Sunday, February 23, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day or Breaking Up with Krispy Kreme

On Valentine's Day 2014, I was especially excited because Mr. Powers was going to take me to a restaurant that I loved and he was unfamiliar with.  Translation:  He had never been there and was not interested in going.  The day before Valentine's, he had made the mistake of asking one of his student assistants for advice on where to take his wife for a nice, non-extravagant dinner.  Woe unto Mr. Powers!  She'd suggested my favorite place.

The restaurant was crowded and noisy, but I was pleased to note that the food was so good that even my skeptical husband had to admit he liked it.  I took advantage of his full belly and need of a quiet venue, so I suggested going for coffee somewhere close by after the meal.  We could go to Starbuck's, which might be a little crowded, but it's never noisy, or we could go to Books-a-Million where the coffee is good, and there are other attractions for book-mongering nerds like me.  Mr. Powers could get a magazine or newspaper; I would be free to browse. . . and browse. . . . and . . . .

My husband had a better idea.  He jolted me from my dreams of new books and Sno-Joe with "Why don't we just go on down to Krispy Kreme?  We can get dessert too."

I know when I'm licked, because doughnuts are my mate's tacky pleasure.  He never met a doughnut he didn't like, be it oblong, cream-filled, lemon, chocolate with sprinkles, powdered sugar, or Classic Glazed.  I timidly offered the possibility that we could just hit the drive-through, but for Mr. Powers, that would have meant driving to Slapout from Montgomery with a dozen fresh KK's in the backseat.  He couldn't bear the wait.  We would have to go inside.

So to Krispy Kreme we went.  Don't get me wrong.  I love coffee, and KK makes a better-than-average cup.  I really didn't expect much of a crowd at 7:30 on a Friday night, so I figured that anything we would lose in ambience we would gain in java--and doughnuts, of course.  My regimen doesn't allow me doughnuts right now, but I could certainly sip my coffee in peace while Mr. Powers debated between the chocolate-covered long john and the cinnamon-dusted apple-filled.

The Montgomery Krispy Kreme is not new,  but like a good many coffee emporia, it is trying to keep up with the ubiquitous Starbuck's by offering specialty coffees for people who really don't like coffee all that much.  Therefore, there is a big coffee menu inside KK where there used to be only a list of doughnut prices.  I could choose from cappuccino, latte, iced, hot, with any number of gooey syrups drizzled on top in case my doughnuts weren't sugary enough.  I asked for the small version of their caramel latte, which would probably have packed the caloric wallop of a raspberry-filled glazed.  What I got was an apology.  The espresso machine was broken, so none of the specialty coffees were available.   Relieved, I ordered black coffee with a splash of vanilla flavor, and it wasn't bad at all. Mr. Powers, who was really only there for the doughnuts,  happily ordered black coffee.

We took our desserts and headed for a table.  KK used to be a shiny 60's coffee shop with lots of chrome, booths, and a formica counter with stools.  I think it would still like to be, but competition with you-know-who has led it to try to come up with a new atmosphere--some sort of environment that would encourage one to sit with his frothy, caramel-oozing dessert coffee and read the Montgomery Advertiser online.  KK has added small tables for two.  This night, they had tied balloons--pink and red, heart-shaped and metallic--to the backs of chairs, and in the center of each table was a romantic paper Krispy Kreme hat.  Mr. Powers and I were in agreement that the paper hat could be donned and worn by anyone who sat at the table, but when I said I wanted the balloons that were attached to my chair, he said NO.  He felt strongly that the balloons were only decorative and were NOT freebies.  All in all, it didn't seem like all that bad a place to relax over coffee before heading back to Elmore County.  HOWEVER--

There was one other group of doughnut fans in the place besides the two of us.  There were maybe  five adults in the party, and they had pulled two tables together.  On one chair was an infant carrier.  In that carrier was--you guessed it--an infant.  The baby was awake and peaceful, too young to eat a doughnut, but in no hurry.  Why, I wondered, was this group so noisy?  Then I saw what I had been hearing all along but not attended to, being so absorbed in the dilemma of what to order:  There were three preschoolers, all girls, under the tables.  Giggling.  Chattering.  Squealing.  Screaming.  One by one, out they came and proceeded to run around and around their parents' tables, laughing hysterically, batting pink balloons into the air.   One of them put her paper KK hat on the baby, who stirred a bit, until another little girl decided the hat was hers.  A dispute ensued over who had had the hat first. Balloons burst.  Baby cried.  The smallest preschooler jumped up and down.  Through it all, the adults conversed as if absolutely nothing were amiss.  Without saying a word to each other, Mr. Powers and I sped up the process, placing plastic lids on our half-full coffee cups, and leaving KK, paper hat, and balloons.

I raised boys.  They shouted, they hollered, and they got themselves taken out of many a restaurant, because their dad and I knew that if we were annoyed with them, others must be, too.  I never had little girls, and I surmise that with girls, the rules are different.  No one at Krispy Kreme that night seemed the least bit bothered by the antics of three doughnut-powered princesses.  Who were we to complain?  We didn't.  It was Valentine's Day.  Mr. Powers and I love each other, we love coffee, and we still love Krispy Kreme.  Only next time, we'll hit the drive-through.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Musings During Iron Bowl Week

The summer of '78, I somewhat reluctantly began graduate work at Auburn University. It wasn't that I liked or disliked Auburn, it was more a feeling that I, a full-time English teacher and commuter, would not fit into the scheme of things on a primarily residential campus known for its agriculture and engineering programs.  I was one of probably thousands of Alabamians who think they understand Auburn.  I was wrong.

Auburn University is everything the Auburn nation claims it is--warm and accepting, beautiful, academically tough, and spirited.  I discovered in Auburn people a resilience I had never before encountered in the education field, and by that I mean that they were undaunted by setback, criticism, or the size of the task at hand.  The faculty were demanding and good-humored.  My fellow graduates, progressive-minded and creative.  By the time I graduated with a Master of Speech Communication degree in 1980, I was orange and blue through and through.

I admit that I am somewhat of a legacy Auburn Tiger--my mother was an Auburn undergrad back around 1948.  I still kick myself for not having the foresight to keep her freshman beanie and the stuffed orange and blue tiger she brought back to Birmingham with her when she left school.  Unfortunately, she never finished that degree, but she did pass on what all Auburn people pass on, and that is a permanent affection for the Plains.  I suppose I was destined to call Auburn, Alabama my home away from home.

Ah, but this is Iron Bowl week, and we are supposed to be talking football, right?  OK, except that I am not an authority on football.  Like any kid born in this state, I have sat through many a game, and I know pretty well what's going on on the field, but who am I to describe--muchless predict--what a bunch of D-I caliber athletes will do on any given Saturday?  Which brings me to the point of this blog:  the incessant, obnoxious, ill-conceived squalling also known as trash talk or smack.

I don't want to seem prim, but stop it.  Yep, just like that.  You see, it doesn't make any difference whose rear-end you think will get kicked, how murderous you think your team is, or whose coach has the people skills of a porcupine.  Do you hate the kids on the field?  What for?  They're the ones who will have sod between their teeth, not you.  Do you think the coach is overpaid?  Would you still think so if the paycheck went into your pocket?  Or do you for some inexplicable reason just hate one particular university or the other?

One of my friends had this to say. "Hey, this is the SEC; do you whatever you have to do."  I think he may have meant that all the venom-spewing was all in good fun, but he's wrong.  It detracts from everything we're supposed to be doing in this state, including supporting students.  If you're an Auburn grad, and you're a little nervous about this game, welcome to the club.  I well remember laughing with delight at the amazing  Iron Bowl comeback of the 2010 Championship team, but I also remember howling in frustration over a certain short kid's field goal kick.  The upcoming contest could go either way.  Many commentators say that every year, as they do about other traditional rivalries.  So yes, let's do throw the record book out, and be who we are--the most cohesive, gracious, and classy supporters of a football team as can be found anywhere.  And one more thing--This may not always be true, but for the 2013 season it is most definitely true:  No matter what is on the scoreboard after 60 minutes, there will be no such thing as defeat for the Auburn Tigers.  Not this year.  We've already won.  War Eagle!

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Ancestor's Voice

I have been told that as we age, we become our parents.  We take on their mannerisms, habits, and gestures, and before we know it, we're staring into the mirror, exclaiming, "Oh no, you sound just like your mother!"  I will escape such a fate.  Instead, I am becoming my grandmother.

Sue Lou Harwell Miles was my mother's mother.  She was an Atlanta girl whose family home was in Inman Park.  (That means something to old Atlantans.)  She was a Southern Belle, a Steel Magnolia, a homemaker, a hostess, a seamstress, and a housekeeper.  She emphasized substance over style and recognized the advantage of "refined and nice" over flashy.  I inherited some of the stereotypes, none of the practical skills, and every last one of her truisms.  When it came to situational wisdom, Sue Lou had a saying for any occasion.

I should be more respectful, I admit.  My grandmother was Mrs. Miles until the day she died, and she would be horrified to discover me calling her Sue Lou in a public forum.  As a matter of fact, she would be horrified by public forums in general.  "Fools' names and fools' faces are always seen in public places," she would chide when some one's name appeared in the wet cement of a new sidewalk. Oh dear.  Didn't I say the very same thing to my naive son who thought it would be a great idea to publish all his weekend pranks on a social network?

While I am not the thriftiest person in the world, I catch myself muttering my grandmother's script every time I shop.  "You get what you pay for,"  says Sue Lou as I contemplate the cheap sneakers.  "If you see something you want, get it when you see it, if you can afford it," she says, and I conclude that I can have the good sneakers, but only if I am willing to pay with cash rather than plastic.

But it isn't only the shopping that causes Sue Lou to tap me on the shoulder with her reminders.  I recently had some furniture re-upholstered--a Sue Louism if ever there was one--and the upholsterer returned a roll of fabric remnants to me.  I noted that the remnants would not cover anything I had left in the house, and I started to throw them out.  Then there came the voice, my own voice of course, but HER words:  "Waste not, want not!"  There are two rolls of fabric scraps in my spare room.

I find that I order my life and surroundings the way that she would have. I freshen up before leaving the house, even if it is just to go to the store.  If I am hungry when I get home from work, I have a bite to eat, just to tide me over.   I want to go on a 3-day beach trip when I have work to do at home?  "You're old enough for your wants not to hurt you."  Mr. Powers wants chocolate pie for dessert when all we have is ice cream and cookies?  "Beggars can't be choosers."  And "of all things," "good grief'" and "O my soul!" we wish there were a grocery store a little closer to the house!  "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."  So much for my grandmother's thoughts (now mine) about instant gratification.

Not long ago, during the Summer of the Upholstery, my #1 son came home on leave from the Navy.  I was proud of my "new" old furniture, and I had worked very hard to get my living room into what I thought was a semblance of shabby-chic cottage- style comfort.  My kiddo looked around and said it looked nice.  OK, Jonathan, tell me what you really think.  "Well," he confessed, "it kinda looks like a waiting room . . . with no TV . . . from the '40's."  Exactly when Sue Lou decorated the living room of the Homewood, Alabama house where I was raised!  I look around the room, and the echoes of her influence are everywhere--furniture is trimmed in dark mahogany, mirrors with heavy frames accent my walls, alabaster grapes are in a flea-market pedestal bowl.  I am not afraid of color, but I suppose I believe at some level that splashy reds and oranges are "plum tacky," because my beautiful colors are soft neutrals, whispers of lavender and coral, and woodsy green.  Refined and nice.

It's time I ended this reminiscence.  My grandmother was never one to call attention to herself.  If there were merchandise to be returned, she took it back.  If there were a button to be sewn, she sewed it; a meal to be cooked, she cooked it; a chair broken, she repaired it.  She was no doubt Martha to my Mary.  I only learned to sit and learn, while she set the example of everything that a Southern lady, no matter how refined and nice, could do.  She would never have put up with this kind of self-disclosure.  She was much too busy.  If you could get her to stop taking care of the business of living, if you did ask her how she felt about so-and-so or what she remembered about such-and-such, or when she married, or why she never went to work outside her home, she would give you the briefest of smiles.  Then she would say, "Ask me no questions; I'll tell you no lies."

Ditto.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Curse of the Blessing

I have officially made the summer switch from working THERE to working HERE.  I have the privilege of not only a part-time job, but time off from my full-time job during the summer.  Technology makes it possible for me to accomplish my tasks from home via internet and an aging workhorse of a laptop.  I make my own hours, take breaks when I need them, and have pretty direct control over how much I earn based on hours I work.  Am I complaining? NO!  Well, maybe, some perhaps .  . .okay, yes.

I report to the cyber-saltmine every morning at . . . .wait.  I don't have to get up right now, so I will squeeze a few more minutes into snooze time.  After all, I don't have to plan for the morning commute.  (Yes, but that's 10 minutes when you WON'T be earning any money.  Move yer bloomin' arse.)  All right, then.  I'm up.  What should I wear?  (This is your dream, job, remember?  Wear what you want.  Yes, the PROPERTY OF U.S. NAVY T-shirt works.)  Coffee is already brewed and waiting.  Mr. Powers is still pulling 8-3 at the school house.  I will just have a quick cup with breakfast, and then after my second cup, which I now have time for, I will get on the computer and hit some licks.  (You can have your second cup while you work, Idiot.  Put the computer on the kitchen table.)

So here I am in my office, which today is the kitchen.  I have everything I need--my working materials, a pen, fresh coffee, my phone.  And the dog, I need the dog.  Jolene?  Come here, girl.  With the dog stretched out beneath the table, I am finally all set.  Almost.  Where should I set my coffee cup?  If I put it to the left of the computer, it will be on top of the printed materials I need to access as I work.  If I put it on the right, I will knock it on the floor.  I drink coffee left-handed.  (Hello!  This is a kitchen table.  Put the computer on the side, not on the end.  You will have plenty of room to spread your stuff out.)

Organized at last!  I log onto my worksite and check yesterday's productivity report.  Not bad, but not good either.  Yesterday was Sunday, and I was sleepy most of the afternoon.  On the weekends, they make you log off at 5:00 p.m.  Today is Monday, though, and I can put in as many hours as possible.  I will get started right away, but Jolene needs to go out.  The other two dogs want in.  They are confused by my presence at home on what is clearly a weekday.  Dogs re-distributed, I begin my preliminary activity.  I have my phone close by, because the company I work for offers great technical assistance, and I sometimes need access to it.  My phone also alerts me to email as it comes in, Facebook messages, and sales at Target, all of which I will ignore.  (You better not ignore that Facebook alert.  You have a deployed child, remember?)  Some of which I will ignore.

It has been an hour, and I have found a comfortable groove of action.  I am not working with blistering speed, mind you, but I have a steady pace going, and I am far from needing a break.  I type in a response and get an error message.  I haven't seen this one before, but internet can be persnickety, so I log out.  I log right back in.  My account is locked.  It must be an issue with the password, as I have recently had my project switched by the company I work for, so I probably should have changed my password at that time.  No problem; that is why my phone is close by.  I call the toll-free number and select tech support.  A very nice lady politely informs me that this is not a technical issue.  I need to speak to some one in content support.  Uh-oh.  I have a content problem?  They usually warn me a million times if accuracy is in question. 

It is 10:30 in the morning.  I cannot log back in for another 15 minutes while my director researches the problem.  He thinks one of my co-workers may have developed some issues which are causing my numbers to appear skewed, as we are randomly paired to ensure accuracy.  (Who is this slacker?  I don't have time to wait while y'all check my progress!)  Of course I will wait, and thank you, Mr. Director for your feedback.  It isn't lunchtime.  All the dogs have come in because it has begun to rain.  I do not need to go for a walk or have more coffee.  I need to work.

This is the reality of "use-your-own-computer-make-your-own-hours-work-from-home."  It is a blogger's dream.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

That's How We Roll . . . When We're Holy

I estimate that the First Assembly of God, Wynne, Arkansas, was about three-quarters full.  At least, that was my impression as I looked around the sanctuary.  But it isn't a sanctuary, it's a Nave.  We got trouble.

As far as I was concerned, Sunday, May 12, 2013 was the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  It was also, incidentally, Mother's Day.  I was privileged to be invited, along with Mr. Powers, my sister-in-law, and a gaggle of my mother-in-law's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to Mother's Day services at the Assembly of God that mother-in-law Imogene calls home.  The building is pretty big for small-town Arkansas, and I understand there was a time when a visitor could barely find a place to sit.  Unfortunate rifts within the congregation changed all that, but a new pastor and a few new families seem to have brought many of the faithful back where they belonged.  Ms. Imogene was among the returning parishioners, and she was happy to discover that there is still a kind of competition among the moms there to see which one gets the most sons, daughters, grandchildren, and in-laws to show up.  I think she did well.  There were about a dozen of us, and we took up one whole pew and half of another.

Like I said, we got trouble, speaking of pews.  There is nowhere to kneel in an Assembly of God, although they wouldn't say anything to you if you up and knelt in the aisle.  The pew itself has nothing to do with their worship, because they do not sit to learn.  They sit when they are socializing before the service or when they are tired of standing.  There are no hymnals, so if you haven't heard the hymn they're singing, you fake it.  If they are singing verse 12, and you're tired of faking it, you sit down.  That is not a problem at all, since the songs are just a warm-up for THE SERMON.

Forgive my over-capitalization, but THE SERMON is the centerpiece of worship here.  There is no Eucharist, therefore no altar, and no communion rail.  The pulpit is front and center, but in fairness to Brother K., he doesn't stay put anyway.  His SERMON was not an Easter season message, although St. Mary figured largely in the scheme of what he had to say.  He preached that day on Motherhood.  Not motherhood, which is just a state of being a female parent, but Motherhood, an unassailable, unfathomable, thankless, sanctified position which would make all us moms candidates for sainthood.  He didn't call any of us saints, though, not even St. Mary.  Instead he drew parallels between contemporary moms' and St. Mary's trials as she raised Our Lord, and begged us not to feel guilty if our offspring had gone astray.  Apparently some ladies felt guilty anyway, because there were tears a-plenty.  I looked around from time to time, because (being Episcopalian) I am sensitive to the need for doing as others do.  Ergo, if I am unsure what to do, I stand when others stand, I sit when they sit, and I say AMEN right out loud if it seems to be the end of a prayer.  However, I don't cry on cue, and I wasn't feeling sad, so I thought I would get a consensus:  Is everybody crying or just moms?  Is there something I am missing?  Should I maybe hold a Kleenex?  (There is a box of tissue on each pew.)  I didn't get to wonder very long.  Brother K. said,

"I am WELL AWARE that SOME of you are NOT from the Pentecostal tradition!"  Gulp.  That would be me.  I looked behind me, and there wasn't a dry eye to be seen.  Yep, he was talking to me.  Granted, no one would have cared if I'd shouted, "Amen to that!" but I didn't.  I just stared back at him, mortified.  I needn't have been.  He only wanted to re-assure us heathens that it would be perfectly fine if we chose not to holler out, weep or spontaneously kneel in the floor, and that we were welcome to enjoy the presence of God in any way we wanted to.  I was grateful.  After all, my old home parish, All Saints', had a blurb on the back of the service order that reassured visitors that they could kneel--or not--as they dang well pleased.

So I relaxed and stopped waiting for the Lord's Prayer, a Creed, or anything I might know the tune to.  After all, I was being praised, extolled, and thanked for bringing two ruffians into the world and raising them while "soaking comforters and blouses with tears."  (Well, I wasn't much of a crier even then.) I realized that my fellow worshippers were having the time of their lives praising God, joyful just to be in His house.  (It's a NAVE!)  I got comfortable a little too soon because there is a sidebar to the centerpiece, which is the ALTAR CALL.  (It's a table which may or may not have the sacraments laid out for communion.  On this day, it did not.  It had our Mother's Day presents.)

Now, I was quite prepared to sing as many verses of "Only Trust Him" as necessary for the altar call.  But these are not Baptists, and I think "Only Trust Him" has fallen by the wayside.  What Brother K. did then was as sly as a preacher should ever be.  He invited ALL the MOTHERS to just come on down front and receive a FREE GIFT and the thanks of the rest of the congregation.  I could not avoid this.  Every one of my kinfolks knows that Mr. Powers and I have those two ruffians I mentioned, so I could not slink down in my pew or pretend to read the bulletin.  I had to go forward.  Well, there were a bunch of us, so I stood as far to the right as I could without being detached from the crowd. I was on the second of three rows of moms.  Ms. Imogene grabbed my left hand, and I grabbed her granddaughter's left hand with my right, so I didn't have to hold hands with a lady I'd never seen before. I refrained from saying "Peace be with you," and it was all good, because the majority had stopped sniffling and were praying for each other. They gave us our gifts--a pen with a matching bookmark--and we milled around and returned to our pews.  There was no benediction, no "Thanks be to God!  Alleluia, alleluia," but there were smiles all around and congratulations for my mother-in-law, who did, after all, fill up a pew and a half with family.

Mr. Powers and I shook the preacher's hand on the way out the door.  He encouraged us to VISIT again whenever we could.  So he did have me pegged as the non-Pentecostal in the bunch.  I wonder how he knew?

No matter.  I received a blessing that day.  I felt appreciated.  I was honored to be included with my husband's folks and their little kids.  I loved being with people who enjoy being in the presence of God in His house.  Even if it is a Nave.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me or Ten Things I Hate about American Culture

This post has been "in the can" for some time now.  I hesitated to go public with it because it seemed so whiny.  Grouchy, I think, would be the right word.  You see, I was only 59 years old when I wrote it and still bedazzled by the prospect of making moral choices, ethical decisions, and persuasive arguments that would affect people's behavior.  Today, however, I am 60 years old, and I now realize that most of this is just the griping of an old hippie who has a head full of earned gray and doesn't give a rat's auntie who does and does not agree.  Therefore, get your virtual tomatoes ready to throw.  What would have hurt my feelings yesterday is tripe today.

WARNING:  This post will contain opinions, assertions, and criticism.  I learned in college that before I opine, assert, or criticize, I have to read some books and then tell you what all I read.  I believe that applies to you as readers, as well.  Therefore, you can opine, assert, and criticize right back at me.  I wish you would.  But you have to read books first.

That being said, there were reasons why I read these particular books.  Somewhere along the late '80's, I realized, along with many of my contemporaries, that the safe, predictable culture I grew up in had lost some of its warm-fuzzy charm.  It had, in fact, taken on some sharp edges and ugly extremities.  I had had my feathers ruffled before during the '60's and '70's, and usually flapped my left wing in response.  There was much to respond to in those days--Viet Nam and Watergate primarily, followed by the insufferable decade of disco.  What we emerged into at first seemed like a fresh breeze what with New Wave music and some cool new gadgetry to play with.  But the 80's ushered in Reaganomics and an in-your-face set of attitudes that had very little to do with counter-culture sass-to-society.  I set about trying to learn what was causing the seismic shift in behavior.

Here's the book list I told you about.  Several authors were out there trying to explain what had taken place in the Land of the Free.  As early as 1981, Marvin Harris blamed women (Why Nothing Works).  Arlie Hochschild blamed men (The Second Shift, 1989).  Allan Bloom in 1987's The Closing of the American Mind blamed higher education, while Jonathan Kozol blamed public education (Savage Inequalities, 1992).  Most recently, Lynn Truss, a British lady, blamed inexcusable, brash, no-home-training rudeness (Talk to the Hand, 2005).  To sum up, the "rudeness explosion" of self serving, victim-mentality, non-cooperation has been caused by the breakdown of the procreative imperative, the refusal of husbands to do their part in running households, the softening of university moral and ethical standards, poor allocation of public education funds, and the F word.  I admit I oversimplified all that a bit.  Go read the books.

While all these authors contributed some relief to my cultural concussion, none of them applied enough balm to make the headache go away.  There were, and are, some things about American culture that I really, really, really dislike.  And though my reading has helped me to understand why we sometimes behave as badly as we do, I still find my patience taut as a twin-size fitted sheet stretched across a full-size mattress.  So without further ado, I present my list of the TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT AMERICAN CULTURE.

1. Excessive appetites--Back when Johnny Carson ruled late-night, and late-night was still considered to be 11 p.m., the Tonight Show was host to a singer named Sheena Easton.  I believe the young lady was from Scotland.  When Carson asked her if anything about Americans struck her as oddly different from Britons, she replied, "You go out for breakfast . . ., " and she described plates piled overwhelmingly and unnecessarily high with more food that a Scottish family would consume in an entire day.  Carson agreed with her.  That was back in the 80's. The breakfast bar still exists in all kinds of restaurants, and one venue gleefully serves up their "Grand Slam" breakfast that no one has any business consuming for any reason, hunger included.  I blame factory farming, grossly inhumane animal slaughter, and disregard for overall personal health for the overkill.  Don't condemn Obamacare.  Embrace it.  One more Grand Slam Breakfast and you'll need it.
2.  Big for big's sake--From our Big Box retailers to our campus football stadiums, to our fishing trips down at the Gulf, we tend to think that bigger is better.  We're pandered to by folks whose sole purpose is to tell us exactly how big a crowd, a building, a boat, or a fish turned out to be.  AT &T is running a low-budget commercial these days showing a marketer "interviewing" little kids in a school library.  "What's better?"  he asks them.   "Bigger or smaller?"  "BIGGER!"  they chorus.  Bigger isn't better.  Bigger is unmanageable, unwieldly, and unfriendly.  If you don't believe it, take your next road trip in a Bigfoot Dodge Ram and try carrying on a conversation with the person riding shotty.
3.  Sports entertainment--the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball:  overblown. overrated, overpaid, overattended, and over attended-to.  They attract huge crowds that pay huge amounts for tiny tickets to sit in tiny seats and drink bucket-size Cokes.  See #2 for more information. 
4.  The drive-through--Talk to the sign and get mad!  Signs don't earn much for their effort, so their service is generally low-quality.  As for our feelings of frustration when we learn, for the umpteenth time, that our orders are wrong, we deserve them.  We're  pretty lazy if we're willing to drive around in a circle formed about a building, lean out the driver's side window, holler our lunch selection, and drive forward to window #2 just to get a hamburger with fries and a drink.
5.  Choices, choices, choices--My Russian exchange student, Tonya, always left the local grocery store feeling worn out.  In her hometown in Kamchatska, she and her mom went to the store, located the cooking oil, bought it, and left.  In the U.S., we are constantly strapped for cash and complaining, but is it any wonder?  Our stores have 12 brands of olive oil, and if we aren't buying the olive oil that costs $15.00, we must be getting crappy olive oil.  Same wisdom applies to margarine, salad dressing, cereal, and frozen limas.
6.  Reality TV--Survivor was first.  It should have been last.  Actually the Louds of PBS' An American Family predate today's glut of reality shows, but few of the recent series attempt to capture the social drama of the PBS documentary.  Instead, they aim for the low common-denominator that allows us all to say to ourselves, "I may be dumb/redneck/overweight/stupid/irresponsible but I ain't never been that bad."  Besides, reality shows have low overhead (they're cheap to produce), making them extremely profitable for the producers.
7.  Professionalization of just about everyone--Kurt Vonnegut predicted this in Cat's Cradle.  Thus, we have "professional" bus drivers, "professional" manicurists, "professional" oil change specialists, and "professional" paraprofessionals.  LOOK THIS UP:  A professional is an individual having an advanced degree in one of several select occupations.  They aren't any smarter than the rabble.  They don't all perform their responsibilities excellently.  But professional refers to the type of position they hold and the amount of education it took to get there.  Sorry, "pro" wrestlers.  See #3 above.
8.  Flip-flops--Nice that you could afford a pedi.  Hope the pedicurist was a professional!  But I don't want to SEE your pedi or HEAR your shoes-that-are-not-shoes flapping down the hall where I work.  You didn't get a pedi?  Then there's one more reason why you need to wear those slides in your house.
9.  Designer dogs--The King Charles Cavalier spaniel is a beautiful pup!  and smart!  The Bichon frise is also adorable.  But your "Cavachon" is a mix-breed.  So is your Golden doodle and your Peke-a-Poo.  If you paid some one top dollar to confuse some recognized breeds, I hate to tell you:  It would have been cheaper and more compassionate to adopt from the local shelter.
10.  People who say "If you don't like it, I'll help you pack!"  One thing I LOVE about American culture?  The insistence that we are free to be as cranky, critical, condemnatory, and cantankerous as we please, as long as we don't push those four C's on everyone else. So if I offended any hapless reader out there, I certainly understand if you wish to un-read all of the above.  I won't need your help in packing.  However, I cannot resist closing with a cousin to the quotation I just disrespected:  Can't stand behind our Troops?  Feel free to stand in front of 'em!
Peace!


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Isaac? Is That You?

I began this blog a year ago with a harsh criticism of the month of August for having no holidays.  I suggested a few new observances we could add to our August calendars, but I guess none of them were good suggestions.  The folks at Hallmark never called me, nor do I know of anyone who placed flowers on the altar in honor of St. Bartholomew.  (See my blog for August 2011?  Yes, scroll down.  Waaaaay down.)  Twelve months and twelve blogs later, I have a few followers and a handful of positive comments from family and friends.  Thanks!  I am having fun with this.  Or I was . . .

This week we got an unexpected August cool-down, and the mid-eighties temperatures along with kids' return to school gave the month a bit of a fallish feeling.  The hint of autumn just around the corner and football season cranking up makes my fellow Alabamians almost forget we are still in "dog days."  Do you feel a "however" coming?  You should . . .

There is a storm on the horizon.  Late last week the message came down my newsfeed on that chatty, junk-mail website of a social network where we all hang out.  Isaac?  Who's he?  The next thing I knew, a couple of my friends were posting projections of Isaac's journey through the Gulf of Mexico and advising us what kinds of things we might want to pick up on the next Wal-Mart run:  ice, nonperishable foods, gasoline for the generator, batteries.  TS became CAT 2.  Even the Republicans shifted their party plans a bit.  Isaac meanders in the Caribbean tonight, and we watch him.  In the midst of the early-phase hurricane watch, I receive a call from a distressed family member.  There is another storm on the horizon.  Like Isaac, this storm, too, is out of my reach.

This late-August evening finds me comparing the projected paths that Isaac might take.  Some have him crunching poor New Orleans by throwing his weight onto the Mississippi coast.  Other computers track him a bit further east, and it looks like Mobile will once again be swamped.  I also gaze accusingly at my phone, as if by being the messenger, it could bring me news of resolved problems for my loved one.

Waiting and watching, you remember.  October, 1995:  We were living in the Dalraida area of Montgomery, Alabama, a neighborhood where I grew up and where our newborn boys both came home for the first time.  I was part of a private counseling practice at the time, and my partner made the unexpected decision to cancel all appointments and shut the office when Hurricane Opal made her way through the still-warm Gulf waters.  "I don't think we'd better stay open," he advised me.  "There are supposed to be 65-mile-per hour winds." Is that bad?  I didn't know. I had no direct experience with hurricanes.  I toured Mississippi after Camille hit and saw the dreamscape of steeples on the beach, sailboats on rooftops, and huge oaks uprooted, but I had no concept of what she might have looked like trekking through Biloxi.  My boys, ages  7 and 3, sat with me on a daybed in our front bedroom all night long, staring out the front window at a curtain of rain the like of which we'd never even imagined and listening to wind that sounded like the crowd cheering a touchdown.  But the rain never ceased and the crowd never settled down, and we fell asleep at dawn.  We woke up to houses without porches and streets blocked by big, heavy limbs.  The sky was still dark gray, but the rain was sporadic, and we cleaned the debris from our yard.  The power came back on.  We suffered very little.  I learned later on that this compact, fast-moving storm killed 2 Alabamians.  The name Opal has been retired as a storm name.

A terse message appears on the Messenger app on my iPad.  Same kin, same unhappy situation, same helpless response from me.  Our personal storm is still a way off, but we see it coming, and no matter its landfall outcome, there will be damage.  I try to offer reassurance, even a bit of unwelcome advice, but nothing changes the advance of  the inevitable.  Change will come.  We cannot fight it; we will see what it brings to us, and we will adapt.  The next day passes with no news.

September 2004:  Montgomery is just a memory.  Mr. Powers and I have become Elmorons by moving to Slapout, Alabama, and taking our boys and animals with us.  The children are 16 and 12, and we've been joined temporarily by my stepson, Chris, who is in his 20's.  He's from Tennessee and knows less about hurricanes than we do.  He tells us one afternoon that he's heard there's "some kind of storm coming."  "Just a hurricane," I drily reply, since I remember Opal and I have already bought bottled water and batteries.  I am not sure what everyone else did the night Ivan hit, but I moved into the basement where we had a den/bedroom and positioned my futon so I could see out into the backyard.  The winds came in early, I would say 8 p.m.  We lost power around 11.  Whereas Opal blew in and back out again, a 0 to 60 personality, Ivan dug in, and the rain and wind went on and on and on.  The next morning never dawned; rather, the outside grew gradually lighter as the storm screamed.  There was little to see through that river pouring from the sky.  You dared not go out even for a second, because you knew the wind would flatten you.  We ventured into our yard at maybe 4 p.m. between squalls of rain.  The wind pushed and shoved us, and it felt wrong to be outside our four walls.  Chris went to the store, which had opened back up, for another Mountain Dew.  The rest of us went back inside.  We missed 3 days of school that week due to lost power.  After two weeks, I could still hear generators running throughout Slapout at the homes of neighbors who still did not have power.  In Montgomery, philanthropist Ida Belle Young died when her generator caused carbon-monoxide poisoning in her home.

We were not touched directly by Katrina.  Oh, it rained, all right, but mostly we watched in horror as one of our favorite cities drowned, and we hung our heads in sorrow at the city's needless waste of human life.  The reality of Katrina affected us more when displaced families enrolled their children in Elmore County schools.  They didn't bring records, and we were told not to ask for any.  We wouldn't have anyway.  One young lady wound up in foster care because her mother fled back to New Orleans, leaving her daughter behind in the shelter provided by a local church.

The phone isn't ringing.  I see no new messages.  My heart aches, and I despise my inability to help.  I pray and doubt the efficacy of my prayer.  I watch the hurricane projections with great interest.  Best case:  Isaac brings us a bunch of rain and even a day off.  No one gets hurt.  Worst case:  New Orleans and/or Mobile get shaken to their foundations.  Again.  People wish they had been more prepared.  Again.  Finger-pointing and blaming ensues.  We try to remember what we've learned from past experience, but the destruction is too recent and the disappointments too sharp to bear.

I live in Alabama.  This is all I know of storms.