Inigo and the snowman that wasn’t

26 Jan

Meet Inigo, a Doberman / Rottweiler who is the new “rock star” in my life.

That Claire Underwood seems so familiar.

That Claire Underwood seems so familiar.

While it may look like he’s kickin’ back watching House of Cards, Inigo is actually hard at work in that picture. That arm of the couch faces the entry door, and should there be any attempted unauthorized entrance, Inigo will take care of the situation faster than Muhammad Ali could turn off the lights. “Unauthorized entrance” includes burglars, unsuspecting family and friends, meddling squirrels, particles of air of nonstandard density.

Inigo’s DNA is a composite of breeds established as guard dogs. He’s very good at it. Unfortunately, his life before he came here seems to have been such that the more aggressive and protective genetic tendencies were exploited. It’s hard for him to turn it off.

I don’t think he ever completely sleeps. As I type this he appears to be sleeping on his bed near the fireplace, guarding me from meddling squirrels and random menacing particles of air and waiting for me to go to bed, but JUST as I typed that last  line, he looked up at me like he knew I was writing about him. Uber-keen perception and lightning fast reflexes.

Inigo is the blog name I’ve given him because he’s occasionally featured  in stories about his happily-ever-after. I understand and respect his need to keep this life separate from that one.

When he came to live here, Inigo had basically two expressions:  the Woody Allen (“Oh, no, something bad is about to happen, isn’t it?”) and the Inigo Montoya (“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”)  Apparently, a high-density particle of air killed his father. Or a meddling squirrel. I’ll probably never know. He doesn’t talk about it.

In his time with me, he has developed a third expression.  It’s reminiscent of the look my kids had when I would show off my Macarena skills in public. To summarize, his three expressions are

  • The Woody Allen
  • The Inigo Montoya
  • The Mortified Teenager.

To wit.

It’s Winter!

Recently I waxed idyllic at the idea of making a snowman without any reason or excuse to make a snowman. A necessary element to waxing idyllic is the harsh, cold reality that inevitably, by contrast, underscores the notion of “idyllic.”

Like so many adventures before and no doubt so many others to come, this seemed like a good idea at the time.  As I gathered the snowman materials (hat, scarf, black olives, Tootsie Rolls, a pack of Mentos, and some croutons), I checked the thermostat.

Here’s an interesting fact of nature:  20 degrees Fahrenheit feels much warmer when you’re looking at it from 68 degrees Fahrenheit. For readers in more intelligent places, 20 degrees Fahrenheit is -6.6667 degrees Celsius.

When he saw 20 degrees on the thermostat, Inigo opted for standing guard from the warmth and comfort of the couch. I ventured forth, boldly going where no self-respecting Doberweiler would go.

Here’s the thing about -6.6667 degrees Celsius: it’s @#$% cold.

Add to that gale-force winds (hyperbole!) and snow roughly the consistency of pixie dust, and you have a snowman-building no-go.

Did I let that stop me? Sure, end of story!

Not really.

The King Lear Approach to Snowman Building

I made my way to the side of the house to build my snowman visible from the window by my desk and where the neighbors couldn’t see me acting like a six-year old. I  tried and tried and tried again  to pack together enough particles of pixie dust to get a snowman rolling. While perched on the side of a hill.

The wind whipped. My extremities froze. I kept slipping sideways and backward down the hill.

I tried to distract myself by remembering King Lear’s speech on the heath, but my brain cells were busy calculating the wind chill on -6.6667 degrees Celsius at gale-force winds. (Whenever nature is kicking my butt, I think of King Lear. Don’t judge.)

Eventually I accepted the harsh reality of nature’s superiority – this snowman was not coming to life this day.  No snow angel, either.  The puffy coat I was wearing would’ve formed a snow blob. At least Lear was smart enough not to wear a puffy coat. Or maybe he did in the First Folio. Whatever.

This was one of those rare life dilemmas where reciting Shakespeare was not the solution.  No, this called for hyperbole.  And post-Elizabethan creative problem-solving.

Aha! A snow logo, the logical solution to any post-Elizabethan crisis.

I drew a peace sign/heart/exclamation point in the snow and tried to take a picture using my fancy new cell phone, which zoomed to “4 X” without my permission and would not go back to regular X.

I fiddled with the buttons and the snow shovel fell over, creating a small avalanche of pixie dust that destroyed the snow logo.

At this point Inigo came from inside to check on me. He walked to this position and assumed his guard stance for precisely 2.57 seconds (which I believe is 2.57 seconds Celsius):

How ya doin'? Everything cool out here?

How ya doin’? Everything cool out here?

Then he looked at me – slipping and sliding and fumbling and cursing the gods —  with a mix of pity and dismay that was so amusing I couldn’t laugh and snap the shot at the same time. He flashed me the Mortified Teenager, turned, and went back inside.

I'm outta here.

I’m outta here.

I remembered there was a selfie feature and figured maybe just a picture of me with the snowy background would work.  I could pretend I was reciting Lear’s speech, with the howling winds and nature’s torment. How would you know that was a total lie? Here’s how the selfie idea worked out:

snowman mystery

just before face plant pre face plant 02

When I went back inside, I realized my dog has a far better understanding of “idyllic” than I do:

Really? You're the one with opposable thumbs?

I’m embarrassed for you. What’s next? The Macarena?


Two days later, I managed this, while Inigo stood guard:

snow plh

 No particles of air were harmed in the writing of this piece or the attempted building of a snowman from pixie dust.

Snow day: an empty-nester’s lament

22 Jan

Today is my first snow day since leaving teaching a decade ago. Technically, yesterday was my first snow day, but it didn’t actually snow until late in the day because someone was caught sleeping with her pajamas right-side out.

A few years ago we went through Snowmaggedon, but those didn’t count as snow days because I worked from home and the few breaks I took were to shovel paths in the back yard long and wide enough for an arthritic, 115-pound Doberman to make his way out for exercise and bathroom breaks.  And there was a snow day last year when it didn’t actually snow.

This. This is the real deal.

It was still snowing when I went to bed last night after another marathon viewing of Breaking Bad. I knew this would be the view from the window beside my computer desk this morning:

I wonder if those tracks lead to a snowdeer.

I wonder if those tracks lead to a snowdeer.

Do you see what’s missing from that picture? Do you? Well, I do.

It needs a snowman. Desperately.

And here I am with no legitimate reason to make a snowman. No children in the house. No “festive holiday decor” clause (Oh, yes. I thought a snowman might add a little more holiday cheer!”). Plenty of chores and projects to tend to.

And yet, I’ve been sitting here all morning, shuffling around my to do list, waiting for the neighbors to finish shoveling so I can get out there and make a little snow magic happen without all the questions, the judgmental raised eyebrows, the offers to drop off their grandchildren for a couple of hours.

Sure, I could go out and  help, but this could lead to grown-up conversation, such as wind chill and polar vortex and climate change or how long it took to have the street plowed or last month’s skyrocketing electric bill.

It’ll be faster for all of us to avoid that. They have places to be and I have things to do, like making a snowman. These are thoughtful, kind people and I enjoy talking with them, but not today.

Today I want to make a snowman and then come in to some hot cocoa, a cozy fire,  and a good book.

In (happy, snow-filled) memory of the rockstar.

In (happy, snow-filled) memory of “Rock Star”

The smell of laminator in the morning.

17 Jan jeanne-stevenson-literary-techniques-hyperbole

Last Friday, after a two-hour, two-prosecco lunch, followed by a round of goodbye visits and emails, I signed off the computer in my brightly lit, well-equipped office in a shiny law firm building, across the hall from one of many conference rooms continually restocked with logo-emblazoned legal pads and crisply sharpened pencils, and took the final elevator trip to the parking garage.  As I handed my parking card and hang tag to a now-former colleague and reminded him again how much I’d enjoyed working with him, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry ’bout that, you’ll be back.” I smiled back and apologized for “yelling” at him for running in the building the day before, in a premature flash back to that hall-monitor mentality to which I was preparing to return. We shared a last laugh and wave goodbye and then I pulled out into the K Street traffic for my last long commute home.

This Friday I was back in the classroom, reminding seventh graders to turn in their homework and reminding myself about reverse operations in algebraic equations, with a 10-minute lunch break of turkey and swiss from an everyday Ziploc bag, accompanied by a full-bodied raspberry seltzer water.

My day was filled with the same directives: “Turn in your homework. . . .pick up the warm-up sheet. . . sit in your assigned seat . . .no gum. . . no bathroom passes in the first 10 minutes of class. . ..” Repeatedly I suggested that those who were out of notebook paper or didn’t have a pencil might borrow from a classmate, as the teacher’s classroom supply bin, no doubt stocked at her own expense, was empty.

Circulating the classroom, navigating my way through backpacks and binders, I counted the fluorescent ceiling lights, probably the originals in this building erected forty years ago, recently passed over (yet again) for renovation or new building because of prohibitive expense. Of 20 lights, only 12 were lit. I asked if students could see well enough to work through their problem sets. They said they were used to it; the lights have been out for as long as they can remember.

Yesterday I stayed behind with the kids who weren’t going on the field trip and we watched videos as part of the science teacher’s assignment. They strained to hear the only available audio, through the computer’s built-in speaker. The external speaker connection “hasn’t worked in a long time,” and the satisfaction I gained during lunch when I found that it was plugged into the wrong port and corrected it was short-lived when we tried again and the speaker wire proved fickle. Unless I was sitting next to the speaker holding the wire, audio was intermittent.

Earlier in the week, I walked into a high school where every “Good morning” I offered was returned by an equally enthusiastic “Good morning!”

Dozens of times.

By teachers, staff, the school policeman, and much to my happy surprise, by students.

Teenagers. Saying, “Good morning!”

I spent that morning operating the laminating machine, the secret envy of any teacher who’s ever been told that only the media specialist is allowed to operate the laminating machine.  I felt a kinship with every one of them who altered their path to draw in a big sniff of the hot plastic. I know that whiff.  It ranks up there with freshly baked bread or perfectly brewed coffee.

Later in that same morning, the Internet went down and stayed that way for the rest of the day, throwing off lesson plans and research projects and any number of important activities in support of the educational process. Everyone adjusted. No heads rolled. No jobs lost. I ate lunch in a faculty lounge furnished with old overstuffed couches and motivational posters from the 1970s, with teachers who were tired but still smiling and chugging along, offering me any help I might need, despite the fact that they didn’t know me and might or might not ever see me again. Because that’s who teachers are. Ok, maybe they were angling for a surreptitious spin at the controls of the laminator. Still.

I would totally laminate this. Totally.

I would totally laminate this. Totally.

This contrast has struck me so many times in this past week, the first in this interim period where I’m figuring out what I want to be now that I’ve decided being a grown up wasn’t for me. In “big law,” especially on K Street, burned out lighting is replaced within minutes. If the Internet is down for more than 10 minutes, heads roll and careers are on the line. (After all, we have to know what’s going on at Above the Law.) There has never been a time that paper and pencils, not to mention herbal tea and specialty coffees, aren’t within immediate reach — at no one’s personal expense — and restocked almost as quickly as they’re borrowed. The bathrooms are spotless — cleaned every hour on the hour. The buildings are new or newly renovated. Clients don’t want to visit dingy offices. And when you say “Good morning” to someone, they assess your standing in the food chain to decide whether or not to acknowledge your existence.

As this week has passed, with the Internet outage and the audio difficulties and a half-dark classroom, I’ve thought a lot about how students could benefit from the wealth that goes into just the infrastructure alone of a major law firm. A major new high school could be paid for by less than a year’s revenue of a mid-sized firm.

Then today I noticed some posters near the American flag, where students take them in, if only subliminally, in the daily ritual of the Pledge of Allegiance:  a bullying-awareness poster and a “fast cash/crime doesn’t pay” poster, meant to discourage an unethical mindset. If I ever do go back to the clean, well-lighted world of big law, I’d like to take those posters with me.

While I’ll miss the occasional fancy lunch and the clean bathrooms and the endless supply of sharp pencils, nothing can compare to hearing a teenager say, “Good morning!”

“Teenagers Kick Our Butts,” Dar Williams

Happy Holidays.

25 Dec
Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and a hippie new year. Peace.

Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and a hippie new year. Peace.

Hippie Santa courtesy of my dear friend, Ms. ThoughtsAppear. Thank you, Thoughtsy.

Typhoid Hippie and the Firefef Worms

20 Nov
You might want to be careful reading this.  (Photo from

You might want to be careful reading this.
(Photo from

The fact that I’m writing this and that you’re reading it means that things are (fingers crossed) on the mend. Technologically, at least.

Recently, while working on a (clearing throat in conspiratorial tone) project, I was annoyed by Adobe Flashplayer’s insistence that I update my software. It wouldn’t go away when I said ‘no, thanks.’ Then it wouldn’t even take no for an answer. So  . . . yes, just as stupid as it sounds, I said ok, and that was the beginning of the nightmare.

Cutting to the chase, that wasn’t Adobe Flashplayer any more than some creepy guy at a bar is a knight in shining armor. Nope. It was a virus.

But, joy of joy, it took me a while to figure that out.

In fact, I didn’t figure it out until after I’d paid my bills online, checked my bank accounts and retirement accounts, and uploaded a job application with my complete career history, references’ contact information, and my SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!

Then things started acting up and eventually I checked on my Windows firewall to find that it couldn’t be enabled.  The virus had installed its own firewall  to fend off any attempts to get rid of it. The good news is that despite some lame advice from a techno-geek and some useless malware software, along with better malware software (I won’t say it here because I don’t want to help the slimy worm-people out by pointing them toward their next target), I think I fixed this without one of those frustrating calls to someone overseas who, if they’re a real person, will stick to the script no matter what I say on this end . . . 

Overseas call center rep:  Good afternoon, how may I assist you today?

Me:  Hello!  Well, it’s midnight here, but good afternoon to you, too!  Unfortunately, a virus has taken over my computer and is posing as Windows and not letting me add a malware remover. Is there anything I can do? 

Overseas call center rep:  Thank you for your question, Hippie. I am sorry you are having trouble. I think we can fix this pretty easily. First, we’ll need to  add a malware remover.

I’m still wary of Gmail and of whether I’ve truly removed the worm and restored my system cleanly.  My priority concern is the potential hacking of  my financial accounts, etc., but the (clearing throat in conspiratorial tone) project is still in the works. All the materials were on my desktop.  I retrieved them and moved to backup. And then there’s this thing I call a day job.

Moral of the story: Whoever first thought up the idea of a computer virus is a miscreant who deserves to have his/her shins kicked.

Epilogue: I found the image for this post at a place called “Ethical Ocean.”  It felt a little uncomfortable borrowing an image from a site based on ethical premises, so I checked it out and it looks like a worthwhile place to explore.  I can’t entirely endorse them, seeing as I’m still smarting from being burned by faux Adobe and I haven’t been through an entire purchase with them, but I think it’s worth a leap of faith to give them a shout-out. The image links to their website. 

They’re based in Toronto, so it’s also a public service to my Canadian friends who are also smarting from recent events that have catapulted that nice city into the negative spotlight.  I actually think it speaks well of you that you’re taking it so personally. 

I heart you, Canadians.  We all get burned sometimes.  Just don’t download the Adobe update without checking it carefully.

You can call me Meatball ™.

14 Nov tm

Recently I may have inadvertently offended another blogger in a casual comment. I have a special knack for doing that, especially these days when I’m peeking in on the fly and want to pay my respects by leaving a thought, without thinking through how that thought might be construed by someone who doesn’t know that I mean well.

All of this is to say to that person and anyone else to whom it applies, I apologize.

Yesterday I saw the story of Meatball on the news. Meatball’s story is just one example of what I was trying to convey in my comment on the topic of making money through blogging.

In the comment thread, I eventually I went, as I often do, to song lyrics, this time from perennial favorite, David Wilcox (the American one).  I quoted the following lines from “Sacred Ground,” which compares music to sex. I was extending that to writing, particularly this new trend of blog magazines, group blogs, many of which have the intent of becoming profit-making:

First, you do it for love/Then you do it with friends/But when you do it for money/Right there’s where the innocence ends.

I want to emphasize that I  wish everyone and anyone all the success they desire and deserve.

My point is that the game changes — and it’s no longer a game, or it can be an expensive one — when you turn just about any hobby or recreational activity into a profit-making venture.

Admittedly, I’m painting this with extremely broad strokes, but personal bloggers tend to get away with what could be construed (wow, that must be my word-of-the-day) as intellectual property violations that commercial enterprises would not.

Meatball’s story illustrates that point. Here’s how I understand it, based on the story on the CBS Morning News, which you can watch by clicking here.

What's not to love?  Photo from Lions and Tigers and Bears' website:

Pardon me, could you pass the parmesan?     Photo from Lions and Tigers and Bears’ website:

A 400-pound bear was seen meandering around Los Angeles and in at least one video he was seen eating meatballs, which earned him the nickname, “Meatball.”

A creative Meatball fan named Sarah Aujero set up a Twitter account in Meatball’s name and “gave him a personality.”  Meatball’s personality, courtesy of Sarah’s creativity, earned him a reprieve from being euthanized by the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Meatball Awareness (no tm, yet) earned Meatball a home at a San Diego wildlife sanctuary, Lions and Tigers and Bears.

Oh, my.

Then things took a turn. (If I had time, I’d insert a “ka-ching” sound, but I’d need to research the copyright issues involved.)

According to the CBS news feed . . .

“Aujero came to visit as much as she could and donated more than $2,000 to build Meatball a new enclosure through the sale of special t-shirts and tote bags. She eventually decided to copyright Meatball’s name, in hopes of a children’s book in the future, but that’s when it got ugly.

The animal sanctuary already had a book in the works and wanted Aujero to sign over the legal rights to the Meatball name.   ‘We didn’t want to get in a position where we’ve sold merchandize(sic) and then we owe somebody proceeds from it,’ said Brink.

Aujero told “CBS This Morning”: ‘It was never my attention to profit from Meatball. All I wanted to do was help save his life and share his story.’”

I’m not trying to squash anyone’s dreams, nor am I offering legal advice.  I’m not saying Aujero wouldn’t have been sitting across from Charlie, Nora, and Gayle humbly sharing her story of “just a simple Twitter feed that became a bestselling children’s book” while on tour promoting her children’s book. I’m not saying that the two sides won’t work it out to be mutually profitable between them, and the bear? Well, he doesn’t get euthanized. So there’s that.

I’m just pointing out that a group of folks entertaining each other on social media is one thing. Potential intellectual property violations seem to be overlooked all the time. But when money comes into the picture, things can take a turn pretty quickly.

Hopefully, creativity and fun and a passion for what you’re doing will sustain you. I just think it helps to go into it knowing that the issues can become complicated and expensive.

So, to you whom I offended, I apologize.  I truly meant well, and I wish you the best. I promise to be the first one to buy your t-shirt or children’s book or whatever comes from your dream coming true.

I’m not really an actress.

12 Nov copy-desktop.jpeg

One of my Ally McBeal reveries involves sitting across from James Lipton, humbly relating poignant stories about my fascinating life, bemused by the fact that anyone would care to know.

James, on behalf of America’s enquiring minds, wants to know what makes me me.  I, on behalf of me, quietly share mysterious tidbits, demurely grinning at James’s curious probing.

Inside, though, I anticipate the questions that I know are coming — James Lipton’s Famous 10 Questions — with the enthusiasm of a high school senior the day yearbooks come out.  What will I say? How will I choose just the right words to convey the real me . . . for eternity? 

I know the questions, so you’d think I’d be prepared. But I also know myself.  Consistently inconsistent.

I tend to approach life the way John Gorka approaches a set list:  controlled chaos.  All the answers are there. It’s just a matter of how they arrange themselves in any particular moment.

As with most of my Ally McBeal reveries, there’s usually a That Would Never Happen clause that brings me back to the mundane reality of sitting in traffic at the intersection of workday and errands.  This particular scene comes to a close when I remember that to be seated across from James Lipton, one must be, you know, an actress.

Today I was greeted with the opportunity to answer Mr. Lipton’s questions without setting foot on a stage.

No auditions, no makeup and wardrobe. No step-and-repeats or red carpets.

No pretending that I’m not dating George Clooney just because we have a movie coming out in six months.

So, here it is. My controlled chaos approach to the ten questions James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  I reserve the right to change my answers. In ten minutes.

1.What is your favorite word?  Grace. Big G, little g. Grace Kelly, Amazing Grace. As far as I know, there isn’t a sense of that word that I don’t love.

2.What is your least favorite word?  Goodbye, in any language.

3.What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?  Authenticity.  I don’t happen to believe, by the way, that everyone who puts it all out there in the name of “just being themselves” is necessarily being authentic. A lot of those who do that are just competing to be heard above a crowd of boorishness, which, granted, is an authentic endeavor. I think it takes a lot to figure out what is truly authentic about yourself and then allowing yourself to be that.

4.What turns you off?  Exactly the opposite of authenticity.  I’m a vibe-y person and sometimes I just feel it about someone. I worry about that making me a judgy kind of person, so I try to give the benefit of the doubt. Often, in fact, I’ve gone too far to give someone who didn’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt. Much of the time, my

Hell's Bells?  You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

Hell’s Bells? You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

first vibe turns out to be correct.  If you’re not for real, please don’t waste my time.

5.What is your favorite curse word?  Hell’s Bells.  Ok, that’s two, but when Richard Gere got this question, he declined because he’s a better person than I am.  So, I’m taking Richard’s word.  Both of my grandmothers were Southerners and the attic of my brain is cluttered with their expressions.  Hell’s Bells is one, but I hear it with my grandmother’s gentle frustration, not AC/DC’s screech.

6.What sound or noise do you love?  Laughter, especially children’s laughter. I loved Antonio Banderas’ answer to this question, but he already gave it.

7.What sound or noise do you hate?  That sound that styrofoam packing makes when two pieces of it rub together or when you break it. Anything to do with styrofoam packing.  *shudder*

8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  I’m on record as wanting to be a tambourine/eggshaker girl and/or a bookstore/patisserie owner, but — and I swear I am not making this up — lately I’ve been thinking it would be interesting to be a WordPress editor, coming up with creative ideas and watching what other people do with them.  Reading all sorts of things, choosing good ones to highlight, making someone’s day.  And, in my Ally McBeal impression of that job, there’s no commute.

9.What profession would you not like to do?  Publicist, handler, spokesperson, personal manager. See “authenticity,” above.

10.If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Well, Hell’s Bells, c’mon in. Your grandmother said you’d pull it out in the end, but I admit I had my doubts. See “grace,” above.


Daily Prompt: Inside the Actor’s Studio. On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

Halloween for bloggers: how to be sexy spam

31 Oct virginiabaker4

Today is October 31, All Hallow’s Eve, a day to celebrate . . .something. Death, blood, monsters, witches, chocolate, pumpkins, pretending to be someone or something you’re not, checking apples for razor blades — all wrapped up in the sexy.

This might be a good time to revisit my blanket disclaimer that if you’ve come here looking for homework answers, you should probably move along.  That definition of Halloween isn’t going to land you on the honor roll. I make stuff up.

I don’t really get Halloween. I know this doesn’t add up: I’m a big fan of chocolate. I’m a big fan of creativity.

Walking up to someone’s door and begging-slash-extorting them for candy was just never my idea of fun.  Granted, no one in my neighborhood  thought the sweet little girl in the store-bought majorette costume was going to strong-arm them if they didn’t deliver the Hershey’s. Still.

Even if you’re not a fan of the holiday, it’s hard not to be aware of it, beginning now in mid-August when the candy, decorations, and costumes hit the store shelves.  The influence has slowly seeped into my brain and I’ve been thinking about costume ideas, even though I’m a little . . . tall . . . to be trick-or-treating and I haven’t been invited to any Halloween parties.

Great costume, but he didn't get the sexy memo.

Great costume, but he didn’t get the sexy memo.

I got to thinking about a classic post I once read about sexy Halloween costumes and I challenged myself to come up with costume ideas that would be difficult to convert to sexy.

You wouldn’t believe the images NSA has seen in my Google images cache on searches of “sexy” plus oddball things such as “rock” or “plumbing fixtures.”  You also wouldn’t believe the things I can’t unsee.

While I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I’ve decided to be spam for Halloween.  But not just your run of the mill spam. It’s Halloween, after all, so I’ll sexy it up.  Plus, the best spam doesn’t come right out and TELL you it’s spam. The best spam, like the most savvy of trolls, is sexy, seductive.  Think Catherine Zeta Jones (CZJ) in a black bodysuit.

Here’s the plan:

Dressed like CZJ’s character Virginia Baker, from the movie Entrapment, I’ll wander into whatever Halloween parties I feel like wandering into. Invitations are for sexy nurses. I’m Spam! I can go anywhere!

Trick or treat!

Trick or treat!

I’ll walk up to a group of sexy vampires in conversation, maybe about the weather or politics or the latest blockbuster movies — no matter — and say, “When the music group is this : pulled off, going to be the surface skin body cells and going to be the facial/nose hair utilize them.”

They’ll probably ignore my fascinating banter at first, but I’ll press on: “But despite it being printed on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card, it’s simply not true.On Clive Hills Road a resident reports that someone entered an unlocked 2009 Buick Enclave and rummaged through the glove . Once again, the price range was WAY too high for me, so I ended up just walking around, enjoying the holiday spirit.”

Maybe they’ll turn away. Maybe they’ll ask me to leave.  Whatever.

I’ll just mosey on over to a group of sexy zombies  in the other corner, talking about their vacation plans or renovating a house, and I’ll cheerfully join in,Hi everybody, here every person is sharing these experience, thus it’s good to be at this party, and I used to pay a visit this party everyday but it’s not as good as it used to be. What happened?”

If anyone questions who I am or why I’m there, I’ll just pretend I’m not from around here: “Lub ów szczyl w autobusie, przy stadionem Legii, proazek z piętnaście lat, ogolony makówka. Wykrzykiwał z.”

Undoubtedly at some point  I’ll be filtered from the party, so I’m planning on leaving with one last poignant shout out: “Get rid of the plug by hand and be careful with the rush of scorching oil. Sporting gloves is really an excellent concept.”

While it isn’t my thing, I don’t have any major issues with Halloween. I hope those of you who love it have a wonderful time. Happy Halloween!

I mean,  “Toddler web masters!!”


If you’re reading this after October 31, the comment references to my gravatar are to my Halloween “costume”. 

To complete the holiday spirit, I “dressed up” like Catherine Zeta Jones for the day. . .

My Halloween costume, 2013.

My Halloween costume, 2013.

On yellows and greys and other people’s words

24 Oct yellow grey rainbow2

I’ve had a recent run of thinking and talking in song lyrics more than usual. I’m sure it’s as annoying to others as it can sometimes be for me. Using my own words would, of course, be preferable, but so many gifted people have seen this same world, lived these same experiences, and used their words so much more evocatively and on-point than I can. I often find myself experiencing something through someone else’s words and melody.  My words don’t seem to measure up.

My life is littered with little notebooks or scraps of paper where I’ve scribbled a few lines thinking they would eventually build into a great song. And they probably would, if I handed them over to a real songwriter.

Other people’s stories

Last week, for instance, Bob Schieffer was on the morning news previewing a television special about the upcoming anniversary of JFK’s assassination, more specifically, about Abraham Zapruder, the man whose home video captured that historic and tragic moment.  Schieffer told the story of being at work in the newsroom of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram when the shooting occurred and answering the phone to a woman saying, “Is there anybody there who can give me a ride to Dallas?”

He said he almost hung up on her, telling her this wasn’t a cab service and that the president had just been shot. She said she knew and that she thought it was her son who had been arrested for the shooting. I stopped in the tracks of my morning routine to think about what it must have been like to be in her position at that moment.  He and the city editor picked her up and gave Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother a ride to Dallas.

I thought “Is there anybody there who can give me a ride to Dallas” was a great line upon which one might build a song from the perspective of Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother.  I wish I could write it. Maybe someone will and maybe I’ll hear it and then those will be lyrics that I relate in some future conversation when someone else’s words serve better than mine.

Other people’s words

Today, I took a walk to pick up some lunch, and the second I walked outside, a song came into my head that I hadn’t thought of in probably a year. And before that it had probably been a year.

The weather is turning cooler and the sky was grey, and Dan Fogelberg’s “Old Tennessee” became the soundtrack for my walk and reminded me that it’s the end of October, which hit me by surprise. . . again.

End of October/ The sleepy brown woods seem to nod down their heads to the winter/ Yellows and greys paint the sad skies today and/ I wonder when you're coming home. Woke up one morning, the wind through the window/Reminded me winter was just 'round the bend/ Somehow I just did not see it was comin' It took me by surprise again. . . .

End of October/ The sleepy brown woods seem to nod down their heads to the winter/ Yellows and greys paint the sad skies today and/ I wonder when you’re coming home. Woke up one morning, the wind through the window/Reminded me winter was just ’round the bend/ Somehow I just did not see it was comin’ It took me by surprise again. . . .

There are a few other songs that usually come to mind around this time of year.

It’s almost an annual tradition for me to post a video of my favorite Halloween love song. Richard Shindell’s “Are You Happy Now?” always comes to mind when the Cinderella and ghost costumes and the mega-sized bags of candy hit the shelves.

At  some time in October, but usually more near the end of September, James Taylor’s “October Road” falls into my brain.

I started to make a list of end of October songs, but after a few more, it became forced and contrived.

Somehow or other, when I experience my first cool, grey day or my first glimpse of yellow leaves against a grey sky, my mind seeks the southern comfort of a warm cup of soup and the chorus of “Old Tennessee.” Then it’s officially fall.

Do you have any change of season songs?


Daily Prompt: Express yourself. Tell us about a time you couldn’t quite get your words or images to express what you wanted to express.

Living history: when mental illness marched on Washington

16 Oct seesay

For Mike.

One of my strategies for coping with the insanity of traffic is listening to music.  I rarely bother with news and traffic radio any more. There’s not much of a point. The route from my home to my office has only a few minor variations. If there’s a snarl on one route, all variant routes are affected. So I sing or think or sometimes dance.

If traffic is delayed by a major incident on the highway, the overhead signs give me that information. If I make it as far in as Capitol Hill, I know I’m in good hands. Every encounter I’ve had with US Capitol Police has been a traffic detour and based on those encounters, I find them to be courteous, helpful, and above all, professional.

So last month when I found myself up against a wall of cars and trucks and buses on one of the first rainy Monday mornings we’ve had in a stretch, I cranked up the new Eddie From Ohio cd I’d picked up at a fundraising event over the weekend, replayed the evening with friends in my mind, began the up-in-my head phase of writing about Veronicah’s heart, and settled in for the creeping pace of the ride.  After two or three turns at one traffic light, I set aside the pre-writing and shifted gears to a little driver’s seat dancing  to “Let’s Get Mesolithic.”

Hours later I recalled that the emergency vehicles screaming past were going the wrong way up a blind hill and that  I’d casually registered the thought that the traffic delay must have been due to a serious accident for them to take such a risk at that rate of speed, a thought that wandered off to a distant recollection of a statistic about traffic accidents and Monday mornings. Add a little water to the roadway and of course there would be an accident. People drive crazy in the rain.

My thoughts wandered back to topics of conversation from Saturday: potato consumption in Utah, how you open the world of fasten-ating possibilities when you teach a young boy to use a nail gun, and where I would go in the world if I suddenly found myself financially independent enough to quit my job and dedicate the rest of my life to making a difference. Crazy stuff like that occurs to me when my mind is otherwise idle.

It didn’t occur to me that I never did get to the scene of the accident, nor did I remember that my new team meets early on Mondays and there’s a $10-per-minute late fee, with proceeds donated to the happy hour fund.

I was unaware that I was buying the next round of margaritas for the team.

I also was unaware that just a few blocks away someone I once knew had been shot to death, along with 11 others, when mental illness began its series of literal attacks on Washington.

The meeting was in full swing by the time I slipped into the conference room. No one mentioned my mounting bar tab. I glanced out over the busy street, annoyed that there’d not been time to grab coffee. Just another rainy Monday.

It wasn’t until I got to my office that I saw the scene at the Navy Yard unfolding on live video feed.

At that point it was still unclear how many gunmen there were, what their motives were, whether the rest of the city should be on terror alert. I wasn’t any more alarmed than any other day. MIndful, yes. Monitoring the news, of course. But not terrified.

This city and others like it are prepared for violence perpetrated by those angry enough to make a statement against the US, its government, its values, whatever it is that in their minds justifies killing or maiming innocent people to prove a point. I’ve come to accept the troubling mantra, “If you see something, say something” and the traffic delays when streets are closed due to reports of suspicious packages.

That has become part of who we are.

Eventually, as the hours and the day went on, we were disturbingly comforted by the reports that these innocent people were not killed by terrorists. This was just a lone “crazy.”

That doesn’t change the fact that another 12 people, the gunman included, are dead because of mental illness that was not sufficiently addressed.

A week and a half later, a young woman reportedly having struggled with postpartum depression, and most definitely struggling with something unimaginable for most of us, tried to crash the gates at the White House, led police on a high-speed chase on streets not made for speed, past pedestrians and bicyclists and other cars, through one of the most secure sections of town, eventually meeting her own tragic demise.

The news that there’d been a shooting at the Capitol broke when I was just about to leave my office for another meeting. My colleagues and I took our wallets, phones, and keys, in case we were evacuated, but the meeting went on as planned. I looked out over one of the most famous streets in the world to people going about their day, maybe unaware of the drama unfolding not far away.  By the end of the meeting, someone who’d been monitoring the news on his phone, told us that it was a woman with a child in her car and that the woman had been shot dead. Someone joked about it being someone we know, someone a bit unstable. For the record, I laughed. I’m not proud of that, but it was funny. Looking back, I feel bad, but I’m admitting it because that’s my point.

Then we went back to work, secure in the knowledge that this wasn’t a terror threat. Just another crazy.

A few days after that, a man doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire over on the National Mall. It happened just before rush hour. Most people’s greatest concern, those who showed any at all, since this was clearly just another nut job, was what the traffic impact would be.

Three times in the past month, mental illness marched into Washington, leaving behind an imprint, however temporary in our memory, of tragedy and death.

Had these been intentional acts of terror, maybe they would have been thwarted. Maybe someone would have seen something and said something and something would have been done to address and prevent the dangers. Most definitely we would have rallied to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

In a way, they were acts of terror. Each of these people must have been suffering  intensely, again with thoughts and feelings and frustrations that many of us cannot comprehend. They must have been terrified. Yet we ignore or shuffle under the rug or out-and-out laugh about mental illness.  We toss about terms like “nut case” and “whack job” because , I suppose, it pushes  the problem, something we don’t want to deal with, away from us. Maybe mental illness is scarier than terrorism. All terrorists want to  harm us. Only a certain segment of the mentally ill manifest their personal terror in outwardly destructive ways, but when they do, it’s nothing short of tragic.

With mental illness, it’s hard to know when you’re seeing something or when you should be saying something. No one wants to unnecessarily associate someone — or themselves — with a label that is so carelessly translated to “crazy,” or “nutcase,” or any of the others. The more we use those terms to describe the people, the human beings, who commit destructive acts such as these, the more we push people who are fighting demons into their own particular darkness.

I could go off in search of statistics from authoritative sources or quotes from experts, but I’m going to go with my gut on this one and say that you are more likely to be sitting on a bus or a train or standing in a crowded elevator with someone who is in need of attention for mental health issues than you are to be in those same places with a terrorist. Again, not a verified fact, just a guess.

Mental illness came to Washington and because it didn’t have a “Death to America” sign, or maybe because it didn’t have a  multi-billion dollar corporate industry sponsor or a Constitutional Amendment to wave, we paused momentarily, shook our heads at the crazies, and continued to do nothing about it.

(Photo credit: Vanessa Sink / Reuters, NY Daily News).

America, your citizens are hurting. (Photo credit: Vanessa Sink / Reuters, NY Daily News).

WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History: Write about a current event from your own unique, subjective perspective.  Show us how history is something we are part of, not some external event taking place in a palace, office, or war zone far away.


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