Hey, Technology! Stop Bugging Me!

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!

 

 

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Random Holiday Thoughts

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.

 

 

 

 

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Advent and Signs from Heaven

Every year at Prescott United Methodist Church, we put out an Advent devotional, a little daybook of stories written by people in the church for everyone to read.   It’s the other kind of preparation for Christmas – not Black Friday, or Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday, or Giving Tuesday, not online shopping or trudging around the mall, not gifting and regifting and decorating and baking and either sending Christmas cards or thinking of sending Christmas cards and somehow not getting around to it (I fall into this category).  Preparation of the heart, you might say.

This year’s Advent theme was a weird one: “Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down” and it must have stumped the congregation because, toward the end of November, there was an urgent call for entries. I thought about it, and I kept picturing that fourth wall in the theater – the invisible barrier that keeps performers on the stage from talking directly to the audience.

It used to be that, although God was always with his people, there was that distance. Nobody, for instance, dared to go into one secret part in the temple – God’s special dwelling place, blocked by a thick curtain. Clearly, the Hebrews knew God was with them; they’d have to be pretty dense, as they wandered through the desert for 40 years, not to notice the “pillar of clouds that went before them by day to lead them on the way, and the pillar of fire by night to give them light.” (Exodus 13:21). But this innermost sanctum was off limits. Trespassers would be prosecuted: think of that gruesome “face melting” scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when the Nazis opened the Ark of the Covenant.

Jesus changed all that.   Right after his birth, the sky filled with “a great company of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13) – glorious angel songs of praise, with a message that didn’t get heard much in that brutal time: Peace on Earth.

The fourth wall was broken again right after Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:16): “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Some people thought it was thunder.

Later (Matthew 27:51), right after Jesus was crucified, there was another break in the clouds. A really big one: “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”

Maybe there are signs from heaven all the time, and we just miss them; maybe we just think it’s thunder.

Once, on our farm in Virginia, the air grew very still and the sky turned bright green. I had never seen anything like it. I called the kids to come outside and see; we sat on the porch and marveled at it for about 20 minutes. We brought out some popcorn and juice boxes. It turns out that what we saw was a telltale sign of a nearby tornado: nature’s way of saying, “Stop gawking and take shelter, you morons!” The sky was bright green because of all the vegetation that had just been sucked up into the air. Oops! My bad! Who knew? Apparently, a lot of people, just not me.

A few years later, right after my mom died, my dad and I were driving back from the funeral home. We had just picked out a casket and made the kind of arrangements that nobody ever wants to make. My mom had been in a coma, and although her eyelids were partly open and we could glimpse her beautiful green eyes, and although we talked to her a lot, she wasn’t really awake and she never responded. It was a cloudy, cold December day, about as bleak-looking outside as we felt inside. But suddenly, this little patch of sky opened up, the sun shone through it, and – I’m not kidding – it looked like a beautiful green eye. We took comfort in it.

The green sky in Virginia was a sign that I didn’t recognize. The green eye in the sky was a sign that we didn’t expect.   We didn’t really need it to know that Mom was with God, because, with that fourth wall broken, Jesus was right there with us. We knew. But still, it was nice.

In the Bible, Isaiah cries out: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! … Come down …and cause the nations to quake before you!”

Isaiah wanted his nation’s enemies to receive a cosmic butt-kicking, from a distant and mighty God. I wonder if he would have recognized the baby in the humble stable. I wonder if I would have. Maybe the fourth wall that needs to be open is the one in my heart, so that I can see the signs that God wants me to see.

 

 

 

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Beauty with a Side of Fashion

You know why I look so good in my makeup mirror? The lighting. Whoever figured out that bright, whitish lights, coming from below, produce flawless skin and just generally make the world a better place was a genius.

Light from below, you say? Like Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff, or Severus Snape in Harry Potter? No, of course not! Don’t be ridiculous! A flashlight put directly under the chin makes anyone look spooky and awful. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.

All I’m wondering is why they don’t have light like that everywhere.

Restaurants! Who needs candlelight? Just beauty-light me, and I’ll sail through dinner with confidence and poise!

Department stores! Ka-ching, ka-ching! Glorious beauty lighting makes everything look good! Your customers will be more likely to buy things instead of putting them back and skulking away in shame. Or maybe that’s just me…

Instead, dressing rooms are so very dreary, with hideous fluorescent light that imparts a greenish, bilious skin tone, invents or highlights bags under the eyes, gives you cellulite where you don’t actually have any, adds 20 pounds, and just generally makes you look like crap.

Let me just take a moment to say that when I was a kid, we used to shop at Sears and when that Wish Book came in the mail around Thanksgiving, I immediately stopped everything, lay on my stomach on the living room rug and read that thing cover to cover. I dog-eared numerous pages of things I didn’t even want – like sheets! Just because they showed a pretty canopy bed with matching pillows and beautiful bedspreads. They really knew how to make stuff look tempting and good.

But now? Fuggetaboutit. Walk into Sears and, first of all, at least in the Sears stores I have ventured into and quickly escaped over the last decade, there’s the dead silence. Pipe in some cheery music! Then there are the grocery carts. And zero sales clerks in the individual departments; they’re at centralized checkout stations that exude the efficiency and joy of Eastern Europe in the Cold War. I remember when people used to be clerks in one department, like lingerie, or hardware, or children’s shoes, and that’s all they did for years. They were experts, and the best of them knew you and your whole family. It was their career.

Shopping carts in a department store! What moron came up with that idea? When I go buy clothes, I don’t want to be pushing around a grocery cart. Maybe the big idea is something like: “Give people a cart and they’ll fill it up.” If I want a cart, I’ll go to Walmart, and buy some canned goods or cleaning products while I’m there.

No. Mall stores should spend their money on better things – like vacuuming the bleak, depressing carpet in the dressing rooms. In a lot of them, it’s dingy and stained, too. And who hasn’t been simply minding his or her own business, trying on clothes, and stepped on a straight pin? That’s a mood-killer. The worst was in a mall in Baltimore, where they actually had to put up signs asking people not to change their baby’s diapers and/or go to the bathroom in the dressing rooms. What is the thinking process there? One stall’s pretty much like any other? No, see, one actually HAS PLUMBING.

Misuse of the dressing rooms aside, I feel that many retail stores are out of touch, and this is a shame. I grew up going to the mall. I love malls – when, that is, they’re full of life and people and not dismal, half-empty shells with boarded-up windows from stores that have folded. We have a really nice mall here in Prescott, but the genius owners imposed rents that were too high, and stores couldn’t stay there. Many have folded. Right after we moved in, the Barnes & Noble folded, and it broke my heart. I can’t tell you how inexpressibly sad it was to see it empty – and then how much sadder it was, for me at least, to see it with the walls painted black for an indoor lunar mini-golf course, which that space briefly became.

Books are sacred. Bookstores are, too. To lose one is like saying goodbye to a friend.   The remaining merchants at our little mall are trying so hard to hang on, and many of us here in town are shopping there and rooting for it to come back. J.C. Penneys and Dillards seem to be doing well, and amazingly, we just got a Sephora.

I love Dillards and although we don’t have one here in town, I love Nordstrom. I get emails from both all the time with suggestions “just for me.”   These are not good suggestions! Here are some fashion trends these stores recently suggested for me in emails:

“Romantic bodysuit.” As in, crotch snaps. No, thanks. I did that in the 70s, and they never stayed snapped. True story: I was not a svelte child. My mom enrolled me in a ballet class and she bought me a leotard, but she didn’t realize that it was actually a body suit. Every time I moved around too much, snap, snap… Not good.

“High-waist jeans.” No! The only trend worse than this would be, “high-waist jeans with PLEATS and peg legs.” Designed to give you the shape of a bowling pin.

“Menswear details.” This one sounds possible… Kathryn Hepburn pulled off that look all the time. But this particular menswear detail they’re showing me is a shoe that looks like something the Pilgrims might have worn, with a high chunk heel, except with a fringe tassel instead of a large buckle. And it’s metallic gold! Hello, Rust-Oleum!

“Bell sleeves.” Three inches longer than my hands, guaranteed to get in any plate of food. Not recommended for eating biscuits and gravy, maple syrup, spaghetti, or soup.

“Giant gaps between the sleeve and shoulder.” I don’t actually know what these shirts are called, but they look stupid and if I were to get one and wear it often, people would say, “There she is again in that shirt with the big holes in the shoulders.”

“Flare-leg jumpsuit.” No. Whom do they think they’re dealing with here? I lived through the Seventies! I was there, Gandalf! Yes, it looks great and dramatic, very Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel.   Imagine yourself wearing it… and then having to use a Port-o-Pot, or a public restroom. Maybe one with an under-sized stall, the kind where you have to take your purse off your shoulder so you can turn around and get the door closed, and you end up holding it because you don’t want to set it down because there’s moisture on the floor, and/or something worse: grossness. Ugh. See, with a jumpsuit, unless they come up with a Union suit-type butt flap, you’re out of luck if you have to go. You can’t just lower the pants only. The whole thing has to come down. Not good.

And yet, I also realize that today, we don’t make enough of an effort to be beautiful at all times. Not like they did way back when. Even the pioneers looked better than I do half the time: I know this because I’ve seen Fess Parker’s wife, Rebecca Boone, played by Patricia Blair on the old TV show, “Daniel Boone,” and even though it was back in the early 1800s, she managed to keep her hair sprayed, her updo looking smooth, and her false eyelashes on straight.

Similarly, “Big Valley,” late 1800s in Stockton, California: Barbara Stanwyck and Linda Evans managed to convey “respectable gentry” with their turtlenecks, bolero jackets, and blue eye shadow. And they didn’t even have electricity! Shame on us looking less than our best, with all our modern conveniences! We need to try harder, ladies!

But not too hard. I say this with love to Hallmark. I love Hallmark Channel movies, but somebody needs to do an intervention and dial back the hair dye on the men and women in their mystery movies. That’s about all I’m going to say on that, but just look at it sometime. The hair is way too dark on many of the people in Hallmark Land.

They just need to go back to the basics, and focus on the one thing that makes everyone look good: Beauty lighting.

 

 

 

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Journey to the Land of Books? Rain Check!

“If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?” I have thought a lot about the Land of Books, and used to dream about jumping into one, like Mary Poppins and Bert with the sidewalk chalk paintings.

How cool would it be – just imagine – being friends with Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys, or Jupiter Jones and his Three Investigators and helping them solve a case!

Meeting Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one of my all-time favorite books, and putting down her snotball sister, Elizabeth.

Watching D’Artagnan insult Athos, Porthos, and Aramis and make appointments with each for a duel to avenge his honor in The Three Musketeers.

Who wouldn’t want to know Heidi? If I could be there at Herr Sesemann’s house in Frankfurt, where Heidi is taken to be a companion for Clara, I would stand up to the awful Fraulein Rottenmeier. Rottinhell would be a better name.

I would help Mr. Rochester get some legal counseling, so he could divorce his nutso wife and marry Jane Eyre, and not have to go through the terrible fire.

Speaking of fires, I would tell the second Mrs. De Winter – give that poor woman a first name! – about the psycho Mrs. Danvers and spill the beans about his huge bitch of a first wife, Rebecca. I’m a big fan of open communication.

I would bask in the brilliant engineering glory of Cyrus Smith on Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. Cyrus was so smart, he smelted iron out of the land, and made all kinds of tools and a great stone home, with some help from an old friend from another Jules Verne book.  I don’t want to spoil it.  The stuff he crafted was so sophisticated, he made Robinsin Crusoe look like a putz. Hey, I made a pot out of clay! Big deal, Crusoe: Cyrus made a telegraph!

I would be friends with Jane from Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, whose humor and spunk I just loved. Speaking of spunk, Caddie Woodlawn! Enough said. And anything by Rebecca Caudill or Jean Fritz.

But really go into the Land of Books? This is literally, pardon the pun, a tough question.   How real are we talking about here? Could I just be an observer, like the UN people who monitor elections, or the doctors who do telemedicine in prisons – seeing hardened criminals from the comfort of their home computer?   Could I have an Avatar do it for me? Or would I actually get swept up into the fictional world and maybe have unpleasant things happen?

For example: A Tale of Two Cities. I could get guillotined!

Pride and Prejudice: That society was brutal! I wouldn’t have the right clothes, much less suitable connections. Except for playing the piano, I would strike out on most of Mr. Darcy’s list of talents an accomplished lady should have. Also, I am so nearsighted, they probably didn’t even have the technology back then to make the kind of high-powered spectacles I would need, and if they did, it would be the early 1800s equivalent of Coke bottles.

Little House on the Prairie: You know I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. So maybe I could do this for a brief period, assuming the technical issue with the glasses could be worked out. But the parents worked like dogs all day long. Also, they bathed once a week, maybe, and did not change the bath water in between, so guess where the new person would be in the bathtub lineup? Gross.

And then there are some other considerations, which are not trivial:

Sudafed. Could I bring some? They’re very small pills.

Toilet paper. I’m flexible here. If I couldn’t bring my Charmin Sensitive with aloe, I would be willing to bring my Charmin Fresh Mates wipes for delicate situations. If we’re in an outhouse situation, the Sears catalog is not going to cut it. Much less a corn cob. Ouch, just thinking about it…

Also: OUTHOUSES HAVE SPIDERS!

But what if we were in a medieval setting, as in some wonderful books: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Red Keep, Catherine, Called Birdy, the Midwife’s Apprentice, any of your Robin Hood or King Arthur books, pretty much all of Shakespeare, including Julius Caesar (let’s face it, that was not ancient Rome – they had a clock!).

Yes, nitpickers, the Bard was more Renaissance/Elizabethan than Medieval, but speaking of nitpicking, even royalty had fleas and lice! Sewage ran through the streets! The Thames was disgusting, except when it froze solid in the winter and people cooked boars right on the ice. People emptied chamber pots onto the street below without so much as a courtesy “Look out below!”

Teeth were rotten. THERE WAS NO SPANDEX!  No Poopourri!

What about The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio, a series of Chaucer-like tales, many of which are quite funny? They were written to take people’s minds off THE BLACK DEATH. Yes, the bubonic plague, which killed 20 million people in the 14th century.  No, thanks!

I could go back to Roman-occupied Britain, except for the wacko Druid/Caledonian tribe that would try to kill me in Rosemary Sutcliff’s gripper, The Eagle of the Ninth.

Gone With the Wind? The South was devastated after the Civil War. People starved for years. The slaves were freed after the war, but the Klan was there, and so were Carpetbaggers. And, of course, the lack of hygiene products discussed above.

All of Zane Gray. I would be at an enormous disadvantage, because unlike most of his female heroines, I do not have enormous gray/blue/green eyes with lustrous lashes, although I think my mascara does a fine job, and again, there is the issue with my glasses. Also, after hours in the saddle, I would just get off and moan incoherently, rather than be brave and shoot thievin’ lowlife rustlers.

I have barely tapped the surface here. Don’t even get me started on the Grimm Fairy Tales, which truly live up to the authors’ names. Even the Bible: what if I came in as a Hittite, or an Egyptian when Moses and the Pharaoh were having that large disagreement and God was unleashing the plagues?

The problem is, the Land of Books is not safe. Now, you might say, and I would agree, that books aren’t supposed to be safe. They’re supposed to make you think, and challenge your ideas, and inspire your creativity. Yeah, sure. But it’s one thing to be snug in your bed or a comfy chair or a hammock or an airplane or the backseat of a car on a long road trip, and read about exciting and maybe scary things. It’s another to think about actually being there. Note to self: Don’t put any Stephen King books on your bucket list of literary places to visit. Or Edgar Allan Poe, although it would be cool to meet Poe’s August “Purloined Letter” Dupin, the world’s first literary detective. And Sherlock Holmes, although actually I think I like Dr. Watson better.

I love Agatha Christie, and Ngaio Marsh, and Marjorie Cunningham, and Dashiell Hammett. But I don’t want to be poisoned, shot, or stabbed. Also, everybody smoked back then. I’d be coughing and my hair and clothes would constantly smell like cigarettes.

Maybe the safest way to go would be an illustrated book, like Where the Wild Things Are. At least there’s a guaranteed way off the island: Max’s private boat. It might take time, over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day, but at least I could get back to the starting point, Max’s bedroom, where there might be a hot supper waiting for me.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

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Sometimes, Puppies Happen

When it comes to dogs, we are stuck on Labs.  It hasn’t always been this way. We have had many mixed breeds over the years, including Jake, a Lab-Shepherd mix; Lucy, a Lab-Dalmatian mix; Betsy, a Lab-Beagle mix; Jenna, mostly black Lab; and Henry, a Golden Retriever-Bassett Hound mix, who looked just like a Golden Retriever except he was short – the coffee-table version. There is our beloved Stanley, a buff-colored Cocker Spaniel who came to live with us at age seven; and years ago, we had Penny, a beautiful Springer Spaniel.

But mostly, and inadvertently, there has been a theme here: the Lab constant.

Then we got Molly, our Chocolate Lab, and our daughter, Blair, rescued Roxy, a Yellow Lab, and we just fell in the tank for Labrador Retrievers. We now have three Labs in our family (I’m getting to that).

Here’s a very brief guide to Labs: All they care about is one thing: being with you.

And food. So okay, two things: Being with you, and food.

And having a job to do, so well, that’s three things.

Also, they love to play.

Okay, basically there are four life goals for the Lab.

Molly loves to have a job, and she has several missions. One is, when we’re walking, and Stanley – who thinks he is a large, ferocious warrior and gets the Viking “red mist” when he sees other dogs – starts barking at the neighbor’s dogs in their fenced-in yards, Molly turns on the speed and pulls us away. I have trained her to do this, and she does it without fail. She knows her job: extraction. Get us out of there.

Molly, like all Labs, is enthusiastic. She threw herself into obedience school, just plunged into it, much as she would a wading pool, horse’s water trough, or any other exciting water scenario.

She was so excited to go to class, in fact, that it was a problem. For the first few weeks as we parked and walked to our lessons at the Whiskers Barkery in downtown Prescott, I would have to slow our progress by holding onto street lights and grabbing the edges of buildings, because she would be pulling so hard to get us there.

Molly also retains the distinction of being the only dog ever to break off one of the obedience studio’s built-in leashes that are anchored to the wall. We were doing “recall,” where you have your dog stay, walk to the far end of the room, and say, “Molly (or whatever your dog’s name is), come!”   This was her best subject. She would just flat-out run across the room to me. So one day, we did our turn, and it was wonderful. Then another dog, whose name sounded very similar, was supposed to go. His owner squatted down, flung out her arms, and yelled, “Wally, come!” Molly was leashed to the wall, and she just busted out of there. Our trainer, Kathy Morris, was so great. All she said was, “Hmm. That should have been anchored to a stud.”

When we started walking at the heel position at various paces, Molly would get so excited that, when I gave her a tiny treat as a reward, she would cough it up, drop her head down, scoop it up and eat it again, and never slow her pace.

This brings me to one of my favorite Lab stories, courtesy of Josh’s orthodontist, a Lab guy. Two families were travelling together, going on vacation. They had two black Labs, littermates, crated in the back of the SUV. The crates were the metal kind, with a little space between the bars.   Immediately beside the dogs was a 40-pound bag of food, which was supposed to last them the whole two weeks. Now, even I can see that this was a tactical error, but hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

One of the dogs set to work on the bag and, by industrious use of front paw, was able to claw a hole in it. The food spilled right inside the crate. The dog ate, and ate, and ate. When they reached their cabin, three hours later, the dog looked “like he was massively pregnant.” As soon as he got out of the car, he started throwing up – pound after pound of food. The family looked on in horror. Not to worry: the second Lab started eating. And ate all of it. Then that Lab threw up – and, as you may have guessed, the first Lab started eating it.

I laughed so hard when I heard this story. Blair said, “That’s disgusting,” when she heard it later. I said, “Can’t you see Roxy doing it?” She closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes.” Of course she could. Roxy ate an entire bag of flour off a shelf once. Our beloved Jake once ate an entire bag of Oreos, double-stuffed, and also got into a can of Crisco. We know this because there was the unmistakable imprint of his snout in the otherwise untouched Crisco.

About a month ago, we were having dinner with Blair and her husband, Ted. Blair has been looking for a puppy, and she got a text from a breeder: A four-and-a-half-month old yellow Lab had just come back. Did she want her?

Blair is looking for a younger puppy, but she knew an older puppy would be just up my alley. She showed me the picture, and I was done for.

A lost-looking dog is just sitting there, so serious and sweet and uncertain.

I showed the picture to Mark and our sons, Andy and Josh. “We can’t just leave her there,” said Mark.  God bless that man.  This is not the first time he’s done that, either.  Years ago – heck, decades ago – we didn’t even see Jake, but we heard about him from a friend. He had been rescued from the mean streets of East Baltimore, where he had been hanging out at the local Popeye’s and a hot dog stand in front of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two friends got him off the streets, took him to the vet and got him all fixed up – but he had nowhere to go. I was so moved by Jake’s plight, and I told Mark about it one night.  He was almost asleep, and with his eyes still closed, he said, “Bring him home.”

This time, we brought Sadie home. The breeder brought her over at 9:30 that night. Her van pulled up in the driveway and Sadie got out of the car. So serious, and so sweet and hopeful, too, as if to say: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going to do my best.”

Why would anyone let go of this awesome dog? Apparently, the person who had bought her had been overwhelmed with some health issues and was unable to take care of her; in fact, had never even gotten Sadie any of her shots, so she had no immunity to anything. We took her to the vet the next day, have gone back for the boosters, and I’m glad to say that now she’s protected against disease and varmints. She’s even had part one of her rattlesnake vaccine – something I had never heard of before we moved to Arizona.

Like Molly and Stanley, Roxy, Jake, and all the dogs who have been part of our family, Sadie is adored. That’s not to say she’s a perfect angel: despite my fervent wishes and efforts to change this, Sadie gets up at the crack of dawn. She’s a morning person, full of energy and raring to go. When she gets into a dispute with Molly (basically, when Molly has something she wants), she produces this sharp, ear-piercing puppy bark that drives me crazy until I distract her with something else. And yesterday, she ate two of my potted plants. So, like all of us, she can be a pain in the butt. But she’s our pain in the butt. Sadie is home.

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Morning in Prescott

It’s another beautiful morning in Prescott, Arizona, the mile-high town in the mountains that is my home. It’s a school day, so I’m up early. Who am I kidding, I would be up early, anyway, because the dogs have some kind of internal Greenwich Mountain Time atomic clock that causes them to wake me – no one else, just me – up at 6:30 every day. On a weekend, if I’m lucky, I can go back to sleep.

The day starts, as always, with the delightful and incredibly satisfying sound of a lightsaber battle. There are no Jedi here (these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, either)… No, it’s hummingbirds at our feeders.  When hummingbirds zoom past you with their little wings flapping as fast as they can, they make a buzzing sound. It used to scare me to death: I thought it was a giant bee coming to take me away. Now, I’m used to it, and it just makes me happy.   Plus, I think about Obi Wan and Anakin before he went over to the dark side.

Josh and I have been doing a lot better with our time management in the mornings, and we are in the car at 7:40, which gives us a comfortable margin of time to get to Mile High Middle School.

Josh in the car, check.

Backpack, check.

Water bottle, check.

Molly the Chocolate Lab at her post in the back seat, check.

Sunglasses deployed. We’re cleared for takeoff.

I am backing out of the garage and what do I see in my rear view mirror? It’s the unmistakable and surreal image of a mountain lion coming out of the woods on one side of the driveway and crossing into the woods on the other side.   Our house backs up to Willow Creek, which is a real wildlife magnet.

But this is a big freaking zoo animal in my back yard. Several inches taller than Molly, and at least a foot longer. Slightly more golden than Stanley, our mighty, buff-colored Cocker Spaniel. Muscular shoulders and haunches. Long, sinuous tail, not unlike that of Shere Khan in the “Jungle Book” movie (but probably without the cultured English accent of George Sanders). We haven’t seen any coyotes or javelinas lately; this large dude is probably the reason why.

“Oh, my God!” I shout. This part is not actually a regular feature of a morning in Prescott.

This is the second time I have seen a mountain lion in our driveway. The first one I saw a couple years ago, and it was at about the same time – except then I had just come home from taking Josh to school. I had just gotten out of the car and just let Molly out and thank goodness, Molly was facing me. That mountain lion was even longer than the one I saw today, and it looked right at me as it crossed the driveway – about 50 feet away from us – and went back into the woods. Molly never saw it, thank God.

I am not digging this up-close and personal look at predators.

But we’ve got to get to school, so off we go.

We make it onto Williamson Valley Road and then turn onto Iron Springs, and we’re back in our routine. There she is, the lady who’s always walking down the sidewalk as we’re going to school. She has graying, reddish hair, a light blue jacket – when it’s cold, she upgrades to a thicker black jacket – and she’s always smoking. I worry about that.

This is a small town, so there are some regulars I see fairly often. I’ve talked to a couple of them before.

There’s Mark, who used to sit in his wheelchair, wearing his big cowboy hat, at the corner of Miller Valley and Fair Street and collect money for a house. I stopped a couple times and talked to him. A local group was going to help him move into a house, but he needed to come up with some money first, he told me. A couple weeks later, he said that it was all up in the air now, because there was a judgment against him in Nebraska. I didn’t know what that meant, but he was still out there collecting money, so I gave him a couple bucks. Then I didn’t see him for a while, and when I was at Rehab Fry’s, across the street from where Mark usually sits, the cashier told me that he had a stroke and was down in Phoenix. Mark was not there again today.

There’s another lady, who has a lot of gray hair that may be in dreadlocks, and she wears it up on top of her head in a distinctive dome shape. I haven’t talked to her, but Josh has, when we were with his youth group from Prescott United Methodist Church at the Granite Creek Hunger Potluck, which has served up a big free meal every Saturday morning since 1998.   It’s at Granite Creek Park on Saturday mornings if you ever want to come. I think she’s doing okay.

There’s an older gentleman who walks around downtown very slowly. I usually see him on Gurley Street. I have talked to him before, but I don’t know his name. He wears a Korean War veteran hat, and he pushes a walker. There he is, coming by the Leap of Faith Tattoo shop.

Not seen today – actually, come to think of it, I haven’t seen him for a while – is the Dark Lord. I’m not kidding, that’s his name.   I often see him later in the day, walking along Miller Valley road, wearing wizard’s robes. Sometimes with a skin-tight red dress underneath. He has long, dark hair and often smokes. He is very striking. One day, I thought, what the heck, I’m going to Google him, so I looked up “man, wizard’s robes, Prescott,” and found a news story featuring coverage of a previous arrest; not his finest moment.

We make it school – once again, not late! Yay!

On the way home, I stop at Rehab Fry’s to get gas. Fry’s is our version of Kroger, and this one is in a neighborhood that has more than its share of drug rehab homes; I like this store a lot. It has a great produce section.

There is a white rehab van at the next pump. We have all these drug rehab group homes in Prescott, for some reason, although there are far fewer now than there used to be, because the city has finally started putting some regulations in place. This is good, because some of those homes were not helping anybody.

I’m not sure how much helping was happening with the guys next to me. This one heavily tattooed guy was talking very loudly to another heavily tattooed guy about what a player he was. In fact, he put it right out there: “You know I’m a player.” Then he added, “Nobody at treatment was into gambling until I got here.”

Yes, just another morning in Prescott, my quirky, beautiful home town.  I feel like Mr. Rogers.  I may not have Henrietta Pussycat, King Friday, or Mr. McFeely of Speedy Delivery, but I’ve got mountain lions, Jedi hummingbirds, players, and a bunch of interesting people.

One more thing: When I got home, I bought two locally made calendars, one for 2017 (even though it’s half over) and one for 2018, from The Whimsical Woodsman. The money goes to a good cause, and the pictures are hilarious. Coy pinup “Dudeoir” (rhymes with boudoir) shots of big, burly lumberjacks who clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, all done to raise money for Books to the Rescue, a Prescott charity that gives books and other items to first responders, so they can help kids in crisis situations. Now, I know what you may be thinking: “I don’t have enough pictures of large, scantily dressed woodsmen.” Today’s your lucky day!

P.S.  I took the picture of the Leap of Faith Tattoo shop from my car!  I was driving by and saw the truck parked out front and thought it was too good to miss.

©Janet Farrar Worthington