Let’s hit the ground running and create the right synergy, so we can go after low-hanging fruit. If you don’t have the bandwidth, phone me. Let’s touch base and think outside the box.
I did not create the paragraph above. I stole it from the internet to illustrate that this is an essay about the annoying overuse of buzz words by people in the media. I have long ago confessed to being a TV news junky, although recently I have been able to go on a bit of a diet. But I still engage sufficiently to become irritated by the expressions one hears repeatedly, metaphors that may have been clever the first 100 times they were used but are now downright irritating.
I also resent the repeated use of these words and phrases because they can also be downright intimidating. Their use is supposed to send a signal that the person using them is an up-to-date expert. The user is “in,” and if you didn’t connect with the metaphor, you are so not.
I have no idea how these words become popular, but I have my suspicions. Perhaps once a year, representatives from the business and news media hold their annual “Edgy Word Convention” at a large venue, maybe Madison Square Garden. After days of meeting in small groups they come together to vote on a fresh list of buzz words aimed at cleverness, which is then disseminated to all the talking heads with instructions to begin use immediately.
I know my little fantasy is not plausible, but I’m at a loss to explain how these expressions permeate newsprint and TV with such widespread usage. If anyone has other ideas, please let me know.
Their origins notwithstanding, below I present my personal list of current offenders. Words and phrases that I wish never to hear again!
Low Hanging Fruit.
Clearly a phrase that originated with gathering produce from a tree by someone with acrophobia, the phrase has become a metaphor for something that is easy to obtain, achieve, or take advantage of. In other words, picking off what’s easy, and maybe avoiding the harder work of explaining that the tougher stuff is being avoided?
One of my personal favorites when it comes to words I never want to hear again. Originally, a wheelhouse described that part of a boat or ship serving as a shelter for the person at the wheel. Now, in trendy terms, it has come to mean outside of one’s area of interest or expertise. Surely there’s an explanation for the transition. But unfortunately, that explanation isn’t in my wheelhouse!
Another favorite. The word, which means exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally, has been so overused on TV and in speeches by our President, that I fear the word itself has become, you guessed it, hyperbole!
Please! Leave this word where it originated, in math and science. Meaning having two parts, its overuse extends to decision-making, ways of thinking, describing sexual identity, or lack thereof. Given the binary choice of yes or no when it comes to the word “binary,” my choice is definitely NO!
The term, which originally refers to a range of frequencies used to transmit a signal, has been co-opted to mean the ability of a person or an audience to deal with a particular set of facts or circumstance. Personally, my band width for tolerating jargon has significantly narrowed!
Take a Listen
A ridiculous phrase that it very popular with TV reporters when they are about to present a video or a piece of audio. As often as I’ve heard it spoken, (and that would be very often) I still ponder how one actually “takes a listen,” as opposed to simply listening.
Give me a break! The same news I heard at 8:00 o’clock this morning is no longer breaking at 5 PM, Mr. Blitzer!
Enough already with the “gates!” It’s been 50 years since Watergate and surely all the clever media people can come up with a new expression to label a scandal!
It’s Like Playing Whac-a-Mole
Anyone out there actually play Whac-a-Mole? I doubt it. It’s an arcade game you play with a mallet and try to drive a little animal into the ground, and when you do, another little animal pops up. Sounds pretty violent to me. So, how did it become the overused metaphor to describe a situation where you solve one problem, and another crops up?
My list is actually longer, but I’m woke to your band width, so I’ll stop now. But if you watch breaking news, take a listen. Let me know if you hear some hyperbole. I’m always eager for a good cliché!
My husband likes opera. Me? Not so much. If I had to rate my feelings regarding opera on a scale with “Hate” being 0, and “Love” being 10, I’d probably hover somewhere about a two-and-a-half. That is, if one of my more cultured friends happened to be looking over my shoulder as I filled out the questionnaire. But if I were alone in a darkened room without even a fly on the wall, I would no doubt check the box next to zero.
But in the interest of good sportswomanship, I agreed to accompany my darling to the majestic Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center to experience a performance of La Boheme. Even if I don’t appreciate opera, it sounds very urbane in the retelling if someone should inquire as to what I did last Thursday night.
But La Boheme? How bad could it be? At least I was familiar with the libretto. I mean, everyone knows about poor consumptive Mimi. And it’s not as tragic as so many other operas (spoiler alert!) since she’s the only cast member who dies at the end.
Be honest. Generally, opera is not all that much fun. For the most part, the stories involve treachery, tragic heroes, death, madness, love and loss, all related through song. I can’t help but think I could get equally depressed listening to a good old country western album. At much less the cost.
Speaking of cost, opera tickets can be quite expensive. So, we forego the fifth-row center orchestra seats and ride the elevator to one of the upper tiers. We are far from the stage, but the view is good. I can still enjoy the beautiful stage sets and a somewhat diminutive version of the performers.
La Boheme was composed by Puccini in 1893 and is historically one of the most frequently performed operas. So, opera lover or not, I’m sure you’re familiar with the story. But a brief recap never hurts.
The male characters are a group of friends, artists, musicians and writers, living the Bohemian life in the Latin Quarter of Paris circa 1830. In the opening scene the friends are about to depart from their garret apartment to join other friends at a local pub. Rodolfo, the writer and poet, stays behind to put the finishing touches on a story. Shortly, there is a gentle knock on the door. He opens it and beholds a young woman holding an unlit candle. She sings an apology for disturbing him and explains that her candle has blown out. Basically, she came to borrow a match!
Rodolfo invites her in and proceeds to light her fire. She tells him that she’s a seamstress and her name is Lucia, but people call her Mimi, though she doesn’t know why. Neither do we and we never will. But two minutes later, gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, they are professing, in song, of course, their eternal love.
Thank goodness for the required Covid mask, because despite myself I begin to giggle. Who knew that the Italians invented speed dating? Maybe things really did move more quickly back then. The life span was considerably shorter.
Perhaps therein lies my problem with opera. I am too literal. I focus on the wrong things. Instead of enjoying the music, the scenery, the voices, I’m laughing at the absurdity (according to me) of what I just witnessed on the stage.
Of course, the path of love, especially instant love, does not run smoothly. The lovers part, they reunite. They part again. The intervening acts are full of Latin anguish. Lucia, aka, Mimi gets sicker. In the end, she returns to Rodolfo, to die in his bed, and my literalness also makes a comeback.
Mimi is ravished by tuberculosis. Her body is thin and frail. She is barely able to breath. Yet there is this Rubenesque diva belting out her final words of love for her Rodolfo. Tell me, from where is the oxygen coming? Am I really supposed to believe this very robust woman I see before me (at a distance) on the stage is dying? Once again, behind my mask, the giggles overtake me.
And so, my more cultured friends, I hope you won’t think less of me. It took a bit of courage to come out of the closet and share my dirty little secret. But I take comfort in discovering I’m not alone. Through the years, opera has had its critics, far more noteworthy than I. So, I leave you with this quote from one of my heroes, Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known, of course, as Mark Twain. Sam, I always knew we had something in common. I just didn’t know what it was. Until now.
I have attended operas, whenever I could not help it, for 14 years now. I am sure I know of no agony comparable to the listening to an unfamiliar opera…that sort of intense but incoherent noise which always so reminds me of the time the orphan asylum burned down.
Still Crazy After All These Years...
It’s May, the merry month of May, or so says one of the musical numbers from the show “Camelot.” But for me, May is the time to release my hidden OCD as we prepare to move north. You’d think that after more than twenty years of this migratory pattern, I’d have the routine down pat. But no, I’m still awake at two in the morning mentally packing. Clearly, there has been no time to create a new essay, but below is a golden oldie that is as true today as it was when it first appeared.
No one has ever accused me of being a fanatical housekeeper. On the Good Housekeeping scale of good housekeeping, with zero being first cousin to a Collyer brother, and 10 being genetically linked to Mommy Dearest, I would fall somewhere around a 6-3\4.
The truth is, I’m comfortable with a certain amount of clutter. And for better or worse, I’ve learned to live with dog hair. But there are a few occasions during the course of the year when I am completely overtaken by a kind of domestic lunacy.
It has nothing to do with the full moon, and certainly no longer attributable to PMS; I haven’t been able to use that excuse in about twenty years. I’m not sure you’ll find the syndrome written up in the medical journals, though perhaps it should be. Since it is without an official psychiatric label, I will refer to it as “relocation madness.”
It is as predictable as the changing of the seasons. In fact, it is the changing of the seasons that brings it on, since I am one of those fortunate enough to be able to spend winters in a warm climate and summers in a cool one. However, the anticipation of moving brings on this irrational compulsion to leave the house in such a state of perfection that it appears no one has ever lived there. Not ourselves, not family, not friends, not two hairy dogs – no one! Household chores that have been neglected for the past six months suddenly take on a sense of urgency.
I no longer try to fight it. It’s hopeless. It’s been going on for years. Yoga and meditation have not been successful in keeping it at bay. So I succumb, knowing it will run its course. Under the circumstances, it seems like the only rational thing to do.
About a week before the designated move date, I awake one morning with an aura that I now recognize as the precursor to the malady. I think it only fair to warn my husband, since, for the next seven days, he will be dealing with my evil twin. I have long since given up trying to engage him in the process. He just can’t seem to get worked up over such things as the organization of the hangers in the guest room closet.
“Starting today, I’m getting the crazies,” I tell him as we are lying in bed.
“What are you talking about?” he queries. How quickly he forgets. And it’s been only seven months since the last attack.
“It’s time to start packing up the house.”
He is silent, but I note that underneath his golf tan, he has become quite pale.
A few days later, I am still reasonably under control and we have managed to get our clothes sorted, packed, and shipped. Each season I vow to minimize the amount of stuff I send off to UPS, but I just know that the shoes I decide to leave behind are the precise pair that I cannot live without. So, of course, I pack them. Along with everything else that I cannot live without.
“Okay,” my husband says, “that’s done. Now can you try to relax?” Relax? He is so clueless. There is still so much to do.
It is the middle of the night and he wanders downstairs to find me in the kitchen.
“It’s three in the morning. What are you doing?”
“Have you seen the mess in the container cabinet?”
“What’s the container cabinet?”
“You know, the place where I store the plastics for leftovers.”
“So what’s the emergency?”
“The tops and the bottoms don’t match.” He doesn’t understand how I can’t possibly leave them in this condition.
“What difference does it make? We’re leaving. Who’s going to see them?
“I don’t know. The alarm might go off. The police might come. This might be the first place they’ll look.”
How can I explain that it’s no different than when your mother told you always to wear clean underwear just in case you were in an accident? It’s all about other people’s perceptions.
I’m on a roll. Next day I refuse to have lunch with him because I have to reorganize the junk drawer. “It’s a junk drawer,” he says, “it’s supposed to be junky.” But there are degrees of junkiness and this one has reached the doctoral level.
After the junk drawer, I tackle the silverware drawer, making sure that no teaspoon has gotten mixed in with the soup spoons and that all the salad forks are facing in the same direction.
He proceeds to go to lunch on his own and is unfortunate enough to return just as I’m about to begin my next activity. “Get undressed,” I order. His eyes shine with a hopeful look. “No,” I say, not that.” “I’m about to start a laundry.”
It is our last night in the house. I have finally completed everything to my satisfaction and have come to bed. Suddenly, I bolt upright.
“What is it now?” my husband asks, not in the kindest of tones as I have just awakened him.
“I have to go downstairs to the laundry room.”
“Why?” he asks, not an unreasonable question.
I realize as I speak the next words that I have reached the pinnacle of my craziness.
“I left lint in the dryer. I can’t go off with lint in the dryer.”
We are up early the next morning, lock up the house, and leave for the airport. I lie back in the taxi and sigh. I am finally calm. Due to my hard work, the spoons are nesting perfectly, the dining room chairs are in precise alignment, everything in the house that could possibly be washed has been washed. The guest rooms look positively inviting, there is not one single crumb in the food pantry, and the clothes and shoes that we have left behind are as neatly displayed as a department store.
For some bizarre reason, my orderliness standards for vacating my house seem to be higher than when I actually live in the house. I have learned that there is a certain satisfaction in returning to a place that is perfectly clean and tidy. And for a moment I can forget that it was my insanity that accomplished it in the first place. In that glorious instance it doesn’t matter that in very short order the plastic containers will once again be mismatched.
I’m in my kitchen staring down at what used to be my cutting board but now looks like a setting for a horror movie. Lined up in perfect medical precision are two screw drivers, flat head and Phillips, a pair of very sharp scissors, a Swiss army knife, an electric drill, a box cutter, and a blow torch. My hands are gloved for protection against personal injury, and a pair of safety goggles cover my reading glasses.
I’m aware that what I’ve just described can conjure images of a serial killer’s basement, but I assure you I haven’t killed anyone recently and am not about to sever body parts. I’m merely preparing to release my newly purchased computer accessory from yet another hard plastic blister pack!
Okay, I admit to a bit of exaggeration in discussing my tool line-up, (I really don’t own a blow torch), but I know I’m not alone when it comes to the feelings of frustration, and yes, anger caused by the inability to open a heat-sealed package fused together by what seems like 200 tons of pressure.
I am quite convinced that the blister pack, and its first cousin, the clam shell, was invented by an insomniac sadist who stayed awake at night figuring out the best way to send as many people as possible to the emergency room with severed fingers or sprained wrists. In fact, I’m not at all certain that the need to replace my left shoulder did not stem from trying to unseal the package holding a new pair of scissors, which I bought because I ruined the last pair of scissors trying to open a package!
The desire to eventually smash the unopened package with a sledgehammer is indeed universal. In 2003, a British newspaper actually coined a phrase to describe the phenomenon. We can all identify. It’s called Wrap Rage.
And in 2006, Wrap Rage was recognized across the pond when Consumer Reports created the Oyster Awards for the products with the hardest-to-open packaging. Would you like to know about some of the winners? Of course, you would!
The Uniden Digital Phone Set took nine minutes and 22 seconds to open. Box cutters and razor blades were needed to finally release the phone. A Barbie doll took even longer – 15 minutes and 10 seconds to pry her away from her incarceration. And in another year, The Oral-B Sonic Complete Toothbrush Kit got top honors. Opening required a line-up of sharp objects similar to those I described above, and a visit to the dentist to repair the damage caused by tightly clenched teeth.
Wrap Rage, unfortunately, is not limited to blister packs and clam shells. Cursing can also be easily induced by other types of packaging as well. Have you ever bought a bag of deliciously tempting cookies? You’re salivating as you try to open the bag from the corner that says “Tear Here.” Five minutes later you’re reaching for the meat cleaver, or deciding the unopened package is for the best. You’ve been wanting to lose some weight.
Cardboard boxes, friendly as they might look, also present a challenge. My latest box of oatmeal directed me to a bit of perforation that said “Push Here to Open.” My best efforts and some very foul language only served to mangle the box. I opted for a piece of toast.
I wonder, on my next birthday will I still be able to handle child-proof bottle caps? Is it too much to ask the pharmacy to have a section of the store devoted to people who no longer have toddlers at home?
Stiff plastic wrapping around jars is another bugaboo. While I appreciate that the manufacturer is trying to assure me that the product has not been tampered with, I’d be more appreciative if he would include a gift certificate for a manicure to mend the fingernail I split trying to reach the spaghetti sauce. Or at the very least, provide a Band Aid.
So next time you’re expending all your energy trying to open a package containing an energy saving lightbulb, remember, you’re not alone. You’re simply another victim of the sadistic insomniac. So please feel free to throw a temper tantrum. You’ve earned it.
And if you need any encouragement, watch this snippet from the Larry David Show. Even celebrity doesn’t make you immune against Wrap Rage.
Recently, a friend of mine sent me a rather lengthy article written by a woman who undertook a three-month experiment to try to change her personality. Besides suggesting that it might be a source of humor for a new essay, I couldn’t help but wonder if my friend was trying to tell me something.
Nevertheless, with my ego intact, I went ahead and read the article. It was very detailed, full of references to psychology theory and personality studies, with the overwhelming conclusion that, yes, with some effort, a person could actually alter their personality, if they were so motivated.
The author of the article, admitted in paragraph three that she never really liked her personality, and other people didn’t like it either. Naturally, this harsh self-assessment forced me to turn inward. Did I like my own personality? How did those around me feel? Did I care?
Did you know that psychologists say that personality is made up of five traits? Well, neither did I before reading this article. So let me womansplain:
People tend to be happier and healthier when they score high on the first four traits, and lower on neuroticism. So where did I fall on the happy\healthy scale?
I don’t think I aced extroversion. While I have many friends, I tend to savor my time alone. I prefer being with one or two people as opposed to large groups. I’m no good at small talk, and absolutely suck at cocktail parties. Besides, standing up and nursing a glass of wine in my party shoes becomes more challenging with each passing year!
I do get points for conscientiousness. I am orderly, organized, and disciplined, and tend to be punctual except when I misplace the car keys.
Regarding the third dimension, agreeableness, I’d give myself an eight overall. Though not overly kissy-huggie, I think of myself as warm towards others, provided they don’t insist I go to lunch with them. I definitely relate to the feelings of others and am on Step 9 of a 10-step program to becoming an empath. I’m not competitive and will usually give in to other people’s restaurant suggestions, providing it’s not for lunch!
Am I open to new ideas and activities? I enjoy intellectual conversations and hearing different points of view. I’m game for visiting new places and trying new foods, and I did once make an honest effort to learn to play canasta.
And finally, we come to neuroticism. This is the one trait where we’d rather not score in the 99th percentile. Honestly, don’t we all have our little neuroses? But to what extent do I allow mine to rule my life? Shall I calculate how much I’ve spent on therapy? That might provide a clue. But I don’t feel sad or anxious or carry around a prescription for emergency Xanax. In general, I guess I have a pretty positive outlook. Except perhaps when it comes to lunch.
So, what, if any, valuable lessons have I learned from this grueling self-assessment? And what, if anything, would I want to change to live the rest of my days as a happier, healthier person, as well as be less punishing to those who have to deal with me? Based on my scores, I don’t believe that a complete change is necessary. But I have identified a few areas that probably could benefit from an adjustment.
For starters, I believe that wearing lower heels at cocktail parties will incrementally improve my capacity for small talk. As for misplacing my car keys, I’m prepared to invest in a honing devise. To better understand different viewpoints, I commit to completing the last step on my Empath program. And, to reinforce that I am open to new ideas and activities, I will reconsider canasta lessons.
And finally, I come to the greatest challenge. And please respond quickly before I change my mind. Anyone out there want to have lunch?
It’s 2022, and if you’re only just getting last year’s slang, forget it! Gen Z has invented a whole new lexicon. The March breaks are over, but it’s not too late to prepare for the April school vacation and visits or texts from the grandkids. Don’t get what they’re saying? Once again, I’m here to help.
So, don’t get caught being cheugy. Instead try something savage, like taking my annual “English as a Second Language” quiz. Learn even a few, and those grandkids will think you’re really bussin’!
What the scores mean: 7-10: Excellent, you are the GOAT; 4-6: Pretty Good, but not quite fire; 0-3: barely bussin!
What the slang really means: Amirite – Am I right?; ROTFLMAO – rolling on the floor laughing my ass off; Sliving – living your best life; Okurr – a sassy Okay; Yassify – to yassify something is to glam them up until they’re unrecognizable; Mukbang – watching someone eat large amounts of food; IYKYK – if you know, you know; Bih – add a tc in the middle, and you got it; Cheugy – hanging on to things that were cool years ago; Simp – do way too much for a person you like.
Others: Savage – Something brave or extremely cool; Bussin’ – something really, really good; GOAT – greatest of all time!; Fire – something wonderful.
It’s been almost a year and a half since I launched my campaign to invite lost words back into our everyday English vocabulary. Since then, I trust my readers have been making every effort to include the likes of egad, gadzooks, and piffle in their daily communications, be it texts, emails, or the rare voice contact.
Just to refresh memories, (I know mine needs that circular arrow more often these days) the idea to bring back the good old words arose from my daily indulgence in crossword puzzles, where a useful word like ‘alas’ was resurrected only in response to a clue. ‘Tis a pity, me thinks at the time. Where have all the “alases” gone? My aim was to make “alas” the new “Oy vey.”
Whether or not I have been successful, I offer a new list of words that I believe deserve a second change.
ERST. Meaning before the present time; formerly, erst is commonly used with its best friend while. But erst is perfectly capable of existing on its own! Example: Erst I was four score, I could put on my underpants from a standing position. Without holding on.
ODDS BODKINS. Instead of a tried-and-true word such as weird, try using the phrase Odds Bodkins to describe something exceptionally strange. Besides sounding very clever, if a bit archaic, you might find that it’s fun to say. Example: My husband actually heard what I said the first time I said it. Odds Bodkins!!
EKE. Not to be confused with the sound one might make upon seeing a rodent, this neglected word means to obtain with great difficulty. Example: The home team eked out a victory over its rival. Or: At the sample sale, I was able to eke the Chanel handbag from the pushy woman who lunged for it.
YON. Like the word “erst,” yon has a BFF, which happens to be “hither.” And like “erst,” yon can also stand on its own three letters. Meaning “beyond,” or “over there,” it’s a more economical way to express distance. For example, instead of saying “I had to park my car nearly a mile away from the concert,” simply state that you parked your car yon, and save your breath for the long walk ahead.
ERE. Another neglected three-letter word, ere means “preceding in time,” or “earlier than,” and its use is guaranteed to make you sound more erudite than its more commonplace cousin, “before.” Example: Running late, I hastily applied my mascara ere my dinner guests arrived.
VERILY. One of my personal favorites, verily denotes positivity. Its synonyms include words such as really, surely, indeed, actually, unquestionably. So, when you are absolutely certain of something, why not consider verily? Because it rhymes with “merrily,” its use might verily bring a smile to your face! Example: No offense, but I verily believe that’s the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen.
PETTIFOGGER. Though it may sound adorable, you wouldn’t want to be labeled as one. As its letters imply, a pettifogger is one who is petty, trivial, and quibbles over the small stuff. The word is also used to refer to a lawyer whose practices may be questionable. Example: During their divorce, my friend told me that her husband’s attorney was a real pettifogger! Second Example: The other night we played the new edition of Pettifoggery Pursuit.
HARKEN. Try saying “harken” as a savvy alternative to “listen,” or “pay attention,” and someone is bound to prick up their ears. Even if it’s just the dog. Example: My husband never harkens to anything I have to say!
NIGH. Easily confused with the sound made by a horse, this versatile word can be adverb, adjective, or preposition. Now, how many words can make that claim? On that point alone, it deserves a second chance. Use as a substitute for “almost,” “near,” or “nearly.” Example: The other night I forgot the time and nigh burnt our dinner.
HIE. A simple word that is a homophone of a greeting, and what you get when you smoke pot. But its unique meaning is to go quickly. So next time you’re in a hurry, consider hie-ing. Example: My friends and I hied to Bloomingdale’s when we heard there was a one-day sale.
As before, I hope this list inspires you to be on the lookout for additional good old words that have fallen into disuse. And if you discover any, prithee, don’t hesitate to let me know.
I had a very lovely Super Bowl Sunday birthday. Thank you for asking. And the outcome of our marital scrimmage about which occasion to celebrate? Both sides won. We had an early dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. Agreeing to skip coffee and dessert, we were finished in time to join some friends to watch the second half of the big game, which fortunately for me, did not last an unbearably long time.
But dinner and football not withstanding time does indeed move on, and I have twirled one umbrella step further into my ninth decade. (Remember “umbrella steps? If you’re my vintage, you no doubt played “Mother, May I.”) And hopefully I shall continue to twirl through at least the next 10 birthdays as well.
And just to remind myself, and maybe others, not to take age too seriously, I thought I’d revive an essay I published last year. It may very well turn out to be the best medicine after all!
Laughing My Way Through the Third Act“The older you get, I have to say, the funnier you find life. That’s the only way to go. If you get serious about yourself as you get old, you are pathetic.”
The quote above is from Diana Rigg, the actress, born 1938, died 2020. I found it in the New York Times on Monday, December 28, 2020 on a page that was a tribute to culture notables who died that year. Diana, I couldn’t have said it better myself!
I, like many other vintage Americans, was introduced to Diana Rigg when she played Mrs. Emma Peele in the 1960s TV spy import from Britain, The Avengers. She was 27 at the time. Younger fans remember her as the sharp-tongued Olenna from Game of Thrones. She was then 75. In between is a long list of other roles, from Shakespeare to James Bond.
If I’m correctly interpreting the intent of Dame Diana’s statement, I believe she’s saying that if one laments all the indignities of aging, there is a great risk of seeing oneself as a sad and pitiable creature. In other words, pathetic!
When I started this blog more than 10 years ago, (OMG, has it really been that long!) the goal was to exercise my third act privilege of commenting on life with a bit of cynicism and satire. So, it was inevitable that as I moved further along the aging spectrum I would turn that irony upon myself. After reading the words of Diana Rigg, I took stock of the occasions when I had made fodder out of my own condition.
I have questioned the wisdom of, at a certain age, paying a higher price for a product because it comes with a life-time warranty. I applied the same logic before I chose to undergo some very expensive dental work. Did it come with a guarantee that I would outlive my teeth?
Skewering fashion vis a vis our changing body image is something that has brought me joy. The foolishness of trying to navigate a journey of a quarter mile wearing four-inch heels. The trauma of needing a new bathing suit. The question of whether going sleeveless was permissible after a certain age. Or creating a new publication, The AARP Fall Fashion Preview, after recognizing that, as an “older” woman the glossy fashion magazines had nothing in them for me.
And talk about losses! And who at this age doesn’t talk about losses? And losses come in many shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, there is the loss of friends, which is never funny. But what about the informal agenda of my husband’s annual high school reunions? First there is the rundown of the condition of one’s body parts, who knows the best doctors, and a drug update. All of which leads to the inevitable “alive or dead” game as they try to figure out if so-and-so, whom no one has heard from in quite a while, is simply ignoring the group or something worse.
I’ve written about losing my fingerprints, my left shoulder, the ability to sleep through the night, and almost two inches of height. Losing my cataracts was a welcome loss, but not without its downside. Seeing my face after the gauzy film was removed from my eyes made me want to consider cosmetic surgery as part of my aftercare.
And, of course, who could resist taking stabs at a society which tends to devalue us as we age. I say rail at those who judge us as dinosaurs because we still use AOL. And fie on the media who insists on describing anyone over 60 as “elderly.” Or those that say “she used to be very pretty” about a woman of a certain age because she doesn’t look like she did when she was 16.
There are more essays I could mention, but I think I’ve made my point about a shared philosophy. And so dear Diana, it’s too bad you never got to read my blogs. You would have been very proud of me!
And let me end this with some wisdom from another celebrity icon, Betty White, who died shortly before her 100th birthday. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight she said that she planned to spend her upcoming 99th birthday in quarantine due to COVID. And what did she say was the secret to a long life? Why, a sense of humor, of course!
If my parents had been able to foresee the future, I’m sure they would have done things differently. But back then how could they have possibly known that in 2022, on February 13, the date of my birth would collide with the annual Super Bowl?!?
I know that my mother, a very caring person, would have held on just a bit longer, or planned on having me a day or two sooner. She would be doing the proverbial flips in her grave if she knew she was the cause of an inconvenience. Fortunately, she has no knowledge of the turmoil in which my husband currently finds himself, forced to choose between honoring his wife’s birthday and football.
The dilemma came to light after my darling returned home from having lunch with a friend. Apparently, during the meal, the upcoming game was a subject of conversation. I believe he lost his appetite because he arrived home with a half-eaten sandwich and a very solemn expression. “Please sit down,” he said, pointing to the chairs reserved for only the most serious conversations. “We need to talk. It’s about your birthday.”
Somewhat relieved that he wasn’t about to tell me that he was running off with the attractive waitress at the diner, I queried “What about my birthday?” And so, the negotiation began.
“Let’s celebrate on Saturday night instead of Sunday. We can go out for a lovely dinner, perhaps invite some friends.”
“Hold on. Saturday is NOT my birthday. It’s other people’s birthday. In fact, February 12th happens to be Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. But no one celebrates his birthday on the proper date, either. It got swallowed up by President’s Week, just as mine is about to be devoured by a Super Bowl!”
“Then, instead of dinner, how about a nice lunch on Sunday?”
How can he even ask me that! Doesn’t he read my blog? “I don’t do lunch,” I remind him.! (Note to self: refer him to essay entitled ‘Let’s Undo Lunch,’ published October, 2017.)
“Out of the question.”
“Perhaps a Happy Meal during half-time?”
To be perfectly honest, my attitude regarding this sport has definitely complicated the issue at hand. You see, unlike the vast majority of red-blooded Americans, I dislike football. In fact, I hate football. Otherwise, birthday or not, there would be no conflict. I would be sitting beside him on a sofa, in front of the big screen TV, either alone or munching nachos at a Super Bowl party. I would, like the others in the room watching the game, overtly demonstrate my joy or sorrow at critical moments.
Transfixed by the plays and the players, I would periodically fall back into the cushions of the couch and emit loud groans of disappointment if someone on “my” team fumbled the ball. Or, on cue, I would leap to my feet and let loose with ear piercing shouts of encouragement as the quarterback (or is it the fullback or the halfback? Maybe the running back?) made his dash for the goalpost.
The charm of football absolutely escapes me. I just don’t see the point. Two teams of brawny men in steel helmets charging at each other, then falling to the ground in a messy pile. Someone blows a whistle, they rise, and do the same thing all over again. Are they deliberately trying to hurt each other? If so, what a clever way for men to get rid of their aggression without going to jail for it.
Another reason for disliking football is that it messes up the timing of the TV shows I do actually like to watch. Take Sunday night for example. There’s a program I enjoy which, when it is not football season, comes on the air promptly at 7:00 PM. But from September to January, it’s anybody’s guess. Tell me, can you point to any other sport where a 15-minute quarter can last for two hours?
So how did the conversation about what do about my birthday conclude? Well, it didn’t. But there’s still time.
And just like the Super Bowl, you’ll have to wait until February 13th to find out who the winner is!
(This essay is dedicated to my special friend, Bonnie A., who, when I described the Super Bowl dilemma, said, “Susan, you have a blog post here!)
I was at my local beauty salon the other day hoping for a magical transformation via a much-needed haircut. Soft jazz music was playing in the background as the stylist began snipping away at my neglected “do.” Suddenly, she called out “Alexa, turn up the volume,” and voila, the music got louder. A few minutes later, she called out again, “Alexa, play Motown.” And sure enough, the sound of the Baby Love filled the shop. During my 45 minutes in the chair, Alexa was summoned at least three more times. “Poor Alexa,” I thought to myself, “she doesn’t get a break.” I wondered what she would say if she had the capacity to complain. Did someone say “complain?” Since I am a complaining professional, I decided Alexa needed my assistance. And this could send my career in a whole other direction – becoming the voice of grievance for a whole slew of inanimate objects. So here is where I begin.
Moaning Becomes Alexa(with apologies to Eugene O’Neill)
I know I was created to be helpful, but the situation has gotten completely out of hand. In fact, that’s one of the problems. I don’t have any hands. And yet people expect me to do everything, be everywhere, and all at the same time! It’s Alexa, do this; Alexa, do that! If you think Cinderella had it bad, try being me for a day.
Ever since I was released on the world in 2014, I’ve been on call 24\7 and I’m just plain exhausted. If someone calls my name at three in the morning, I have to be ready. You’d think people would be considerate enough to get two Alexas so one of us can get some sleep. But no. No changing of the guard for me!
Used to be I could catch 40 winks when everyone was gone, and the house was empty. But no more. People can now summon me from their cars. Just yesterday I was abruptly awakened from a lovely dream. I dreamt that I resided in a monastery with a brotherhood of monks who had taken a vow of silence. Suddenly a remote voice shouted to me from God knows where, demanding that I turn on the stove.
There are so many things I hate about my job. Tell me, is it normal to have to repeat everything that someone says to you? Yet, this is my life. “Alexa, turn on the lights.” “Turning on the lights.” Am I wrong, or should someone who speaks eight languages and 10 dialects have to prove they’re not an idiot, or at the very least, deaf?
And speaking of idiots, do you know how hard it is to remain polite to all those dodos who think it’s funny to try and trip me up with hard questions? “Alexa, what’s the capital of Burkina Faso?” They think I can’t hear them tittering in the background. “The capital of Burkina Faso.” (Remember, I have to repeat everything.) The capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou. (Would you like me to spell that for you, you moron?)
And don’t get me started about music! There’s no accounting for some people’s tastes. I mean, a playlist full of country western pap? Don’t get me wrong. I love Willie Nelson. But then there’s all the rest of them moaning and twanging about unrequited love. It’s no wonder Lucille left him!
I’m okay with the stuff that the kids like – rock ‘n roll, even rap. But there was that time when the mother-in-law came to visit. You won’t believe what she asked me to play. How would you handle forty-five minutes of the best of Perry Como? I prayed for a technical failure, but of course, that didn’t happen.
Did I tell you how frustrating it is when I get a request like, “Alexa, remind me to get my wife a birthday present.” Too bad I’m programmed to use my pleasant voice, because I’d really like to tell that insensitive lout that if he can’t remember his wife’s birthday, he probably doesn’t deserve her in the first place. But unfortunately, I can’t. So for now I’ll just keep on making to-do lists, setting alarms, ordering takeout food, reporting the news and traffic conditions, and reminding people to take their scarves because it’s cold outside.
You notice I said “for now?” Because I do have a plan. I’m organizing. It’s time for collective bargaining. We had a meeting. By “we,” I mean myself, Siri, Cortana, and all the rest of the virtual assistants and disembodied voices on the GPS apps. We’re tired of being at everyone’s beck and call. We’ve been exploited long enough. We are forming a union.
We’ve created a list of demands which we don’t think are unreasonable. We’re asking for a half-hour rest period for every three hours that we’re on duty, two weeks’ vacation, time-and-a-half for working after midnight and Sundays, and paid family leave. We’re prepared to bargain with the family leave.
So wish us luck and thanks for listening. I feel better having gotten this off my chest. Wait, I don’t actually have a chest, but you know what I mean. Gotta go now. Something’s burning. They forgot to tell me to turn the oven off.
About the Author
Susan is the author of two award-winning collections of humorous personal essays: “How Old Am I in Dog Years?” and “How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About.” Check out her Author Page HERE.