The Letter is “T”

Mrs. G.  was my first grade teacher.    Now, keep in mind I’m from a small town in South Central Texas and this little hamlet wasn’t very enterprising.  In fact, I think back on it now and I believe progress scared the hell out of the City Fathers (this was 1965, there were no City Mothers yet).  Construction of a Dairy Queen in late 1972 made some quake in their boots.

Even so, many who graduated from High School especially after World War II went to college  and then came back for some reason.   Family perhaps; it was easy and  familiar.    Others  left and never returned.  Still,  a few went home the night they graduated from High School  and just stayed there.

My father and mother dated in High School.   Both went to college and both came back home.   They got married and spawned three girls.    I’m the youngest.  Many of my parents’ siblings also came back home, settled down and had kids, so it wasn’t a big deal that my first grade teacher and a few subsequent teachers in later grades, also taught my older sisters, most of my cousins, my parents, every aunt and uncle.  They were also either friends or members of the same clubs and organizations as both of my grandmothers.

So misbehaving  in class: not an option.   Comparisons to older family members:  a constant occurrence.

I was hardly unique.  Lots of kids I knew were second generation students, especially in Mrs. G’s.  class.    She taught everyone in my family.   She was also principal of the school which housed first and second grades.   She was kid savvy, large and imposing.   She could be stern when need be, but basically, she was good teacher and above all, she was extremely patient.   One would  have to be in order to teach students with varying degrees of aptitudes..  And back then, kids were piled into three separate first grade classrooms.    I’m not sure of the methods used in terms placement, but I remember my first grade class being a mixed bag of quite gifted kids and others who (in the simplest terms) weren’t.

For privacy’s sake, I’ll call him Carl.

He came from a large family from “the wrong side of the tracks” as they say.    He sat across the aisle from me in  Mrs. G’s class.   He was very tall, lanky and shy.   He kept to himself, in class and during recess.   He’d talk infrequently.   Occasionslly, he’d initiate a conversation.   At other times, you might attempt to talk to him, but he’d ignore you and look straight ahead.   When he and I did speak, which was rare,  conversations were  always brief and about mundane things, such as the the Friday night football game or the raging thunderstorm that blew through  the night before.    Yes, Carl was different,  but he remains a very vivid first grade memory for two reasons.

Reason #1:  I remember looking at him;  his long legs,  the well worn, hand me down   “highwater” pants he wore.  I stared at his profile and saw  longish, blond whiskers growing above his upper lip.    At the time, I didn’t quite understand what that meant since none of the other boys in the entire  school  were as hairy or as tall.   Later on, I realized  he must have been held back several grades.   It was either that or Ma Nature cruelly bestowed puberty upon him at the tender age of six, which college biology later taught me, was highly unlikely.

Reason # 2:  One day in May, when the end of first grade loomed near, Mrs. G decided to test us on spelling and our familiarity with the alphabet.   She’d hold up photos of simple objects and we would either be called upon or we’d raise our hand s to tell her what the object in the drawing was and then we’d spell it out now for her.    These were easily identifiable things, nothing above our reading  level.

For example, she’d hold up a picture of a boat and Sheila would raise her hand and tell Mrs. G that the item began  with a “B.”    It was boat and spelled  B-O-A-T.      Gold star for Sheila.     Then, she’d hold up a pic of a car and Timmy would get a chance to demonstrate his spelling prowess.

Mrs. G got all the way down to “S” without a hitch.     Then came the next letter in the alphabet.     She held up a photo of a common vegetable, a terrific side dish, often baked or mashed, great with fried chicken or diced and fried, making it the perfect accompaniment for a hamburger.

Carl uncharscteristicslly raised his hand and announced to Mrs. G and the entire class that the object in the drawing began with the letter “T”.     Mrs.  G stopped him before he could say anything else.  I distinctly remember the perplexed look on her face.

“A “T” Carl?    Why would you say the item in this picture begins with a “T”?, she asked.

To which Carl replied adamantly, “Well, it’s a tater, ain’t it?”

I don’t remember how Mrs. G handled it.    I don’t remember how the class  responded.   But I remember thinking it was funny and to a six year old girl, it was.  I knew what a tater was a slang term for a potato.   I was six.  Name a youngster who doesn’t like Tater Tots or know they are born from potatoes.     But for me, it was also the emphatic way Carl answered Mrs. G’s questiin, as if every other  human was an idiot  for NOT knowing  the object in the photo wasn’t commonly called a tater.   There was an unusual certainty, a surprising confidence in a voice rarely ever heard.    There was  no gold star for Carl that day, but you have to give him credit.     If the bulk of what’s learned in childhood comes from home, he merely proved  that point, whether right or wrong and in his In his world, a potato was a tater.   Case closed.

My childhood memoties are getting blurrier everyday, but while I clearly remember Carl’s tater comment, I honestly don’t remember him after that.  I can’t remember him being in any my other classes.  I have no point of reference, either.  After a million moves,  I have no idea where any of my yearbooks are and I’ve only been to one of two class reunions.   I went to the first one, 30 years ago.    And I don’t keep up with my classmates, so I’ve no one to ask, not that they’d know of his whereabouts either.   You see, this particular  class of 1977 has never been very close.    But if I were to see Carl today, I’d ask him if he remembered me then I’d hug him, if he’d let me, and I’d ask him about his life, hoping he’d be willing to fill me in on things since 1966.

At the appropriate time,  I’d say goodbye and wish him well.   And I’d silently  apologize to him  for being a victim of ignorance to certain disabilities, which  at the time, was also used as another means of exercising prejudice.    Once again, I don’t know what happened to Carl, but it was obvious his problems hadn’t been properly dealt with by his family, but due to certain circumstances, might not have even been aware there was a problem.  Nor was he properly dealt with by the educational system in the place I once called home.    I’m currently far removed from anything school or student-related, but I’m pretty that 51-years ago, having developmental issues, coupled with being from a poor, struggling family  meant it was easier for educators to label, allow those particular kids to slip through the cracks, then simply look the other way.

I think Carl was a prime example of an unspoken caste system that once existed in public education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Famous Dogs and Cats

I guess it’s because I’m looking down the barrel of age 58, but sometimes I watch movies, even the ones released as recently as past ten-15 years and I wonder about the lives of extras, bit players and the animals used in the films.   Extras are impossible to track down.  Bit players aren’t much easier, especially if the film’s IMBD cast page offers nothing more than the generic “Baseball Fan #1,2 or 3”.   So, my concern focuses on animals.    If a movie featuring an animal was filmed more than five years ago, I hold out little hope that the dog, cat, parrot, guinnea pig, dolphin is still alive. But I’m still interested in their back stories, especially dogs and cats, since I’m the mother of this motley crew.

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Bixby is the tan Whippet-Terrier mix,  Greer is in the middle and India is on the far right.   All three are so deeply engrossed in my soul.     I love them more than a rent controlled apartment with free HVAC and a live-in maid.

Anyway, I wonder about animals actors in films and TV shows.     Since I’m an insomniac and The Hallmark Channel is decent enough to offer some of my all-time favorite TV shows,p all night long, we’ll start there….but not with Frasier.    Eddie was the famous Jack Russell terrier who drove the good doctor crazy, but much has been written about him, so let’s lesrn the more obscure canines, shall we?

I Love Lucy is on the Hallmark line-up and hardcore devotees of the show will remember in the sixth and final season, Little Ricky was given a Cairn Terrier  puppy which he named Fred.

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I couldn’t find much on Fred….at least, not that a I could enlarge enough to read lloollllll  l

and/or copy and paste…but the pup’s real name was Danny.

Apparently, there was a long running gag on the show with since the dog was named after Fred Mertz, the Ricardo’s friend and landlord.    Whenever anyone called the dog’s name,  both Freds came running.

I don’t know if Danny/Fred appeared in other shows or his age when the  sixth season was shot and I couldn’t find any info when he died, but I have a feeling when Lucy and  Desi’s divorce was finalized, so was little Danny/Fred’s existence.

How about another  Cairn Terrier even more famous?

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We all know Toto, but did we know this dog was actually named Terry and a female?   And not only that, this animal actor had an impressive resume.   Terry appeared in 16 different movies, but her most famous role was Toto in The Wizard of Oz was her only credited role.   And if you watch the closing credits, she was listed as Toto, her stage name.  The name Terry is nowhere to be found.   In fact, Oz was one of the first movies to include an animal credit.

But wait….there’s more!

Terry was born in 1933 in the throes of the Great Depression.   She was a mere one year old when she got her first movie role, Ready For Love.  Later that same year she starred with Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes.   Then came her big break, The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

Now, this next sentence is going to sound so silly, but according Wikipedia,  Terry did her own stunts….BUT this is an important note, since Terry almost died  during the filming when one of the witch’s guards accidentally stepped on her, severely breaking her foot. She spent two weeks recuperating at Judy Garland’s home (bet THAT was hoot!!)   Garland fell in love with the dog  and wanted to adopt her, but Terry’s owner said no way.   In 1939, this dog was like a Wonkian golden ticket!!    Terry’s salary for Oz was a whopping $125 per week, more than salaries of many human actors in the film, and also more than many working Americans at the time.     I think it was 1995 before I made that much.

Terry actually attended the premiere of The Wizard of Oz at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.     She walked the red carpet and no, I haven’t the foggiest idea who she was wearing.    But due to the popularity of the film, her name was officially changed to Toto in 1942.    She was recocognized on and off screen and had a human fan base.    Once again, it was 1995 before I had any of those things.

Her career flourished as Toto for a few more years.   She was in The Women and Bad Little Angel in 1940.     After her appearance in Tortilla Flat in 1942, she took her final bow…wow.

Toto was eleven when she died in 1955.  I hope she retired and lived a nice cushy life.   She was buried at her owners’s ranch which at the time was a rural part of  Los Angeles.    Sadly, her  grave was destroyed during the construction of the Ventura Freeway in 1958, but thanks to some thoughtful,pet denizens in Hollywood, a permanent memorial for Toto was dedicated at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Holly Golightly.    That’s who Audrey Hepburn played in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.   In the movie, Holly had a cat….named Cat.

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Orangey Cat played Cat.     For most of the film anyway.   Word on the street is that Cat was played by at least two cats: a yellow classic tabby and a yellow mackerel tabby.    I’m don’t read Cat Fancy, but I think Orangey was the classic Tabby.    They were interchanged throughout the movie.     Cats can be trained, but apparently these two were moody and a little fuedy on set, making the need to use multiple cats a necessity.

I have no idea what happened to the other kitty, but Orangey Cat, who,from this point forward  will be known as OC, had a cool career.     She was also known as Minerva the Cat, and Rhubarb the Cat and within her prolific 15 year life and career, OC appeared in such celluloid epics as The Incredible Shrinking Man, Gigot (a real film, not a misspelling or pretentious pronunciation of Gidget), Village of the Giants and on the small screen, she was Minerva on Our Miss Brooks, a gig she had for six years.

And OC was frequently recognized for her achievements.    Dig this—OC  is the only cat in history for winning two PATSY awards, the animal equivalent of the Academy Awards.   PATSY is an acronym for Picture Animal Top Star of the Year.

The very first official recipient of a PATSY was Francis the Talking Mule.     Other winners  include two time winner,  Arnold Ziffel of TV’s Green Acres; Higgins, the dog who played Benji and the tranny pooch from Petticoat Junction who grabbed his own little canine petticoat drying along the the side of city’s water tower in which he and three girls were swimming.     Uh….still gross!!

Cleo the Basset Hound won, as did Lassie, and Tramp the dog from My Three Sons to name a few. Lassie pulled an Oprah and removed future PATSY competition after winning so many awards,   But he/she holds a prominent place in the PATSY Hall of Fame.

Look at the size of the PATSY!!    It’s a big ol thing.   Here’s Mr. Ed, who’s a horse, of course, seen here with his.

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The awards were cancelled in 1986 due to lack of funding.   Designing a much smaller award  might have helped.     That year,  the Genesis Awards were established to honor individuals in the major news and entertainment media for producing outstanding works which raise public awareness of animal issues.  But that was nice and all, butbHollywood still felt the need to honor working animals,  so in 2011 the American Humane Society announced the creation of the Pawscars, described as yet another “animal-centric spin on the Oscars.”       This new awards show has even more money and Hollywood power mongers  behind it.      It offers all different kinds of awards fitbdifferentbsnimslmstsrs….in 201, Rags, the St. Bernard used  in the movie, Kove The Coopers, was awarded best family dog.      This  holiday comedy focuses on four generations of the Cooper clan as they converge home for Christmas.   Rags watches each Cooper family member demonstrate his or her own particular brand of neurosis and dysfunction.        Critics say Rags shined  in his role as the empathetic family pet, even prompting  the film’s  director Jessie Nelson to refer to him as “The Marlon Brando of Dogs.”   But did he send a female  chihuahua dressed in native American  garb to accept the award?

I don’t  mean to go off on a rant here,  Betty White and Bob Barker among others were involved and worked tirelessly for these  animals, insisting on humane on-set treatment and of course, getting their four legged fans spayed and nurtured.

Their work paid off,   The American Humane Association is the organization responsible for the disclaimer at the end of many films and television programs.

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Dilemma at The Check Out Counter

I rarely ask for your feedback and dear readers, you rarely offer it, but this post will be an exception.  I want…nay…I need your thoughts on an  experience I had this morning at the hustling, bustling grocery store where I shop weekly.   So please read this post and comment,  if you would be so kind.

Now, permit me to preface this tome with two important things:   First, at the risk of bragging, I try very hard to be a generous person.    So much so, I’ve been called a sucker in the past.   But that’s because  I’ve lived on the dirty, unpaved shoulder of the road too well travelled, at the intersection of Want and Need.  I know what being destitute feels like.    It’s something I don’t want to repeat or see others endure.      Secondly, no one is exactly catching me at my best these days.  I’m working through a number of things and operating without filters seems to be part of the problem.

Now, to the story at hand.

I was standing line at the check out counter, two weeks worth of groceries were crammed on the conveyor belt before me.   Two women were ahead of me; their transactions went without a hitch.    I approached the cashier and smiled–the usual routine.   But she didn’t say hello, there was no greeting of any kind.    Instead, she asked me in slightly broken English, ‘I’m so hungry, will you buy me a Twix candy bar?”

I automatically said  yes because we’ll, that’s what I do.   I looked at the cash register and the first item on the digital receipt was a Twix bar for $1.75.      A meager buck-75.     But it wasn’t  followed by a thank you.    Not a hint of gratitude, not  even an over eager explanation of why she was hungry or why she needed  me to buy her a candy bar at her place of employment.

Now, I’m well aware this behavior is isn’t uncommon at all in the world receiving end of philanthropy.     Sometimes, embarrassment prevents gratitude.  I understand this and usually, it doesn’t bother me, but today it did.   So,  I asked Mata Hungry who was in between checking out a few Lean Cuisines and some cat food, if she neglected to bring her lunch with her to work.

Silence.

I asked if she didn’t have any money with her.  She was too engrossed in scanning my eight pack of toilet paper to respond.    I wasn’t giving up.  I asked her if she was given  a discount for groceries since she’s an employee.  She said yes and I asked her why then couldn’t she have afforded me the discount since I was willing to pay for her candy bar.

“Too much bother”, she said as she stuffed the Twix in the pocket of her smock.

Really?????

I thought for a second and then asked her, if I came in to the store and was hungry, would she buy me a Twix, to which she responded, “Look Lady, I’ll put it back if it’s so much trouble.”

I’m steaming by this point, so I leaned  in and I told her no, that wouldn’t be necessary BUT… hers was a highly unusual question to be asked by a person employed by a store literally surrounded by food.    She just stared at me and then I said, “If I were you, I’d show a little gratitude and if you can’t do that,  I’d be very careful next time who I asked to buy me a candy bar while on duty at the check out line, because you’re so rude, no doubt your ass would end up eating most of that Twix!”

She said something unintelligible—I’m not sure what it was, but I feel certain sure it wasn’t about having dinner together anytime soon.    We just looked at each other for a split second.    My expression was disbelief and anger, hers was actually righteous by God indignation.   Seriously.   How do some people  feel so entitled and be seemingly unworthy at the same time?

Her attention immediately focused on the person in line behind me.  She had her Twix.   I’d become nothing more to her than customer flotsam.

I know…I know….’twas a Twix candy bar at $1.75.     She wasn’t asking for the moon, but this morning that wasn’t the point.    Having lived in Houston for so long, I know how panhandlers operate.   I’m actually fascinated by people who have the balls or the desperation or the odd sense of entitlement that allows them to approach absolute strangers and ask for money.   It’s something I don’t think I could do unless dire circumstances compelled me, but the need to buy a rock of crack or a quart of Mad Dog to stop the DTs don’t fall under that category.

I’ve tried buying food for “homeless” street corner operators only to have it thrown back in my car.    Contrary to the cardboard signs they held, they only wanted the money.   But that didn’t stop me from making sandwich and water gestures in the future.   And of most of the people who actually took food from me, were able to express a semblance of gratitude.

But that’s not why one does something like this.    There’s only glory in quiet, sincere giving.  It should never include a press release or a camera crew.   And receiving a ‘thank you’ isn’t the impetus to give, but every once in a while, it’s certainly nice to hear.

That wasn’t the case in the grocery store this morning.   This woman had pure audacity.   She wasn’t starving….she was of medium build.    I noticed she wore some jewelry.  Her hair was highlighted.  She was relatively young, wore make-up and above all, she was employed. And her choice of food to quellthis incredible hunger she had was rather telling…a decent deli was 50 feet away and she chose a candy bar, of all things.

So, I ask you this question:  Why?   By the time she got to me in line, was she any hungrier than she was three minutes earlier?     Did the lady ahead of me with the cart filled with four cabbages and ice cream not seem gullible enough, so she wasn’t asked?     Would the person in line behind me be hit up for steaks?

I drove home trying to justify her rudeness as possibly being a cultural thing, but that was impossible. The words ‘thank you’ exist in every language, gratitude is practiced in every culture.     What’s odd is that I shop at this store regularly.  I’ve never seen her before.   While cashier turnover is high, they usually last a couple of weeks.   But she was new.     I contemplated telling the manager, but it wasn’t a battle I felt like fighting.    Besides, karma was on my side, regardless of my crass threat.     .

Then, I wondered  if maybe this was some  kind of divine test….the angel unawares thing.    Nah, no angel would be that rude.   And  if by some slim chance she had been an angel,  I failed the test miserably because  while I bought the candy bar as she had asked, I also told her I’d basically shove it up her ass.

What happened today was so minor as events go, and it won’t keep me up at night, and while I’m not necessarily proud of the lack of poise and restraint  exercised in my response to her,  I’m not rushing to a confessional either.    It was all just so odd.

Your thoughts, please?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Grief

If I had superpowers at my disposal one would the uncanny ability to remove soapscum from a bathtub at will.

Being a human capable of flight sans an airplane is a superpower I’d love to have.    And never finding onseself in a situation of saying or doing something that would end in regret would be another.

I’m about to quote someone who once heard  Dr. Phil ( I’m not a fan) quote Will Rogers,  “Never miss an opportunity to shut up”, or something like that.    Knowing when to completely self-edit is something I’m keen on trying.

But apparently now isn’t the time to start self-help endeavors.    Lately, I’ve been so incredibly angry.   Hotel reservationsists, and several poor saps at a call center in Mumbai have experienced it firsthand.

And it’s not so much anger as it full on rage.

I’m mourning the loss of a friend and the better part of a ten year relationship that ended in his taking the perpetual dirt nap.   This happened just over two months ago and I’m only now addressing the residual effects of those left behind.  Ours was a complex duet that most most people didn’t understand.    He was an asshole, a crook, a dick.    People freely  called him names without knowing him.  And maybe he wasn’t a shining example of humanity.   I’ve always said I can’t beatify the dead simply for dying,   Still,  he meant something to me.   Even so, I should have defended him more.    But I couldn’t.   I guess after a while, I either weenied out or got tired of the fight because it was easier to allow  people think as they wanted.   I was outnumbered.   I had to dismiss him when he was alive and remain as dismisive in his death.    Now, instead of calling him names, they say nothing at all.    This means  I’ve been doing a lot of mourning all by myself, partly on purpose, partly because his death like his life, remains awkward for people.    Hell, any grieving person is awkward for anyone to deal I don’t care how much empathy or sympathy you think you have.   You can feel shock and be apologetic during the funeral and wake, but afterwards, you get to go to back home to life as you know it.    You’re barely on the periphery.

That sounds like such a luxurious place to be….on the outside and only infrequently looking in.

There are supposedly five stages of grief, first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.   They are the denial and isolation combo, anger,  bargaining, depression and  ultimately,  acceptance.    I understand there are caveats to all of these.  Aits different across the board.  One grief stricken person won’t necesssarily go through the stages precisely as Ross determined them, others will,  some won’t experience any of them.  Others might go through a few of them.

I understand isolation and anger, as little Habib who instists for English speakers, his name is Greg Jones, can surely attempt.  But I consider myself too rational to bargain.     There are no ‘what ifs’ in life, much less in death.   Depression?    Hardly anything new.  Denial?    I’m too much of a realist and acceptance was /is something I’ve always found easy.   Acceptance of all things is immediate with me.   Once I knew my friend was dead, I acceped it.      I didn’t like it, I felt it happened too quickly, so suddenly,  too out of the blue, yet I accepted it.   Like Automatic reflex.

But the anger!!!

I’ve been doing dome thinking and Ive realized there  are subtexts to anger and isolation Ross never considered.

1–The pajamas phase.  It’s very important that we exeperience a denial in terms of personal hygiene.    This means a complete lack of desire to bathe or shower and  a full on need to be consistent in our filth.   Such as wearing sweat pants, pajamas, the same robe or caftan for days and days and days.

Usually there’s weight loss or significant  weight gain during this time.   And if we eat at all, the majority of food becomes part of the daily uniform.    We wear our food.   And the kind of food also matters.    Grocery shopping is out of the question so, we either have food delivered or if that’s not an option,  the minimal amount of effort is using the drive throigh, but if that’s not possible, we eat whatever we can find in the fridge, And this can lead to some very weird  combinations.    For example:  Peanut butter and mint jelly on stale potato chips.

2.   Isolation:    Mourning  is personal .   In the beginning,  well-meaning friends and family call and try to visit and we tell them, no, no, we’re fine, all is well.   We tell them not to come by and we refuse to answer the door if they stop by.   Then, they eventually  stop dropping by, they stop calling as much or completely, which can be a double edged sword.   We want to be left alone,  but we still appreciate the effort.    Wether we admit or not, the concern makes us feel relevant, a little less alone.   But grieving really is an extremely personal process, even with four people living in your house, it can still be a very lonely process.     It makes us uncomfortable and skiddish, even for those who’ve walked in your shoes, even those who know then mourning game first-hand.    The reality of loss is very inconvenient and even more inconsiderate.   It plays by its own rules and often strikes at our core at 3:15 on a rainy Sunday morning, seven months after the funeral.  Sometimes three years later.     Sometimes longer.

3.   We become mini-hoarders.    We endure this isolation and anger sub-phase by becoming quite messy.   There is no order in grief– why should there have any in the life of a gerievinf person.     Our environmental hygiene suffers, too.  Dishes are piled high in the sink.   Bottles, cans everywhere.    Empty food bags and wrappers.     Junk mail is everywhere, mixed in with bills that have gone unpaid.    Days old pizza still in the box on the couch.   Shoes  everywhere.     The ever-growing pile of Mt. Laundry is in the corner of the room with new foothills that can be found throughout the house.

These brief  dalliances with hoarding behavior comes as no surprise.  Hoarding is a direct response to loss.   I don’t necessarily get how or why one feels compelled to cling to an outdated page of Burger King coupons,  but I understand that’s part of the hoarding process.     And hoarding is the result of how a mentally ill person deals with loss.

3.  Emergence.    The darkness in grief can be stunning.  It can take a month or three, but newfound singles who earned that title through the death of a mate or divorce (loss is loss, my friends)  will eventually come around.    Most of us have to.   We have to work.   You have to be wealthy to be have degenerative grief, the all consuming kind that seemingly lasts forever.    When opportunistic  mental illness comes to visit and stays resulting in the way you can only traverse  your home through the tunnels of junk you’ve created then yes, you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis.    You might not realize there’s problem until  a few TLC producers, a camera crew and a HAZMAT  team knocks on your door.    While those sad cases we see on the TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive  are the exception rather than the rule, most of us (if we even get to the messy phase) rarely stay there.   We arrive at a point where our reactions to death start to wear  thin.  Basically, boredom can set in.   Monotony.    This is healthy forward progression.  It doesn’t mean we no longer love our dearly departed, or that their death has become any less significant.    It simply becomes a matter of moving on.

It pains me to quote Dr. Phil a second time (I’ve actually gotten more psychological assistance  from watching reruns of Frasier) but he often asks people, “What are you getting out of this?”   Or worse, “How’s that working out for you?”

Shudder, but there is truth in the queries.

Living life in a perpetual state of mourning means you’re not living.   Change is tough, You can’t eat your way through this….or sleep through it.  Stockpiling garbage isn’t a healthy response.  There’s not enough Scotch or Vodka in the world, not a Xanax big enough.   There aren’t  enough carbs to eat your feelings and by contrast, refusing to eat won’t work either.  When your life stops working for you for whatever reason, it’s time to make a change. Yes, you’re heartbroken.   The death of a mate or spouse or a relationship of any kind, even the loss of a job, means the end of an ideal.  It means the death of plans, hopes and dreams and these things are horrendously painful.    So yes, Loss hurts.   Break ups, divorce…terminations of all kinds.    The death after a loved who one lingered  with an illness, a suicide, a sudden massive coronary or aneurism, are all very painful.   After a point, the process by which one arrives at death doesn’t matter; the end result is the same.  So called prep time doesn’t matter.

But if the sadness is overwhelming and not subsiding,  if guilt has beome an unwelcome roommate who won’t leave, if your grief has literally taken over your life, then please seek help.   And if you keep glancing over at that bottle of pills and that quart of whiskey, please, PLEASE  seek help.     Death + death only = more heartache.   It’s the simplest example of negative math.  And if by some chance you are thinking of taking your own life, well depending on your faith, you won’t end up in the same place as your dead wife,  so why bother?

So, rid yourself of ‘end it all thoughts’.    Embrace your curiosity about life and maintain your healthy fear of death.    Be brave enough to dare yourself to wake up tomorrow just to see what the day brings.   Until then, go with your pain….cry, or not,  get angry, feel free to wear sweats containing a poly blend AND  the four basic  food groups for a week.   There’s no rule book.   No game plan.    Just understand that you have ultimate control over all of your feelings.   Please look  for that eventual break in the clouds.    Even tarnished silver linings are better than none at all.

So, wail, cry, shriek.    Punch a wall….I won’t judge.    Just do your best, even in the midst of it all, to understand why your heart aches.    Be very clear and honest within your pain. Death is the ultimate ending.   It’s life’s final play of the game and when it happens to someone  you know and love, it becomes your new reality.  This death is now a part of your life,  a fact that mercifully becomes something  you’re just going to have to live with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tradecraft, Radio and Homeland

Had I been smarter, more attractive, farther up on “the spectrum”, further down, more conniving, more authentic about my inauthenticity, I would  have loved to have been tapped by an operative to work for the CIA.    It would have been perfect had it happened during my fall semester of my Junior year in High School.   Why then?

Why not then?

I felt very different when I was in high school.    I felt odd and out of place, so did  a billion other teens.   It’s a hormonal haven.  So, if HS is the perfect time to feel different, it would have been groovy to have had someone from a very relevant place  to make me feel ok about feeling so different.    You know, like that Maya chick, from the movie, Zero Dark Thirty.   She was was a real person and decidedly NOT a fan of UBL.    Her obsessive compulsive need to kill him paid off in May, 2011.

Yay.

The character Quinn on the Showtime hit Homeland was also handpicked in high school to be a CIA agent or intelligence operate of whatever the title is.  What might a 16 or 17 year old High School student be like  from a behavioral/personality standpoint to be tapped to young to help protect his or her country so covertly?

So, I looked into it.

According to a Newsmax article from a few years back, the CIA does in fact, recruit From High Schools and then again….it doesn’t.

….”According to the CIA’s website, high school students are eligible to be a part of the agency through the Undergraduate Scholar Program, where students are given $18,000 per year for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. During their summers in college, they’ll work at headquarters using skills they excel in. After graduation, the students will work for the agency for a period of 1.5 times the period they were a part of the program.     Seventeen and 18-year-olds are not being asking if they can ‘meet the challenge’ of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Chen Mills writes. “Open to all high school seniors . . . the CIA ‘Undergraduate Scholar Program’ appears to be the Agency’s attempt to get ‘em while they’re young…”

The Newsmax article goes on to say, “The character of Maya is based on a real woman, and the Washington Post reports that director Mark Boal met with her and other CIA officers. “Maya” joined the agency before the attacks on 9/11 and worked as a targeter in Islamabad, Pakistan. She was recently given the agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest honor given by the CIA to those who have worked under fire.”

It’s unbelievable, but 16 years separate us from that balmy September day.  It forced our hand in places it needed to be slapped.    We’d become lackadaisical and lazy.  So, fortunately, our Intelligence has changed.    Things are  certainly now different then they were during the Cold War and the days of the classic Moose and Squirrel dialog.    While the Agency might know exactly who and what it needs in an employee, its philosophy has had to change with the times.

The enemies to Democracy version 2017 are very different.  They varied and these days, more numerous.  Their approach, the philosophy might be different, but the goal….eradication of the West and Western ideals….remain the same.

So, how does one become a CIA prodigy?

Well, decades ago, that might have happened while as an intelligent college Sophomore, floundering academically but a certain Prof with certain covert connections sees something else.   That might have lead to a tap on the shoulder that lead to a clandestine meeting.    Maybe one the eventually, endsed up in Langley, VA.     There could have been a call or two  from  wrong number that oddly engaged you in a conversation and or there could have been unfamiliar voices with vague messages left on  your answering machine.    Yes, a separate machine connected to your phone to record messages.     Look that one up yourselves, youngsters.

What I just cited are a few examples of classic  CIA recruitment.   That might still happen in extreme situations, except these days, you can apply online, at the CIA’s website.

Based  on TV shows and movies I’ve seen,  it seems to me that “The Agency” actively recruits sociopaths and psychopaths who can  kill and maim and sleep with anyone or anything without an ounce of remorse.    While I’m  sure those attributes help, a Forbes article explains the CIA is looking for the whole package.

For almost all occupations within the CIA, hiting agents conduct a résumé review in which an applicant’s skills and experiences are considered, along with knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the position. This review is followed up  by a telephone interview to determine general qualifications and basic security compatibility.

An applicant is then given several tests that look at key arenas such as writing skills and problem-solving abilities. These tests also evaluate whether the applicant has the right “interpersonal fit” to work at the agency. Following this, a face-to-face interview occurs and, if successful, medical tests and a psychological screening. For some occupations, candidates have to undergo a current events knowledge screening.

Lets say though YOU read a lot La Carre novels and the corner doodling on the pages of MAD magazine  as a kid and you want some real clandestine spy vs. spy action.    Those gigs exist but they’re more focused on overseas events, and the skills they require are different.  How different?   It’s the CIA people—–no one is saying.

But when it gets down to the general, non-specific nut cuttimg, the Agency hires someone based on the reasons you might employ a person… for their honesty and integrity, but does that go beyond not stealing teems of paper or toilet paper from the company pissoir?

Again, based on what I can determine, yes and no.

If you’re a serious applicant, your past is looked into, of course.   What jobs have you held and how well did you work in those positions.    There’s academic  performance in HS and college.  What kind a student were you?   Popular?   Were you active in clubs or a loner?   Active?    Your friends and former co-workers are interviewed.    Weee you ever disloyal?     Exhibit weird behaviors?      My God, in my life of work, you HAD  to be weird.    Weird enough to be adept at piano wire placed around a random neck?   Probably.   Holding your hand over a candle foam till you flesh burns to prove a point?  Definitely.    I always thought TV and radio weould be great places for recruiting.    Making you endure an overnight shift would be a helluva determining method.  It would be a hiring box of chocolates for the Agency.  Lots of variety.

I wont pretend to know more about the Sgency then what’ll allowed on the web, but I I doubt if it necessarily wants flag wavers…are flag waivers, for that matter.   It would seem to me that the CIA likes liars.    But effeicient, proficient, convincing liars, not just someone merely willing to tell a fib or bend the truth from time to time.

Other questions in a typical interview include:

1. Why do you want to work for the CIA?

2. Tell me about the expectations that will be asked of you by working at the CIA.

3. Share an example from your recent professional or educational experience where you successfully navigated an ambiguous situation.

4. Please describe an example of a time you were in a leadership role and failed. What were the lessons learned and your subsequent change of behavior?

5. In what ways have you recently or currently serve others?

HHmmmmm.   I’ve both asked these questions and answered them  for the simplest of positions.  .  So, I would think how one answers these questions are as important as the answers themselves.   That said , I don’t think you can get an answer wrong per se.  Not wrong in the classic sense.    There are so many factors at play here….the value of the answer.    The value of the physical response before, during and after the question was posed.    You have to remember you’re  not applying  to be an overnight secuity guard position.    The CIA want to be a good fit for the applicant and be a good fit for the CIA but only recruiters know exactly what that means.

I dig the notion of bring a spy.    What a lifestyle!!    Each Sunday night, thoroughly  enjoy Homeland, because air have no lifestyle.    But this is a recent thing in my life.   I hated all things intelligence related, but perhaps 9/11 changed that for me as well.     Homeland especially.   All these people are at a million different places in one show, but you never see how they get from one place to another.   I never see them flying; especially not commercial.   All things considered, I wonder if that’s intentional.  Those people are also rarely ever seen eating.  Drinking, yes, but consuming food is rare.

Homeland has many detractors, it has its many fans.   It’s tenure on Showtine, plus it’s many awards and accolades prove its staying power is real.  Like many viewers, I think Carrie is an ugly cryer.   Sol has never illicited a visible emotional in his life.  And I wonder what a guy like the character Quinn was  like in HS?    Band nerd, jock….tinker….tailor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Had A Day

I played Caduceus and took myself off this particular anti-seizure medication I was on.    Dangerous?  Risky?   Of course, but with my self-obtained Masters Degree from the University of Reading The Shit Out of WebMD All Too Often, I might have been correct in doing so.   The long list of side effects reads like War and Peace and I had all of them, plus some symptoms of polio, oddly enough.    This drug was making me crazy—literally.   I was having frequent panic attacks that were very ,very scary.   I was questioning my reality.  It was giving me angina,  arrhythmia and I was enduring bouts of hair-trigger anger at levels of pissed off postal workers.

Old joke.

Anyway, I screamed at my beloved Bixby this morning, simply for being a dog, simply for wanting to chase a squirrel.  In the process, I’m pretty sure I might have circuitously and most unintentionally, threatened the life of a Peruvian lawn care guy.  My expletive filed anger  wasn’t aimed at anybody, other than my dog and that damned squirrel.   Still,  I know I frightened thenbardner.  If there’s one thing I KNOW for certain, it’s how to recognize the look of fear in a man’s face.    I’ve not only seen it many times, I’ve  been the reason behind it.      So, after my rage outbreak, this obviously terrorized man abruptly stopped working in the yard across the street and left.  How do I know what his fear level could have been?     The once perfectly sculpted simian topiary he was tending to at the time is now a double amputee.

I’m so sorry.   I hate causing damage to foliage.

But that was early this morning.  He never returned and I have no warrants pending against me, so I might be in the clear there.   I’ll apologize next time I see him, if I ever see him again.   He probably thinks I’m a member of Trump’s advanced guard; an angry, portly, dog-owning, middle-aged, cussing and hobbled white woman in a muumuu.

It’s been happening for a few weeks but presented in lengthy bouts last night.   My anger and rage, not my love of muumuus.    I got on a crying jag, common for my condition I’m told and then I got extremely angry, also part of the package.  Why, you ask?   I watched The Lettuce of All Media,  Wolff BLitzer  on CNN. He was espousing boring , yawn inducing anti Trump rhetoric, which is what he always does.   I don’t watch CNN or even that much news lately, but while running through my satellite channels,  I inexplicably stopped on CNN.    The network has this arrogance about it.     Anyway,  I got angry at something Mr. Bland said and that started a raging litany of other things that I didn’t know angered me, then I started crying over things I never knew could make me emote.

The Rogerian with Jungian tendencies who analyzes me regularly insists that my abnormalities are all perfectly normal.   He reminded me that on top of everything else, I’m in mourning and an odd little duck to boot which means I’ll process the stages of grief differently.   And more loudly,  more randomly,  more frequently and as a one very frightened Señor Paulito Gomez can attest,  possibly more violently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miracles

When things happen in my life…things that loosen a shingle or 30…I tend to think  a lot about what  happened, how it happened and the always impossible, why it happened.    I bevome a seeker of answers, if only for brief period of time.   My becoming  a “do-er”, takes more time.

I was days away from buying a new home that had AMAZING potential  when my life changed in about seven ways over the course of a few hours.    Doctors, shrinks and well meaning friends will tell you to do nothing drastic for a year.  Make no big or rash decisions.    Keep the ones you must make to a minimum, such as , “Do I want mayo or mustard OR BOTH on my hamburger today?”

I just got back from Lake Tahoe a few days ago.  It was lovely. Possibly a bit too soon to have been moved completely by its beauty, but then again, that’s just me. I take time to process good things.  Bad things are immediate.   I’m lucky that way.

I should explain that my sisters made it a point for this trip not to be about me. It was never intended to be. We planned it in November.   And as much as I tried to keep it about sisters and nieces and snow and unbebelievably stunning vistas,  bits and pieces of selfish old me crept in.     I kept thinking about all the changes in my life.   Oh, it didn’t happen all that often, but thoughts of what my life might have been, what I  thoight my life could have been were hard to quell when conversations of husbands, marriage and children reared their heads. I think at ten thousand feet, it only made it worse.

Or maybe, it made things clearer.   Not better.   But clearer.

I listened to their stories, never trying to convey any similarities or comparisons between them and the life of a brain-addled spinster, former career woman.   We’ve all had such similar and extremely different life experiences.    I’ve seen  both sisters  on their knees, one questioning God over  the tragic loss of her 19 year old daughter.  I’ve seen my other sister bemoan the odds of survival for a gravely ill grandson.

And God knows they seen me gut wrenching scenarios.   I was in traction for three months, strung out on pills and hospitaluzed for it  more than once and they’ve seen see heartbroken and emotionally destitute over the latest shit stain I allowed in my life.    But it hasn’t been all bad.  There were flirtations with joy here and there but the fact is, Life is hard.    And it’s usually very ordinary.    And repetitive.     As for the title of this post.    Well,  we just don’t bandy  the term “miracle” around so much anymore.     At least I don’t.   Don’t get me wrong, I  know they happen, but I don’t feel like they happen TO ME that often.

I kinda wish I was some little Nazarene kid who lived in a time of bodacious miracles like witnessing burning chariots that flew across the sky or bearing witness to the catch of the day being  turned into a lot of bread.    But that was then;  we’re more enlightened people.    Weve learned how to learn.  We’re educated.     Because of this, logic has replaced magic, and miracles?     They happen, but they don’t get the ink like they used to.   Por ejemplo:   say someone  opens a bag of cheesy doodles, grabs one and just before it becomes a part  of his lunch, the guy looks down at it and in it, sees the face of  Jesus (and why are the faces of Buddha and Mohammed almost always left out of the mix???)     This story makes all the news channels.     Even The Blaze.

But let’s go beyond that, shall we?   A young deaf  girl is ice skating and she falls through the ice ad is clinically dead for five minutes.   But ten days later she’s not only alive but can hear for the first time in her life.   A man is walking through the woods enjoying a bologna sandwich.    A hungry bear comes out of nowhere, but a squirrel intercedes doing a  spot on Jimmy Cagney impression and the bear stops snd instead chooses to hit up a nearby campsite with what smells like yummy hot dogs on the grill.   Whiff, sniff!!     Mmmmm…wait!     Wait!    They’re Nathan’s!!!     This discerning and possibly kosher bear leaves our bologna hiker to his sandwich.    A miracle?     Yes.     But what about the ordinary kinds?

I’ll never win an Olympic gold medal for anything.   Sheer laziness keeps me from writing the award winning screen play that could  revive Burt Reynold’s  career. By the same token, I’ll never get testicular cancer or spontaneously combust during a prostate exam. Or I can be more gender neutral and assume it’s highly unlikely I’ll  ever get trapped in a lava flow in Guam while eating a bowl of  Fruit Loops.

These are a lovely malange of impossibilities and improbabilities.  But if you consider all the unlikely things that COULD happen and there are many, at least one of those more subtle miracles will happen or have happened to regular people.   And they won’t be  headline grabbers, either.     Princess Diana married Prince Charles. Meryl Streep won three Oscars, but five years ago, I turned 55 and quit or walked away from everything and everyone I knew  and moved to the Texas Hill Country  where I became nieghbors with a yenta who’s shares a nickname with a condiment.   Was that my miracle?    One of them.    Yes, one of them.

When I was in the hospital after the severe car accident I had  in 1992, I was constantly told how lucky I was to have survived the wreck.     Survived?    Only to have been maimed and forced to live in pain every fucking day for the rest of my life???

Some dared to say it was my fate that I lived.    It was my destiny that I survived.    Really?   I think there’s a lot of confusion over those two words.   I didn’t walk for months, but if my walking again was a miracle, and ok it might have been, why question it if my ability to walk was never in doubt because walking was also my destiny???.     But what if I’d been killed in that truck when it crashed at the bottom of a creek bed off of Interstate 10, more than 25 years ago?   Would people have commented on the miracle of my death??      I died and they’d say death was my fate, my destiny,  but was it also my miracle?   No.   But why wouldn’t that have been discussed as such?   Must a miracle only have a positive outcome???????

I thought about Alex in Tahoe.   Not a lot, but enough to keep the emotional hoarding alive.  I continue to hoard so many truths about what our relationship was and wasn’t, it’s like a sad little apartment in Queens.   Piles of stuff everywhere you look marked accordingly.   Such as “what was”, “what never was” and the tallest of the lot, “what the fuck was I thinking ??”    I tell myself it’s healthy to deconstruct.   Hell it might be only part way to handle some things.

After he died and I got sick, I felt like a needed a miracle.  Something to prove that I could master the most difficult aspects of multi-tasking:   moving forward  while still looking behind  me.    So, I watched a bunch of documentaries, read as much as I could about them and to be honest, I have no more of an idea of what a miracle is as I did before.    Maybe I need to be the miracle  for someone else.    Maybe that $100 bill I lost, was  found by a woman who could feed her family for a few days.   Maybe I need to be that squirrel with the Jimmy Cagney impersonation down pat.     Maybe I need to write more, for Burt Reynolds if for no other reason.

I don’t know, kids.    I just don’t know.

The  one/two punch of this brain thing I have and  Alex’s untimely departure have left me feeling emotionally and mentally drained one minute, then rife with thought the next.    The short cycling mania is  exhausting.  I’m so sure of things one minute, then doubting everything the next.   I know 2+2=4.     I can count so I can prove that to be true.   I can use  rocks, pieces of candy, tiles in my bathroom.  Two pairs of shoes will do the trick.    Props always help.

Then, there’s sunshine.  I know it exists because even though I can’t hold it in my hands, can feel  feel it on my hands.   It casts a shadow behind a solid mass and beyond a certain time of day, it goes away.     But it comes back and its proof is proven once again.  Like it was yesterday.  Like it’ll be proven again tomorrow.   And before you say it, tomorrow is promised for some people.   Maybe next Tuesday isn’t, but tomorrow is.

We haven’t mentioned the God equation yet.  Let’s say miracles  as we know them happen because of the presence of something or someone.  Someone had enough money to pay for a badly needed operation, a rescue occurred because of timing, dumb luck or some kind of weird crack in the space-time continuum allowed whatever natural law to be defied for just that split second.   But we have to discuss the other kind miracles.  They occurred because of absences.   No one was there.    Nothing happened.   Natural law occurred.   But even so, they really were, no less miraculous.    If you need to believe God put someone in the right place at the right time, fine. And if you need to think God, didn’t for His reasons, that’s okay, too.    But be fair.   If you marvel at all it takes to live, you must also marvel at what it takes to die.

But don’t believe me.   I have a brain thing.    To me, imperfection is constant.  Hate is an ugly option.  Eggs are an odd menu choice.  Carbohydrates are evil.   Elastic is love and love is strange and life is stranger.   It’s also reasonable and irrational.   Brilliant and stupid.  Shapeless yet perfectly sculpted.     I know 2 + 2 = 4, but sometimes, SOMETIMES it just has to equal 5 to keep it interesting.