I used to write letters all the time. I had a pen pal in England. I wrote letters to relatives, to friends from out of state, to President Richard Nixon – long before Watergate, and he sent me black-and-white prints from his trip to China. It was no big deal. I would just sit down, dash one off, pop a stamp on there and send it out.

What happened? Now, I crank out e-mails like nobody’s business, but they’re usually pretty short. I’m a fast typist, so basically, I just think and the letters instantly appear on the screen.

Maybe that’s the problem. It is so easy to sit there and type, and click send. These days, for some reason, I find it unbelievably arduous to pick up a pen and apply it to paper. It’s like the pen is made of lead and I’m moving in slow motion, weighed down like one of those sponge divers, tied to the boat with a rope and holding a heavy rock as ballast. Oh, the effort! Can’t… go… on…much… longer…

In shame, I have resorted to Christmas cards that are mainly just a photo, thinking that even though I probably won’t – who am I kidding, I know I won’t – have it in me to write a newsy update to go with each card… Maybe, just maybe, I could manage to lift a pen and sign our family’s names.

Yet even that pitiful effort becomes tormented. Each year, I usually send less than half of what I’ve ordered, which in itself is some ambition-free, low-ball number.

            I am so lame.

This is a shame, because there has never been such an abundance of lovely letter-writing products available to me. I love to look at the American Stationery catalog. Embossed, heavy stock, beautiful linings for envelopes, monograms, piping, cards, notepaper, personalized everything – you name it, they can do it, and make it look classy and elegant. I even bought a fountain pen, thinking – well, I don’t know, I guess hoping to get inspired by looking at the nib, or something.

This year, once again I purchased lovely Christmas photo cards (with hardly any room for text, and a lovely gold liner for the envelope). Sadly, I don’t even want to use those anymore because I have now lost 16 pounds and the photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day after a huge meal (note to self, don’t ever do that again!) and pre-diet, so I look at myself and think of one of the floats in the Macy’s parade; also, “pumpkin pie bloat.”

On a whim, I also bought some beautiful non-holiday stationery. Note cards, actually; I didn’t want to get too ambitious and then have my few words look even smaller on a large field of paper.   They are very elegant.

I look at them and imagine myself, like Jane Austen or anyone in any of her books, sitting down at an elegant writing desk and attending to my morning correspondence. Or maybe as Donna Reed, writing thank you notes or letters to distant aunts, or sending invitations to my next bridge party or luncheon. I don’t have bridge parties or luncheons, either, by the way. Or dinner parties, which my parents used to have a lot when I was a kid.

Mark and I love the 1979 movie (not the recent remake!), “The In-Laws,” and we quote from it a lot. In one scene, Vince Ricardo, played by Peter Falk, is talking to his son, Tommy, and says, “Remember when we used to play ball on Nagel Avenue?” Tommy tells him that, in fact, they never actually played ball on Nagel Avenue, but “We talked about playing ball on Nagel Avenue.”

Well, we talk about entertaining. We don’t actually do it. We talk about having our neighbors over; we’ve got great neighbors, and it would be a nice thing to do. But we don’t ever pull the trigger and have a cookout, or even go buy food somewhere and put it in our own dishes and pretend like we made it.

I don’t know why. Is the world that much more stressful than it used to be – so much so that when we’re not working, when we’re all home, we just want to nest there and decompress and not do much?

I talk about writing letters.

Maybe it’s lack of muscle memory. I type so much more often than I write. When I was an English major at Vanderbilt, we took tests in blue books. None of it was multiple choice; it was all essays. I remember writing up a storm for every test.  Side tidbit: because I’m left-handed, I would always get that telltale coating of blue or black ink on the side of my left hand, too, because it’s a right-handed world and right-handed people don’t have to sweep their hands across the words they’ve just written and smudge their ink. But I digress. Back in the day, I could write all day and it was fine; it was just something I did.

Now, because it’s not just something I routinely do but I want it to be, I am making the effort. I have written three letters so far on my beautiful stationery. Whoo! Shoot up a flare!

Or maybe, hold your applause. I’m not penning hefty epistles, mind you; in fact, the best word to describe them might be “brief.” Or maybe “concise.” But it’s a start.

Funny thing: I’m kind of enjoying the exercise itself – sitting down, composing my thoughts and trying to put them down coherently.

It’s more thoughtful than just fast-typing or worse, shooting an emoji at someone because I’m too lazy to use words at all.

I don’t know how this year’s Christmas cards are going to go. I don’t want to get ahead of myself; it’s still an effort, and I don’t think the postal service is going to be complaining about the extra work of delivering my voluminous correspondence. I’m not going to be signing up for any pen pal programs. But if you write me a letter, there’s a fairly good chance I will actually write you back – a few words, at least.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

Can we just pause for a minute to bask in the glory that is “Murder, She Wrote?” Thank God for Hallmark showing this on TV – several episodes, every night. My sons are even getting into it. They like Jessica Fletcher, played to perfection by Angela Lansbury. Well, really, Angela Lansbury is perfection, that goes without saying… But Jessica is just awesome. She doesn’t judge, she’s compassionate, she’s really smart, with an eye for the smallest detail that could be a clue, and she is deeply loyal to her friends.

And man, does that woman have a lot of friends. Distant relatives, old college chums, former neighbors – she’s got connections all over the world, and when she’s not in her home of Cabot Cove, she’s off visiting one of them. That’s the excuse to take her to the next murder, of course. But “Murder, She Wrote” draws you in, not just for the mystery itself, but for the unparalleled stable of guest stars. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of Hollywood.

I have actually bookmarked the “Murder, She Wrote” page on the Internet Movie Database, for quick and convenient reference – because God help me if I don’t have my phone handy and I get sucked into an episode.

“Oh, that guy,” I’ll say. Then I have to pause the show and go look him up. It’s Bo Hopkins, playing Lt. Ray Jenkins, in “Armed Response,” Season One, episode 19. And how do I know him? Well, let’s check the old IMDB… oh, looky here, he was on “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1967, in the episode, “Goober the Executive.” And then, of course, I have to take a minute to ponder the glory of George “Goober” Lindsay, because I loved him and that show. But I refuse to get sidetracked for too long, because here Bo is on “Bonanza” in 1969, playing Stretch Logan in the episode, “The Witness.” He was in a couple episodes of “Mod Squad,” but I skip over that because I never really got into that show – and may I point out, lest you think I am considerably older than I actually am, that I saw all of these early shows as reruns on after-school TV in the seventies and eighties.

But back to Bo Hopkins… how do I know him? Oh, he was on “Hawaii Five-O” – the real one, of course, with Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett. Nope… here we go: he was on a bunch of episodes of “The Rockford Files,” as a character named John Cooper. And on two episodes of “Charlie’s Angels,” one in 1976 and another in 1979.   And he was on “Dynasty!” Dang, he played Matthew Blaisdel.   He’s still alive and kicking, got a couple things in post-production. Good for him.

Whew! Now I can get back to the show. Holy cow, that was Eddie Bracken! God bless him, he was brilliant in “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” the 1943 comedy written and directed by the wonderful Preston Sturges. Betty Hutton was in that with him, what a hoot… No, I must get back to Jessica Fletcher!

Last night, my son, Josh, and I were watching an early one, Season Two, episode 1, “Widow, Weep for Me,” from 1985. I do believe this is the first one to feature the recurring character Michael Hagarty, an Irishman played by Len Cariou – who, I now know from IMDB, is actually Canadian.

“My God, that’s Cyd Charisse!” I said to Josh. “Who?” he said. “You remember “Singin’ in the Rain?” He vaguely did. Note to self: make him watch that incredible movie again. It’s part of his cultural heritage. “She was a dancer, and she could do this vertical split, it was just incredible. Her legs seemed to be longer than Gene Kelly. She was amazing.  The song was ‘Gotta Dance,’ and Gene Kelly was tossing this coin up in the air…” But in this episode, she’s secretly married to Mel Ferrer at this luxurious tropical resort.

Howard Hesseman was on this episode, too, as a shady cop. “He was on this show called WKRP in Cincinnati,” I explain to Josh, “playing a deejay named Johnny Fever who got fired for saying the word, ‘Booger.’” In an age where people routinely scream the F word, Josh found this hard to believe.

Oh, it’s a swirling vortex, that “Murder, She Wrote.” You think you’re just watching a simple TV show, but it’s actually a space-time-continuum wormhole, that simultaneously pulls you back and forward in time as you remember all these stars and then veer off down one path after another, looking at this show, and that movie, and this cast, and remembering, always remembering…

Mary Wickes was in this episode, too, as a wealthy widow who gets bumped off for her jewels. “I think she was in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ as Katie, the maid, who says, ‘Cabbage has a cabbage smell,” I say to Josh.   Hold on, I must check to verify this. Oh, no! I was completely wrong – it was Marjorie Main! “Who was Marjorie Main?” And of course, this leads me to the “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies, which spun off from “The Egg and I,” a great book by Betty McDonald… the movie starred Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, who of course played a bad guy in “Double Indemnity” but redeemed himself on “My Three Sons,” which of course brings me to the wonderful William Demerest as the big softy, Uncle Charlie… But back to Marjorie Main. There she was in 1946 in “The Harvey Girls,” another movie with Judy Garland, which featured that great song, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”…

Yes, it’s a treacherous web, that “Murder, She Wrote.” One must tread cautiously. Let us remember Daedalus, the genius inventor from ancient Greece – who, among many impossible jobs, was tasked by King Minos to solve the unsolvable puzzle of stringing a thread through a conch shell (this in itself was part of a plot to trap Daedalus, but let’s just try to stay on the path here). Daedalus poked a hole in the conch shell, smeared it with honey, and tied a string to an ant. The ant wound its way through the spirals of the shell, taking the string with it.

So the moral to this story is, when you watch “Murder, She Wrote,” keep a tether nearby, lest you get drawn into the many twists and turns of Memory Lane and stay there for hours – or, at least, until the next episode.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

It has taken me six months, but with the help of the Lose It app I have lost fifteen pounds. I’ve changed the way I eat, certainly the amount I eat, because apparently my daily calorie limit is about 1,200 a day. I did not know this. I thought if I just didn’t eat a lot of junk food, I was doing fine. I thought if I exercised more, I would lose weight. I was wrong.

Here are some of the other things I have learned.

First and foremost, pooping is a privilege, not a right. Who knew? Apparently, you have to have a certain amount of daily fiber, which I was getting back in the blissful days when I just ate whatever I wanted, didn’t think about it, and just lived my life. But then I got the Lose It app, and its slogan should be: “You now have to count your calories every day for the rest of your life, and you have to make every single dang stupid calorie count.” So until I figured out how to live within my caloric means, I had to make either-or choices, and I erred on the side of protein.

Protein doesn’t make you poop.  This I also did not know, so yeah, that was a cranky couple of days.  Another thing I learned: Protein also doesn’t feed your brain.

You have to have some carbs. Carbs are good for the brain. I thought I was being so virtuous and Paleo, just eating lean meats, and some fruits and vegetables, but clearly not enough (see above). Then I started having problems remembering words. I am a writer, and I could not think of words! I don’t know how to convey the horror of this, except maybe the gaping maw of the Sarlacc – the sand monster in the pit near Jabba the Hut’s place, in whose belly, as C-3PO explains, “you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.” That’s how scary it is for me not to be able to think right.

I told my husband, Mark, this. Mark is a doctor. He said, “It’s the diet. You need carbs. Eat a cracker. Drink a Coke.”

Mark, a very wise husband in addition to being an excellent physician, knows my love of the Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar the way Coke used to be – not “Original” Coke (original, my butt!), which has high-fructose corn syrup, and not that crap with the green label and stevia. Mexican Coke is God’s Coke! I usually drink one bottle over the course of a day, a little shot at a time. But I digress. Mark was right. I was convinced I was doing the right thing, just eating protein and some vegetables and fruit (again, clearly not enough). And yet – in my job as a medical writer, I cover a lot of research on dementia, and I had myself all worked up, thinking: “Oh, God, it’s starting!” So I Googled “on a diet can’t think” and found all kinds of articles talking about how your brain needs carbs, and how the lack of carbs actually hurts your brain.  My daughter, Blair, has been telling me that I need to worry more about eating a balanced diet than counting calories.  I didn’t listen to her, either.  I now publicly acknowledge that she was right, too.

I started eating more carbs, and I immediately felt better and could think again.  I am considering stockpiling Tater Tots.

Carbs are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Actually, the greatest thing since sliced bread is unsliced bread. A nice ciabatta, or rustic Tuscan loaf with olives, or some sourdough, or my new favorite, jalapeño cheddar. With a little dish of olive oil, some salt sprinkled in there, and some herbs. Oh, sweet Lord, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

When I lost 10 pounds, the Lose It app sent me a congratulatory message, saying that 10 pounds is what an average watermelon weighs, and I had lost the equivalent of that. That made me feel really good. I imagined carrying a watermelon around, and how heavy that was. The weight loss has been so gradual, I haven’t really noticed that I am no longer carrying around a watermelon. I just feel better. I want to lose about three more pounds.

The thing is, the more weight I have lost, the more I realize, food is good. Food is really good. Out here in the mountains of Arizona, I think about water a lot, and at least once a day, as I’m watering my plants, the words “water is life” pop into my head. I put water in my piano, to keep the humidity up. I water my indoor plants. I water my outdoor plants. We even installed a mist system to cool down the back deck and help our plants with very tiny amounts of water. I had never seen such a thing until we moved here and went down to Phoenix, where they have them outside just about every store and restaurant. So, definitely, water is life. Go, water! But food is life, too, and when you don’t eat enough, you feel like crap. If you don’t eat the right kinds of food – just Cheetos, for instance, or just junk food, or not enough salt, not enough carbs or protein – you feel like crap. And take it from me: not enough fiber, you feel like crap. Oh, the irony.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington

At 6:30 this morning, I was standing in the kitchen, dying laughing. Usually, I’m barely functioning at this time of the day, walking around like an old person, with a righteous bed head, just trying to make myself some iced tea so the caffeine can get in there and help me function.

But when the alarm went off today, I was in the middle of the craziest dream. And so here I was, trying to convey to my husband, Mark, the true hilarity of it – at least, it seemed like a laff riot to me. I was with my old boss at the Public Affairs office at Johns Hopkins. We were filming a commercial for the Department of Neurology, for which I am currently writing a book. A young Dan Ackroyd was there on camera. I could see the cue cards he was reading. With his best huckster voice, he was hard-selling something, and putting down the competition: “That’s nothing but pink sweevum, folks!” And when he said this odd word, he drew it out, like “sooey,” and his voice went up in pitch. The cue card spelled the word phonetically. I know this, because the first thing I did (after I got some caffeine in me) was write it down: “SOOOOEEVUM.”

I have no idea what this word is – I’m pretty sure it is not actually a word at all – but I kept saying it and cracking myself up.

It’s pretty nice to start your day with a laugh.

I think, the older I get, the more I appreciate Uncle Albert from “Mary Poppins.” Maybe you remember him, played by Ed Wynn, floating around near the ceiling, because laughter made him lighter than air. “I love to laugh,” he sang, “Loud and long and clear. I love to laugh. It’s getting worse every year!”

This is the opposite of what’s happening in our world right now. I think there are an awful lot of people who read the news and then their brain goes, “Hate, hate, hate.” Then maybe they get on social media, write nasty posts, get more fired up, and their brain goes, “Hate a whole lot, hate even more, grr.” It’s like eating something fried, putting ranch dressing on it, getting terrible heartburn, and then eating ghost peppers, and getting worse heartburn and maybe even fiery diarrhea. This is self-inflicted, people! It’s Orwellian. Seriously, in 1984, George Orwell wrote about the Two-Minute Hate, where every day, the whole society of Oceania had to watch a film that ginned up hatred for their enemies, and then express that hatred for precisely two minutes. This, in Orwell’s view, was hellish. In my view, this is what a lot of us are doing every day, for a lot longer than two minutes.

One of my relatives was a wonderful person. I loved her very much. But man, did she enjoy battling her enemies. She’d get all riled up about something, and then write letters, go to meetings, and just talk about whatever it was. Her face would get all red. My dad used to say “She runs on acid.”

I think the world runs on acid right now.

            I don’t want to run on acid. So, in my own way, I rebel.

On Facebook for instance, I don’t do anything political. I just won’t. All I post is either stuff about work (rarely), pictures of my family (also not very often), and terrible puns. I know they’re terrible! That’s why I do it. I just want to make somebody smile, and maybe inspire my friends to come up with bad puns of their own. That’s all I want to do.

I also look for the humor whenever I can. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t laugh at people; I’m laughing with them. There is an expression, “the human comedy,” although I saw a movie with that title, set in World War II with Mickey Rooney and Van Johnson, and oh, man! What a downer! So it’s not that particular human comedy.

My pastor’s favorite movie is “Pollyanna.” It is a wonderful movie, in which Hayley Mills looks for the good in people and finds it.

Well, I look for the humor, and I often find it. I don’t even deliberately try, but things just strike me as funny. I can usually find something that makes just about any situation seem not so bad. Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to be yukking it up over a school shooting, or natural disaster, or bad medical diagnosis. Too many things in this world are just plain painful, or horrifying, or heartbreaking. Of course I know that.

There are a lot of things in this world that make me cry. But I laugh when I can.

For instance: A couple weeks ago, I was in the doctor’s office, waiting for a routine visit. I sat there for 45 minutes waiting for my appointment, which took all of five minutes. I had brought a book, but the people-watching was so good, it was kind of like a dinner theater, without anything to eat. Or drink. But really, it was like a show.

A lady came in, and said out loud for the benefit of the entire waiting room: “I’m late, I’m late.” Not only that, but she said it in this creepy singsong, little-girl voice. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. She continued, still for the benefit of the whole room: “First, I had to get rid of the satellite TV installer. My doggie didn’t like him.” If you’ve ever seen the movie, “The In-Laws,” with Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, you may remember one scene where Alan Arkin, who plays a dentist named Sheldon, is just appalled at something, and he has one palm on each side of his face and his mouth wide open; he just can’t take it in. I sat there and thought about Sheldon. But not for too long…

… because about one minute later came another woman, who had the stage presence of Elaine Stritch, the Broadway grand dame. She was moving extremely slowly with her cane, and she stopped in the doorway and announced, “The mechanical door does not stay open nearly long enough.” But she said “dwoah,” and “lwong” with a New York accent. Just a captivating entrance. Bette Davis caliber.

And then, immediately after her – I don’t know if he was with her, or was a party of one – came an older guy, who said all in one run-on sentence: “There are plenty of places to sit but not anywhere to lie down and that’s what I really want to do is lie down.” He kind of reminded me of Mr. Carlin, one of psychologist Bob Hartley’s patients on “The Bob Newhart Show.” The nurse came at that point and called me back; I kind of hated to leave.

On the way home, on Willow Creek Road, our local version of a racetrack, this guy tailgated me in the left lane. I moved to the right lane, he gunned it and dramatically passed me. I then moved back to the left of him into a turn lane, and as fast as he had gone, we were sitting side by side at the red light. He turned his face away from me – yes, it is awkward, isn’t it, when you ostentatiously pass someone and then they catch up to you – but I could see his hands on the steering wheel. He was wearing driving gloves. I laughed. Clearly, if I had seen his face, I would have seen Dick Dastardly from the old cartoon show, Wacky Races. “Curses, foiled again!”

A lot of hassles in this world are nothing but pink sweevum, folks.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

 

 

I just saw an ad on TV. I started to fast-forward, as I usually do, then I thought, “Did I hear what I think I did?” So I backed it up. A woman in her bathrobe says, “My She Shed has no rules… no shoes, no bra…” It’s an ad for Fiber One Brownies! So basically, “I take off my bra and eat fiber brownies!”

My She Shed has no rules, but it has a state-of-the-art toilet, plenty of scented candles, all the latest magazines and an industrial-strength vent fan, because I deserve it!

            Those tight-waistband pants? They hit the floor when I walk through the door.

            Then, I just go where the night takes me… maybe set out a little All Bran, some Benefiber.

            Sometimes I get a little crazy, wake up on the couch covered in Shredded Wheat. But what happens in the She Shed stays in the She Shed.

I made up the rest of it, but I think that ad is hilarious. I can only imagine it was thought up by some guy who saw some Pinterest pages on She Sheds and thought, “This is what the women want! We can tap into this market!”

I’m having a little fun with the idea, because I hope it will make you laugh, too. See, I think our humor needs to be more gentle, like the fiber-containing food products in the Fiber One Brownie She Shed, or perhaps as Activia, the probiotic-containing yogurt that helps Jamie Lee Curtis stay regular. And not harsh, like chemical-containing laxatives.

There’s a lot of harshness out there right now in the world of public discourse. Harshness and bloating. It’s agitating!

I have cut back on Facebook, I never watch the TV news, and if I could, I would prefer to read the news in print – because people who write letters to the editor can’t do it anonymously, thus they tend to have a little more self-control – i.e. maybe they actually read over it and think about what they said before they hit “send.”

Have you ever read the comments on the Washington Post, or LA Times, or basically any newspaper or news site? Most of them, first off, have trolls. Jerks. Sometimes, I understand, they are jerks who get money from somebody to demean anyone with an opposing viewpoint, but I think most of them aren’t paid. I think they like being mean, and justify it with self-righteousness because of course, their view is the only right one. They’re enlightened.

They’re not that enlightened, because they can’t tolerate even hearing from the other side. Also, I think there are a lot of people out there who might not be very nasty in public, but they sure let it fly in private.

There’s something undisciplined and unsavory about that. Have an evil thought? Fire it off in a Youtube comment or Facebook rant. Use plenty of F-bombs. Spread a little dirt, like Pigpen.

Maybe it makes people feel good, for about a second. Then that little burst of feel-good hormone goes away, and they do it again, like a hit of a bad drug.

It’s just unpleasant. I’m not going to bring you down with examples; I’m sure you’ve seen them, from every political party and pro- or anti- social viewpoint you can think of. The worst thing is, it incites others to behave just as badly – like the crowd shouting, “Boil that dust speck!” in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who. It’s easy to get sucked into the group mentality.

As a culture, we’re getting sloppy. I’m picturing a bunch of military raw recruits, shirts not tucked in, poor posture, not knowing how to make their bed with a blanket so tight you could bounce a quarter off it, or shine their shoes, maybe badly in need of a haircut, too. That’s us. We’ve stopped making the effort to be civil. There’s nobody like Sergeant Carter on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” or Louis Gossett in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” to whip us into shape. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t want anybody telling me to drop and do 20 push-ups, or telling me that I can’t express my opinion.

But I do think there should be some standards of common decency that wouldn’t compromise anybody’s ability to put their point across.

At least one website out there has a policy I really like: “This is a salon, not a saloon.” Bad language is not allowed. Insulting other posters is not allowed. Crudeness is not allowed. A moderator makes sure of this, and deletes posts that don’t follow these simple rules.

Many people weren’t as lucky, as I was, to have parents and grandparents and teachers and Sunday School teachers and friends’ parents to set standards and expect you to stick to them. People to say, “Do you kiss your mom with that mouth?”

Maybe that’s part of the problem: If everybody talks like they’re in the sewer, why shouldn’t they be that way in social media, too? When even prime-time network TV shows have basically nothing that’s off-limits, when a lot of songs have bad words and crude themes and celebrities have profanity-packed diatribes in public, how would anybody know that’s not actually a good way to comport yourself?

I could go on, but you get the idea. I just have one simple suggestion: How about all those big newspapers, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., set a standard or two? No profanity. No personal attacks at the someone who doesn’t agree with you. Attack the ideas, instead.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get your point across. But it also doesn’t mean you have to take the cheapest, lowest-class road to get there, either. H.L. Mencken eviscerated his critics; so did William Randolph Hearst, and William F. Buckley, and Dorothy Parker, and Jonathan Swift, and Juvenal, the ancient Roman satirist. Heck, they weren’t always gentle, either. But they weren’t as harsh as chemical-containing laxatives, and they didn’t resort to profanity. Maybe we could all just try to have a little more self-control – at least leave the bra on, until we get to the She Shed.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

It’s the start of the New Year, and I’m already stressed out – mainly due to constant harassment from technology. “Oh, really?” you may sneer. “Well, why not just turn it off?” It’s not that easy, buddy. Trust me. Here are just a few examples:

My phone: I’m tired of Apple constantly saying that my recently updated phone is not finished being set up because I haven’t done Apple Pay. I don’t want Apple Pay. If I wanted Apple Pay, I would have set it up. But it keeps asking. Stop bugging me!

My dishwasher: I don’t know why; I can’t explain it, but I feel just feel pure outrage and violation when the light comes on my dishwasher saying I need more rinse agent. I just filled it up! I bought a huge bottle of Jet Dry at WalMart. But why do they even sell a huge bottle of it? It should come in a little ampule and an eyedropper, because that’s all the dishwasher holds! But wait – there’s more! It takes a nasty turn. My “smart” dishwasher punishes me if I run out of Jet Dry by making the cycle 15 minutes longer. How dare this machine do this to me? Who’s in charge here? So I put in another micro-alloquot of rinse agent, all this expensive “smart” machine will hold. The dishwasher is pleased with the sacrifice. The digital readout that tells me how long it will theoretically take to wash my dishes – it actually never takes as long as it says – goes back to 2:15 instead of 2:30.

I don’t want my dishwasher to be smart. I want my dishwasher to be a dumbass.

My car: I get crap from my car, too. God forbid if I have to haul something like – oh, I don’t know, just say for a random example, eight feet of floorboard molding from Home Depot. It won’t quite fit. My car, Magnus – it’s a Highlander, so we gave him a name that would be appropriate for kilt wear – starts beeping. He starts out by just being pushy. Then he gets annoying. Then he gets the Red Mist – he quickly moves into rage at being ignored – and the beeping becomes increasingly louder and, frankly, unbearable.

I’m just trying to get home. I have the back door tied down. That’s not good enough.

I looked online, and there is no way to make it stop making this noise. Because it thinks it knows best. (I could stick some cardboard in the door latch, but that might mess it up, and besides, who carries around cardboard?)

The reason for this is that the arrogant designers – the same pompous, smug presumption we see all the time from Apple, which harasses you to update your phone, and then won’t let you actually update it (which I do, just to make it shut up) until you hit the “agree” button, agreeing to God knows what – don’t think I’m an adult who can actually make quite rational decisions, and that I shouldn’t be allowed to drive if the back door is not shut.

There’s a lot of that.

Guess why I don’t have a smart watch? I don’t want some machine telling me I haven’t exercised enough, or slept well. Duh! No poop, Sherlock! I know I haven’t slept well! I was there!   I know I haven’t exercised enough! Happy now? Now? I already have the health app on my Apple phone. I can’t make it go away. It won’t be deleted. If I could put my phone on the washing machine and have it think I was exercising more, I would. Just to make it shut up. I do what I can. Isn’t that enough for you, Apple?

Landline phone calls: I’m tired of robo calls with fake people. I got two this morning, both from spoofed local numbers, so it looked like someone from my town was calling me.

Some innocent-sounding, high-pitched female voice says, “Hello, can you hear me?”   I know what you want, you evil spammer robot hag. You want me to say “Yes,” so you can use that as taped permission to open some account in my name. I always just hang up.

“Hi, this is Angela from credit card services.” Hi, Angela. You’re a robot. Take a long walk off a short pier. Click.

Email: I’m tired of websites saying “We’ve missed you!” when I JUST MADE A PURCHASE. Literally, yesterday, I just bought something, with the 20 percent off and free shipping that you offered. What do you want from me, Williams Sonoma? Pottery Barn, cut me some freaking slack! Dillards, Nordstrom, Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works – you’re downright needy. Amazon, I don’t even like myself for buying stuff from you, because I feel like I’m hurting actual retailers – except they don’t sell all the stuff that I can buy from you. Stop bugging me! I’ll come crawling back, the next time I’m looking for something I can’t get here in town.

It’s gotten to where, if I had any sense of humor left, I would laugh when I saw an email from a store with the words, “Last chance!” No, it’s not. Something else will go on sale tomorrow.

And frankly, I don’t need anything.

I Do Not Need Anything.  It’s important to realize this.

TV:  HGTV sells dissatisfaction, disguised as serenity and happiness and shiplap. I love HGTV, don’t get me wrong. But you know why all those made-over homes and rooms look so beautiful? First of all, it’s because they decluttered!  They’re crap-free!  More than anything, that’s what makes your home look good. That, and a coat of paint.

Get rid of all the clutter, and any place is going to look more Zen. Add a houseplant, paint the walls a lovely shade of white, and boom, it’s already more serene. But who can live like that? If I really followed HGTV’s advice, I wouldn’t have books double-stacked on my shelves. I would have just a handful, hard cover, matched by color, and maybe a nice Mason jar tealight candle. Actually, in Country Living magazine, I saw books placed on shelves BACKWARDS, so you couldn’t read the spine! It looked more restful that way. WHAT THE HELL! Hey, I want to read a book: I like this one. It has a nice width! Said no one ever.

Charities: I’m tired of pushy charities. If I make a donation out of a burst of goodwill to an organization, I wish I had as much money as I really don’t want to get envelopes in the mail with the words, “Your Account,” or “Membership Statement Enclosed.” I’m not a member! I just made a freaking donation! We don’t have a relationship! I’m sorry I ever gave you money in the first place!

One organization, which shall remain nameless but is located in upper New York State, has a bird app that is really cool. My son, Josh, loves it. I downloaded the app and from the get-go started getting online appeals to Save the Birds. I made a donation and thought, “Good, I’ve done my part.” Wrong! The emails doubled down! “Triple Match Alert! Give now and a donor will not just double, but triple your gift!” Emails several times a week, sometimes daily.

No! I’m not the dang bank machine.

Bah, humbug! And it’s not even Christmas!

© Janet Farrar Worthington

Could we just talk for a minute about the creepiness of the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside?”

If for some inexplicable reason you haven’t heard this song in one of its many iterations at the mall or on holiday radio stations, it goes way back to 1944. I know, because I looked it up on Wikipedia, which describes the song as a “call and response” between a man and a woman, originally identified in the song sheet – creepily – as “mouse” and “wolf.”

Clearly, this was before “no” meant “no,” and a wolf whistle was … what, a compliment?

Here are some lyrics: The woman says, “I really can’t stay,” and the man says, “But Baby, it’s cold outside.” Then:

“I’ve got to go away”

“But Baby, it’s cold outside.””

“This evening has been”

“Been hoping that you’d drop in”

“So very nice”

“I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice.”

Okay, so we go from maybe he’s concerned about her safety in hazardous weather, to, he probably doesn’t actually give a crap about her safety or the hazardous weather. He just wants her to stay for two reasons: she’s there, and she has a pulse! He can work with that!

Also: he calls her “Beautiful,” and “Baby.” Does he even know her name? Does it matter?

I’m sorry; I was an English major in college. I can’t help myself.

But at best it’s awkward. Later on, she says flat out, “The answer is no.”

Then, as Bill Cosby’s dates allegedly wondered, “What’s in this drink?”

Meanwhile, he says, “What’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?” Yes, because it’s all about you! Followed by, “How can you do this thing to me?” Seriously? Is he Charlie Rose, casually standing around naked after his shower? Or maybe he’s Matt Lauer, with his secret Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery buttons under his desk that lock the office door? What’s missing, Harvey Weinstein telling her that either she’ll never work in this town again, and/or he’s going after her family?

And toward the end, when she repeats, “I really can’t stay,” he says, “Get over that hold out,” or “old out,” I can’t really tell, but it sounds a little bit like the tone has turned from playful to: I already paid for your drink; let’s cut to the chase! I’m on the clock here!

Then in unison – symbolic unison, my English major self says – they both sing, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” And suddenly everything’s supposed to be peachy.

Now, I’m going to come right out and say, the song is catchy. It’s clever, and the tune kind of gets into your head. The Dean Martin version is very good. My personal favorite rendition is by Brian Setzer, who also adds a delightful guitar solo, with Ann-Margaret, whose singing voice is as lovely as ever.

But the giant elephant in the room is the clear fact that the guy is not going to take no for an answer.

What’s in this drink?

“I Believe in Christmas.”

Changing the subject: You know my love for Hallmark movies. In fact, I even own a shirt that says, “All I want to do is drink tea, bake Christmas cookies, and watch Hallmark movies.” I adore Hallmark Christmas movies. But just like the phenomenon I have previously mentioned, about the hair of the leading men and ladies dyed a shade too dark, there’s just a shade too much Santa.

“I just want my son to believe in Santa Claus.”

“We all need to believe in Christmas Magic.”

See, the thing is, Christmas is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ! Christ, Christmas… the reason for the season… And frankly, why go to great lengths to make your kid believe in Santa Claus – I admit, I’ve done it, once snipping a curly lock of snowy chest hair off of our liver-and-white Springer Spaniel, Penny, and pretending to find some of Santa’s beard hair, which, I acknowledge, was weird – when, eventually, they’re going to suspect that maybe, just maybe, it was not actually Santa?

Instead, we see supernatural Santa doing magic, matchmaking, transporting from the North Pole to a train, to a street in a small Hallmark town, putting up roadblocks to delay the wrong suitor so that the right suitor can finally make his move. We see a magic stocking acting as a sort of divine Providence. We see Santa’s wife having her own powers, going around helping people find love. We see Santa’s daughter helping people and actually finding love. We see Santa’s lovable and sometimes cranky elves busy making toys in undercover towns in the far north. We see Santa’s reindeer… well, they don’t have speaking parts, but still.  And kids write letters that are like prayers… to Santa!

It’s not about Santa! Believe it or not, it’s not even about presents!

Similarly, Easter is not actually about a large rodent tenderly breaking into your home and placing candy and toys in baskets lined with plastic grass, although some might argue that Peeps are heavenly, and so are malted eggs, and of course jelly beans.

© Janet Farrar Worthington