Mr. Rugs,/ Emerson-two-two-eight-oh-oh."

You see, far too much of what I know, or at least what I remember, I picked up during commercial breaks. Once a week or so, in quiet moments when I'm alone, I'll sing, "It's delightful, it's de-lovely, it's DeSoto." Chrysler stopped making the car fifty years ago, but the commercial still bangs around in my head. Dad used to sing old commercial jingles now and then, but he never sang about Hupmobiles.

Like topsoil on a hillside during a rainstorm, my valuable knowledge is eroding. And what remains is useless.

"Winston tastes good Like a cigarette should. / Winston gives you full flavor,/ Full, rich tobacco flavor. /Winston's easy drawing too,/ The filter lets the flavor through."

At the time, very few people were worried about the possible link between smoking and cancer. But the English mavens were up in arms because the ad writers ignored the rules of proper English usage. It should be, they said "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should." No one listened, of course, and now "like" is like the most like overused word in like the whole like English language.

The Pirates were on TV from time to time back then, and it's hard to forget Bob Prince. "How sweet it is!" "We had 'em all the way," and "You can kiss it goodbye." Beyond that, what do I remember? Not much besides this:

"Atlantic keeps your car on the go. /For business or pleasure, /In any kind of weather, /Atlantic keeps your car on the go, go, go./ So keep on the go with Atlantic."

Voice 1: Hey, Mr. Culligan man. Voice 2: You'll find him under water in the Yellow Pages.

And you'll find me drowning in a sea of commercials.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Bear Facts

For reasons I can't fathom, my daughter Bethany has become an outdoorsman. It must be one of those recessive genes that surface every few generations. She certainly didn't get it from me.

I've caught one fish in my life. And all I know about firearms I learned from the U.S. Army. What I remember about firearms is when I was in Vietnam and had to carry a weapon, I worried more about shooting myself than being shot at by some VC.

When she was younger, Bethany never seemed much interested in the outdoors. She didn't avoid the outdoors, but she never strayed far from the indoors and its sundry conveniences.

All that started to change in 2001, when Debbie and I divorced, and Bethany and her mother headed for Orofino, Idaho. Now, if there is one thing Idaho has in abundance, it's outdoors. And for the folks along the banks of the Clearwater River, the wild life is mostly about the pursuit of wildlife, and game is about the only game in town.

In time, Bethany adapted. It took a while. She said of a boyfriend a few years ago: "Travis is so small town." That struck me as putting on cosmopolitan airs, coming as it did from someone who spent her first 17 years in Ashtabula.

But she found her way outside and in time became an avid sportswoman. Even so, I was taken aback a few days ago when I opened an email from her and found that she had bagged a bear. You know, one of those big furry things that Davy Crockett killed when he was only 3. But there it was, pictures and all.

"We had gone up in the Lochsa/Coolwater region of Idaho, which is heading out toward Missoula, Mont.," Bethany wrote. "We walked around this old logging road to the bluff that contained large trees and steep draws. We thought it would be the perfect place to set up a bear bait.

"So we set it up, using about 50-70 pounds of dog food and 10-15 gallons of grease. After we dumped all of that stuff down, we took large logs and branches and placed them on top of the dog food and grease. We would be able to determine the size of the bear that was there by noticing which logs had been moved. Then we finished it by starting a fire next to the bait and burning molasses. The molasses burns and produces a thick smoke that sticks to the trees, ground, etc. Basically it is a type of lure."

I like the way Bethany takes me through this step by step. Sometimes she is in such a hurry, but when it really matters, she is so patient with her old man.

"A few days had gone by and we ventured back into the bear bait to see if it had been hit. It had," Bethany went on. "Looking around the bait we noticed many bear tracks in the soft mud, including the smallest bear track I have ever seen. It was sooooo cute. We knew now it was just a matter of time."

OK, if you think the tracks are "sooooo cute," why would you want to risk shooting its mom or dad? Isn't it easier when the meat is prepackaged, and you don't have to concern yourself with questions of cuteness?

"Two days after that, on a Sunday, we decided we were going to shoot a bear," Bethany said. "We drove up to the spot, got out of the truck, got the guns, video camera, knives etc., and we sneaked into the bait.

"As we were walking up to the bait, we could hear the ravens talking. On a bear bait, when you hear the ravens but do not see them, they are generally sitting on the bait, which means there is no bear there at that time. Sure enough, we looked over the hill and saw about five ravens sitting on top of the logs.

"No big deal. Having those ravens there actually enabled us to get a good spot and get prepared for a bear to walk in."

So, that's all there is to it? You sit around and wait for the bear to show up for its execution. I would have concluded that the ravens were saying "Nevermore" and headed back to town.

"So here I am sitting on this hill. I have my shooting sticks in place and the Remington 7 Mag sitting on the sticks," she went on. "I had it set up so all I had to do was look through the scope and it was already looking onto the bait.

"After about five minutes of preparation, I sat there for about another five minutes. I looked around and was completely silent. Then, in that short amount of time, my soon-to-be bear rug was walking into the bait. All of the sudden, my heart began pounding and I looked through the scope, got the bear in the sights, waited patiently until the bear turned so I could have a clean broadside shot, and BOOOOM.

"I hit the bear right in the shoulder, and he folded on top of the bait. I looked up at my friends and had the biggest smile in the world. I was sooooo excited."

For those like me who have no idea what Bethany is talking about: Shooting sticks are two sticks that are put into the ground to form an X. The shooter rests her gun on the sticks and awaits the prey. A Remington 7 Mag is a gun about which I know nothing.

"We began walking down to the bait to check out my kill," Bethany continues. "When we got there, we poked the bear a little with the butt of the gun to make sure I didn't just injure him, and that he wouldn't get up and attack me. But he was done - no movement or anything. I had made a perfect shot.

"After about a half hour of photography, we started to skin the bear out. After about 45 minutes of working on getting the bear cleaned up, Danny - a friend of mine - looked down the draw and said 'Beth give me the gun.' I looked at him and was like 'whatever.' He says, 'No, seriously, give me the gun.'

"So I give him the gun. He pops off a shot and I hear what sounds like a deep moan. I look down the hill and he had shot a bear, too.

"His bear was a beautiful blonde color. It was a boar and it was about 100 pounds. Mine was a black sow with a tan patch at about 175 pounds. So, that made for a long evening. We had to skin out not only my bear but his as well.

"It was probably the best hunting trip I have ever been on."

You know, I'm not sure I like the idea of my daughter using the term "like whatever" in written correspondence. Otherwise, she never ceases to amaze me.

This appeared in the Star Beacon, July 23, 2008

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Out of Season

Life is a series of milestones, and I have reached another one. This one has to do with winter. Thirty years ago, I loved winter, I looked forward to winter. Some time in the 1980s, Masterpiece Theater presented a dramatization of The Last Place on Earth, the story of Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen racing to the South Pole. That winter, as I walked to Dairy Mart each morning for the paper, the snow crunching beneath my feet, and the bitterly cold wind blowing off the ice-covered lake, I pictured myself slogging across Antarctica. Just to be on the safe side, I traveled with the Norwegians rather than with the always confidant but hopelessly incompetent Scott.

Shoveling snow was a challenge then, especially as the snow piled up and there was no more room to put it between our house and the neighbor's fence. I had to carry the excess to the backyard by the shovel full. But it was a welcome challenge. A job that once done, I wanted to say, "Come on, Mother Nature, is that the best you can do?" Then, oh so pleased with my indomitable spirit, I went inside for some hot chocolate.

Around the middle of February every year, winter would be interrupted by three or four spring-like days. Only then did my thoughts turn to warm winds and sunshine. When the seasonable weather returned, which it inevitably did, winter had lost its luster.

As the years past, winter began to lose its thrill. Well, maybe it didn't lose its thrill, but the thrill didn't last as long. For a while, I was fed up with winter by Groundhog's Day. A few years later, it was the middle of January, and by the turn of the century, a white Christmas seemed like a suitable finale for winter. I still looked forward to the first snowfall of the season, but not for long. Five or six years ago, the day we returned to standard time was the last of a string of wonderful fall days. It was followed by two weeks of unrelenting overcast and frequent rain. A dark and depressing fortnight that left me sick of winter several days before the first flurry fluttered by the window.

Which brings me to today's milestone. It's Tuesday; the autumnal equinox is Friday. Summer isn't over yet, and I'm already sick of winter. That's never happened before.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Let's Reclaim Yankee Doodle

"Men as well as women festooned their hair with plumes and feathers, and tied ribbons to each bouncing curl. Some men took to wearing high-heeled shoes - not clunky platform shoes, but slender, spiky heels up to six-inches high - and carrying furry muffs to keep their hands warm. Some carried parasols in the summer. They became known as macaronis, from a dish they first encountered in Italy."

Bill Bryson in his book The Home

"Yankee Doodle went to town, a riding on a pony. / He stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni."

Take a moment to consider those words. Now, ask yourself: What do they mean? Think specifically about the word "macaroni" and what it meant at the time Yankee Doodle was a riding on his pony. Perhaps you think it has no meaning; that the lyricist found himself four syllables and a rhyme for "pony" short, and pulled "macaroni" out of the air. Well, you would be wrong. Or, maybe you think a witty lyricist was trying to create the image of Yankee Doodle with a noodle on his noodle. Well, you would be wrong again.

Yankee Doodle is a song our children are taught in kindergarten, and which they proudly sing while waving small flags - not just any flag, they wave Old Glory - on the Fourth of July. A joyous and patriotic display, you say. Sadly, it is not.

Remember, in the late 18th Century, when Yankee Doodle went to town, macaroni had little to do with the stuff in a box with Kraft on the label, and everything to do with the effeminate, the degenerate and the sexually deviant. Because Kraft Foods did not exist then, the "macaroni" in the song cannot refer to macaroni and cheese, and must, therefore, refer to "macaroni" as in prissy, dandified and morally repugnant.

Now, I for one believe - and if I believe it, it must be true - that the Yankee Doodle who topped the charts in 1776 never referred to himself or his attire as "macaroni." He couldn't. It is simply not possible. Ask yourself: Is macaroni, with the connotations it had at the time, the image a patriotic lyricist would have selected for the symbol of our fledgling country as it fought for independence? Of course not.

The lyrics we know today make it seem that Yankee Doodle went to town doused in perfume; that he wore a feathered cap and spiked heels and had ribbons in his hair; that he carried a parasol in case the sun got too hot and a muff lest his hands get cold. The truth is, this Yankee Doodle is not dandy. He is a dandy, a fop, a sissy in fancy clothes.

Thanks to the intellectuals, the gays, the bleeding hearts, the communists, the atheists, the agnostics, the enemies of freedom and the mollycoddlers, who obviously altered the lyrics to suit their so-called politically correct notions, the Yankee Doodle our founding fathers admired has been lost. I'd like to think the pinkos overlooked the line "and with the girls be handy." I want to believe that means Yankee was a testosterone-laden hunk of masculinity, a real American male, a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am guy. But the word "macaroni" makes it clear that the people who surreptitiously altered the lyrics want us to envision Mr. Doodle, hairdresser.

But Yankee Doodle can be pulled from the morass of immorality. By changing just one line, we can re-image Yankee Doodle the girly-boy, restore the lyricist's original intent and morph Yankee into the American ideal - a man who shoots first and asks questions later; a man who says "go ahead, make my day" and "bring 'em on;" a man who proudly listens to Rush Limbaugh. Let us take a pen and turn "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" into "Punched a leftie in the mouth and shot him with an Uzi." Yankee Doodle will get his manhood back, and American males will be free to be men again. Real men.

Tomorrow's topic is the cesspool of public education. Did you know our school children must to listen to music dedicated to striptease artists? In music appreciation classes all across the country students are exposed to a piece of perversion called "Air on the G String," by some foreigner named Bach. And did you know that many high school English students are required to read a poem about a flaming homosexual? They are. The poem is called "The Faerie Queene," written by Edmund Spenser, a limp-wristed Englishman who obviously can't spell. Tomorrow, I'll explain how you can fight back against this flood of perversion.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Lack of a Better Word

The other day in the Plain Dealer, Regina Brett put the number of words in the English language at 1,010,649. Why is it then, when just one word, or perhaps a few well-chosen words, will do, the language is a desert, a barren plain? The apt phrase proves to be a mirage. The hoped for witticism is drab, withered, colorless. The desired sparkling comment - desiccated, lifeless, dull. Finding a word is easy; finding the right word isn't.

And when I do find that perfect word, all too often it's too late. A few years ago when I was out and about on weekend mornings covering 5Ks and the like, fartlek would have enhanced my vocabulary. Unfortunately, the word escaped my attention until last night when I was making my way through Peter Bowler's The Superior Person's Second Book of Weird and Wondrous Words. Fartlek, according to Bowler, "is a method of training long distance runners, whereby the trainee runs across country, alternating speed work with slow jogging." Lest you think Bowler made this up, and I suspected he had,, citing The Random House Dictionary, gives the definition as, "a training technique, used especially among runners, consisting of bursts of intense effort loosely alternating with less strenuous activity." It is from the Swedish, meaning "speed play." While the sources don't say, perhaps the bursts of speed are due to bursts of gas.

Because I didn't know the word, I never wrote, "Schmedley made no beans about it, his time was better because he spent more time on fartlek." Of course, I had written that, the Star Beacon sports editor might have raised a stink.

One of the more onerous tasks faced by a married man is assessing his wife's appearance. And he must make regular assessments because she asks him to. "How do I look?" she asks every time they are about to go out the door and every time she dons a new outfit. "Boy, you look great," is never a satisfactory answer, even when it's the truth. "Are you sure?" she'll ask; or she'll say something like "You really don't mean that," or "You're just saying that," or "I think it makes me look fat." Well, yeah.

Which is why embonpoint (pronounced ahn-bawn-PWAN) would have been such a handy word. Too bad I didn't stumble over it while I was married. When she asked how she looked, I could have said, "What a pretty dress. I love the color, and it brings out your natural embonpoint." The Frenchiness would have overwhelmed her, and she would have been happy for days. Eventually, of course, she would have looked up embonpoint and discovered it means "plumpness." That would have made for a rough week or two, but she would have never again asked me how she looked.

And while on the subject of things nuptial, there is the word uxorious. When I first came upon it a few years ago and looked it up in my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary: Second College Edition, copyright 1985, the word was defined as "Excessively or irrationally devoted to one's wife." More recently, when I looked it up online, the definition, citing The American Heritage Dictionary, copyright 2000, was "Excessively submissive or devoted to one's wife." What happened to "irrational?" How is it in fifteen years the uxorious fellow went from being nuts to being just really, really sensitive? I bet the chairperson of the usage panel is a domineering full-figured woman embarrassed by her embonpoint. And there's got to be a word for that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Prescient, Conflicted Skeptic

Prescience has been on my mind. Prescience, "knowledge of actions or events before they occur; foreknowledge; foresight," is something I have long longed for. I have no desire to be a great seer, but I think it would be nice to look at the options before me and come up with at least a good guess on how events might unfold if I did this, or maybe that.

Well, I got my wish and stumbled into prescience a few weeks ago. A person more wisely prescient than I would have remembered the old saw that warns us to be careful what we wish for; we just might get it. The problem began on August 11. One of the suggested topics Suzanne gave us that day was to write a short piece about ourselves ten years ago and a short piece about ourselves ten years from now. The problem was the latter. Should I assume medical science will find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, and that I will be back to my abnormal self in ten years? Or should I take the more realistic view and assume that even if a cure is found, it will be prohibitively expensive and the Tea Party will be in charge and if the insurance won't pay for it, oh well?

I took the more realistic option, picturing myself as bedridden and totally dependent on others for even the simplest things. And suddenly I was prescient. My legs, which haven't been limber in six years or more, got stiffer than ever. Sitting up on the side of the bed was a little dicey, because I had a difficult time keeping my legs close to the bed, and I felt as if I was about to slide off onto the floor. And as for putting on my socks, forget about it. It's amazing how distant a foot can be when it's at the end of a leg with a knee that won't bend, or once bent won't stay bent. But you can't count on anything these days, and once when I was standing and once while I was attempting to stand, my knees gave way and I crumpled.

By the end of last week, as I was cursing my prescience, things started to improve. We went to Boston, Pennsylvania, a little town near McKeesport, for the weekend, and I woke up Saturday morning feeling better than I had for weeks. I wasn't moving any better than I had been moving early in August, but I was moving much, much, much better than I had been moving the first week in September.

Conflicted is another word I've had on my mind. I don't like the word. It serves a useful purpose in psychology and related fields, I'm sure. But I don't like the sound of it. Still, as I sat on the deck of the bed and breakfast in Boston Saturday morning, I felt conflicted. It was such a beautiful morning; the sun was shining and wisps of clouds hung just below the tops of the wooded hills across the way. A little later, I went to the park along the banks of the Youghiogheny River and was awed by the beauty of the scene. The quiet river, a mirror reflecting the hills along its banks.

I tried to imagine what a person standing there sixty years earlier might have seen: probably not much besides smoke. Not far from Boston, the Youghiogheny flows into the Monongahela River, which was once lined steel mills, one of the world's great industrial areas. Up the Yough thirty or forty miles from Boston is Connellsville, where coal was turned into coke and then shipped to the mills in Pittsburgh. As we started back to Ashtabula Sunday, we passed huge vacant lots that had replaced the steel mills and went through decaying towns that were once made prosperous by the mills. Dad didn't work in a mill, but he was a tax attorney for the US Steel railroads, and the life we enjoyed was a product of those mills. And so there's part of me that thinks it is sad that people a few decades ago would have been more likely to see pollution than beauty when they sat by the river. And there's part of me that thinks it is sad that the great industrial engine in the Mon Valley is now barely sputtering. I guess I'm conflicted.

I'm also skeptical. It happens every Wednesday, which is the day American Profile, a magazine insert, arrives with the Star Beacon. The first thing to catch my eye this week was the picture of Heloise on the cover. "That can't be Heloise," I screamed. "Heloise has got to be at least 110." As it turned out, the picture was of the current Heloise, who is the daughter of the original Heloise. According to the article, the first Heloise died in 1977 at the age of 58. I missed her obituary. And I overshot her age by almost twenty years. Heloise would be a spry 92, not 110.

For a moment I was ashamed of my unwarranted skepticism. Fortunately, a further perusal of American Profile allowed me to feel good again. "The Ask American Profile" feature answers readers' questions about celebrities. The celebrities are always doing well, of course. Some of them had fallen on hard times, committed a few unspeakable crimes and consumed all manner of drugs and other illegal substances, but they've since gotten their lives together and doing wonderfully. Apparently, you can't keep a good celebrity down. I'm skeptical.

And almost every week in "Ask American Profile" there is an answer similar to the one this week in response to a question about Orson Wells. "The Blu-ray 70th anniversary Citizen Kane Ultimate Collector's Edition of the 1941 classic about power and the press will be released Sept. 13 by Warner Home Video." What a coincidence, John Washam of Macon, Georgia, sending his question just in time for the release of the video. Is he prescient, or what?

I'm skeptical.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Just One Disconcerting Thing After Another

As Garrison Keillor might say, it's been a disconcerting week in Ashtabula, my hometown. This morning, Cuddles the Cat outsmarted me. That is not unusual. She is a cat of superior intellect and often uses her keen mind to shame me. But this morning, she was unable to hide her disdain, and shot me one of those evil feline glances that seem to say, "Nice try, dummy, but you'll have to do better than that."

You see, I was up early, and the first order of business was to retrieve the morning papers from the front porch. But to get to the front porch, I first had to open the front door. The problem is: quite often when the front door is open Cuddles will dash out in order to cat around. (Please note: Cuddles has been fixed, and any catting around she does she does responsibly.) Cuddles, of course, is quick as a cat, and I'm not. By the time I get the wheelchair out the door and turned around to close it, Cuddles can be out the door and three streets away.

I might be slow, ponderous and uncoordinated, but I am the primate in charge, and no cute, furry quadruped is going to escape on my watch. I snatched her by the nape of the neck, put her on my lap, deposited her in the bathroom and shut the door. Then proceeding at my own comfortable pace, I went out and got the papers. The shock came when I started back into the house and saw Cuddles in the middle of the living room floor. How did she get out of the bathroom? And how come cats always have that look of effortless grace when sprawled on the floor? There was something very Cleopatra-like in her demeanor, as if she were seducing an imaginary Marc Antony. But when I looked her in the eye, she yawned a yawn of haughty insolence. She never said a word but made no effort to hide what she was thinking.

Her look said, "You're hopeless, Tom. I could be running through the neighborhood, but I'd rather lie here and silently mock you."

Then she yawned again and gave a little flick of her head, as if to say, "What are you looking at? Go eat your breakfast and leave me be."

It was disconcerting.

Later, I found her in the middle of the floor as I wheeled from the computer room to the kitchen. There was no way to go around her, so I pulled as close to her as I could, even pushed her a few inches with the foot plate. She looked at me with eyes that seemed to say, "What the hell?" Eventually she moved - all of six inches. I pulled close again, hoping to frighten her, but Cuddles rubbed her back on the carpet for a minute or two before squirming ahead another few inches. We repeated the process again and again and again, until Cuddles had made her point, whatever it might have been.

The week's first disconcerting event, however, occurred Wednesday. I have been aware for some time that my voice is changing. Unlike the change from boyish to manly it underwent in the 1960s, my dulcet tones are now going from manly to womanly. I think it has something to do with MS.

In any event, quite often when I answer the phone and say, "Hello," the first words out of the caller's mouth are "Hi, Nancy." At first I didn't think much of it. I assumed the callers were in the I'm-going-to-talk-to-Nancy mode and weren't prepared for the possibility of someone else answering the phone. But the callers never say, "Oh, stupid me. I guess I need to work on my listening skills. Is Nancy there?" Instead, they get discombobulated, embarrassed, uncomfortable, and extend lengthy apologies.

And so, the phone rang Wednesday afternoon.

"Hello," I said.

"May I speak to Nancy Vallen, please?" the caller asked. He didn't give his name or say where he was calling from. Although, the tone of his voice and manner of speaking conjured up images of a Marine captain sitting ram-rod straight at his desk in the Pentagon.

"Nancy isn't here right now," I said. "May I take a message?"

"No, ma'am. I'll call back another time."

Ma'am? He called me "Ma'am." I was just getting used having my voice mistaken for that of a woman, and this guy calls me "Ma'am." Everybody knows "ma'am" is a euphemism for "doddering old fool of the female variety."

It is very disconcerting.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Out on a Limerick

Pass the Antacid

The snowman, abominable,
Had a pain in his abdominal.
Perhaps spaghetti
Upset the Yeti,
Although that seems improbable.

This Won't Hurt

The dentist said, "Easy does it.
That wasn't so bad, now was it?"
Said I, "That's not so.
And how would you know
If it was painless or wasn't?"


Alisha, the activities director, asked me to play Reader's Digest editor and condense an article on spring health tips she'd found ...