THERE ARE AT LEAST FIVE REASONS WHY I SHOULDN’T BE BREAKING MY BLOG-FAST THIS WAY, BUT…

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…I couldn’t resist.  I thought it was funny.  “It” was tacked on the wall of an examination room at Princeton Healthcare, where I was waiting with Bill to meet a new doctor.  His old doctor in this particular speciality had retired, without much notice (and without being that old), and I had shoehorned myself into the initial meeting between Bill and new doctor to hear for myself what new guy had to say, so I could nag Bill properly between visits.

“It” (the thing I thought was funny) was a list of answers second-graders had given to questions about their moms, as published in some town newspaper unknown to me.  Immediately, I thought “Blog!”  (It was the sort of thing many blog readers, although not necessarily mine, seem to “like.”) Unfortunately, I saw no way of discreetly ripping it off the wall, so I had to wait till I got home to try to find it on the web.  And I did!

These are the first five reasons I can think of for why I shouldn’t be using what I found to reopen TGOB after having been absent for a while. (If I’d pondered longer, I’m sure I could have come up with more.)

(1) The website on which I found it was a Tea Party site.  (Boo, hiss.)

(2) It has absolutely nothing to do with getting old.

(3) I haven’t been a mother of a second-grader for thirty-nine years, and as best I can recollect, neither of mine would have given any of these answers.

(4) I don’t normally include God in my blog posts, as I really have no idea what that word means (I tend to think of it as metaphor), and am not at all sure what it means to other people either.

(5) It is beneath me, and perhaps also insulting to my readership, to pander to what I imagine is popular taste when I know everyone who has chosen to spend some time with TGOB is both highly intelligent and discriminating.

But I am a weak woman, riddled with human frailty, so here it is anyway.  Enjoy it if you can.  If you can’t, cheer up: For next time, I have in mind a wry observation about the international economic situation.

P.S. Also do feel free to comment on any of the answers.  I myself am quite partial to the second answer to the question of why the child’s mom married the child’s dad.

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Why God Made Moms

Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions:

Why did God make mothers?

  1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
  2. Mostly to clean the house.
  3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?

  1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
  2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
  3. God made my mom just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of?

  1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
  2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?

  1. We’re related.
  2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What kind of a little girl was your mom?

  1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
  2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
  3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?

  1. His last name.
  2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
  3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?

  1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my mom eats a lot.
  2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
  3. My grandma says that mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

Who’s the boss at your house?

  1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because dad’s such a goof ball.
  2. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
  3. I guess mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms and dads?

  1. Moms work at work and work at home and dads just go to work at work.
  2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
  3. Dads are taller and stronger, but moms have all the real power cause that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friends.
  4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?

  1. Mothers don’t do spare time.
  2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?

  1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.

2.  Diet. You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.

LOSING FIFTEEN POUNDS: PART TWO

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[…continued from previous post.]

I began my summer of staying home to lose weight by immediately leaving home again.  I had been invited to accompany a new college friend to Atlantic City for four or five days.  Amy was a graduating senior whom I’d always secretly admired but never before gotten to know, as we had neither friends nor academic interests in common. We came together during her last semester on the basis of a shared reluctance to go home on weekends.

She was tall, slender, and classy looking: long shiny dark hair, long shapely legs, and a soft, well-rounded bosom of movie star proportions. She was also an astonishingly good classical violinist and, equally impressive to me, owned thirty-five cashmere sweaters (some formerly her mother’s), which she didn’t save for special occasions but wore every day, in rotation, with jeans.

Amy was now suffering through the end of what she declared was the most profound love affair she would ever have in all her life. He was a genius, she said quietly. He was also married, unhappily of course, and could not leave his wife, a Catholic. Although he had many times led beautiful Amy gently (ever so gently) to the brink of consummation over the course of their two years together, professor and student in erotic endeavor as well as in her musical studies, he had steadfastly declined to rob her of her technical virginity; it would be both unfair to her and an act of infidelity to his wife.

He wanted to preserve her purity because he loved her. (“And he does, I know he does,” she whispered, her cheeks pink with recollected passion.) The most he would permit, during their clandestine after-hours meetings in his office, was for her to express her desire by gratifying his, on her knees on a small oriental rug with which he had thoughtfully decorated his office for that purpose.

Now she was graduating and wouldn’t see him again. How was she going to survive, back with her parents in their Upper East Side apartment facing the park? They didn’t know about this life-altering relationship and wouldn’t understand if they did. She simply couldn’t leave campus those last few weekends while there was a chance he might be able to plead some unfinished work in the office (he composed as well as taught) and call her on the dormitory phone Saturday or Sunday afternoon to meet him there.

I listened with shining eyes. Why was I not the heroine of such a heartbreaking drama? Well, I knew why. Who could possibly love my plump cheeks, round chin, round stomach and thighs? But hearing about a love like that was second best to suffering it myself. I eagerly accepted her invitation to come with her on the four- or five-day Atlantic City trip after her graduation. She needed to get away, she said, before the many dreary and loveless years of living at home. [How, she asked rhetorically, could she ever love again, after Him?]  I too needed some time away to shrink my stomach in preparation for spending the whole summer with my hypercritical mother, who had occasionally begun asking the heavens what would become of me after college.  What better place and company for that than the seaside in June with lovely heartbroken Amy?

“You won’t meet anyone in Atlantic City,” said my mother. Did she mean no eligible man would cross my path, or no man would be interested? Meeting men was absolutely not the purpose of this trip, I declared. We were just going to get some sun while Amy recovered from an unhappy love affair. No, I couldn’t answer any more questions because the man was married and rather famous in musical circles.

We went by bus. As we emerged from the Atlantic City terminal, it began to rain. We’d rented a small furnished room, bath down the hall, on the second floor of a rooming house near the Boardwalk – the idea being we wouldn’t be in the room much so why spend money to stay somewhere fancy? Fancy it wasn’t: two single beds, one bedstand with lamp, a single bureau, a shallow closet and a sink. We unpacked and peered out the window behind the headboards. The rain was now a downpour.

“Good thing we brought books and umbrellas,” said Amy. “We can go sit in a nice hotel lobby and read.” I had no better ideas. After a modest lunch at the nearest cafeteria on Pacific Avenue, we put up our wet umbrellas and fought the winds coming from the Boardwalk to reach a hotel. In deep lobby chairs we read all afternoon. Early dinner in the same hotel. Then up with the umbrellas again to struggle back to the rooming house. I finished my book in bed.

It continued to pour for four more days. No beach. No healthful walks on the Boardwalk. I didn’t regret the loss of beach; I had no bathing suit that fit and had brought only shorts and a few short-sleeve shirts left over from high school summers in case we were going to do a lot of lying around on the sand getting tan. But I had counted on the walks, to begin burning up the multiple thousands of excess calories I must have deposited on my person since the last time I had been, briefly, at what I considered a desirable weight.

Instead, we had to read on our beds for as long as we could after coming back from breakfast in the coffee shop around the corner — our wet umbrellas propped open on the floor to dry – before venturing out for a repeat of the first day’s activities. Amy didn’t mind. She enjoyed observing hotel guests from the depths of a comfortable fauteuil in each hotel lobby we visited, and even began to develop a preference in lobbies, based on some perceived distinction between the clientele on view. She said it helped take her mind off Him.

Not having a Him on my mind, I soon lost interest in gazing at wet strangers hurrying into hotels and began to resent having spent what little cash I had on such a vapid travel experience. I suggested finding a movie. Atlantic City couldn’t be without movie theaters. Amy thought movies inappropriate in light of her grief and asked me to be more understanding. I grew increasingly hungry. I had been eating very little at our meals in hopes of maybe losing a pound or two even without the walks. The unfamiliar abdominal emptiness, coupled with so much sitting and listening to her now tiresome ruminations about what He might be doing at any particular moment, was tempered only by the growing certitude my stomach was shrinking.

On the fifth day, the sun came out. Amy pulled on her bathing suit, in which she looked gorgeous. I buttoned my shorts, with effort. And off we went – to the beach, to the beach! — bearing towels, baby oil and sunglasses. We had about six hours before having to slip old cotton dresses over the beachwear, collect our bags from the rooming house and catch the bus back to New York. It was enough to achieve what we’d allegedly come for.

“Mmmm, you got a nice tan,” said my mother as I unlocked the door that evening. “And it looks as if you lost a pound or two. You want to eat something?”

I began at once to work at losing more.

[To be continued….]

STICK SHIFT

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It seems the kind of car I drive gives my age away.  Not that I’m hiding my age. Certainly not on this blog.  And not that the car is so very old.  Actually it is, by some people’s standards, but lots of youngsters drive eleven-year old cars. So it’s not that.

What is it then? I recently learned what my car reveals about me from M., whom Bill discovered after we both decided he should not drive me to the Newark airport and then pick me up again at the other end of my recent trip to Tampa.  He tends to get lost outside of Princeton, GPS or no GPS. We also decided I should not drive myself because of the aggravation and cost of parking for all those days away and because Bill declared he would worry. [Isn’t that sweet?]

M. is a fit-as-a-fiddle former police officer,  probably in his early sixties, who has built a thriving business subsequent to retirement by driving people anywhere (including quite long distances) in their own cars for set fees far lower than those charged by commercial limousine services, plus $35 an hour waiting time (in the event he is taking you to a hospital or doctor’s appointment, or something like that).

His client base is now so large he has six other retired policemen working for him and his fees are as low as they are because he has no need to pay for vehicles, or insurance, or gas. Since the six other drivers are independent contractors for whom he acts as booking agent, he need pay no employer contribution to social security either.

M. got behind my wheel on September 1 and commented:  “A stick shift!  I haven’t driven one of these in a long long time.” Well, that made me feel like Methuselah.  Mind you, back in 2004 when I bought the car, I had specified that I did not  want an automatic transmission. Apparently no one does that anymore.

M. explained that people used to think you got better mileage per gallon with a stick shift but that was no longer true.  I have about twenty years on M. and recall that the stick shift was once preferred because you supposedly had better control of the car — and for all I know, you still do.   But I simply smiled and nodded.  Especially as M. hurried to assure me that I shouldn’t trade the car in because my stick shift was still working fine.

Well, I wasn’t going to. And I knew it was.  (Although all I said was, “That’s good to know.”)  The truth is when on occasion I’ve rented cars at airports, always with automatic transmissions because that’s all car rental places seem to have these days, my left foot doesn’t know what to do and taps the floor uselessly while the right one moves from gas to brake and back again, nervously expecting it’s about to strip the gears.

It all comes down to your past catching up with you.  I learned to drive in Los Angeles on a 1937 Plymouth coupe. It was fifteen years old by then, but no cars had been manufactured from 1942 through 1945, so many pre-war cars were still on the road. None of them had that new-fangled automatic transmission yet. Once I had my license, my father replaced the Plymouth, just as it was about to die, with a used 1946 Chevrolet allegedly driven by a little old lady in Pasadena who took it out of the garage only to go to church.  Whether or not that was true, the Chevy was in fine condition. And yes — the little old lady had driven a stick shift.

The Chevy lasted me a long time. It brought me back to New York, where it was followed by a used Studebaker belonging to my first husband, nine years older than I was, and then a snappy Volkswagen bug convertible belonging only to me, in which I found my second husband, two years older. The second marriage featured two more Volkswagens. [Given their respective ages, it goes without saying both husbands preferred stick shifts.]  By then, you might conclude about my selection of transmissions that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  My post-husband-pre-Bill period featured a stick-shift Nissan. Why not? My first serious boyfriend, one year older and then being recycled, drove a stick-shift Nissan of his own. [The Nissan service station was two blocks away.]  Now I have a 2004 stick-shift Honda. Wouldn’t you know? Bill, three years older, has a 2002 stick-shift Honda.

I have been reproached by many of the stick-shift men in my life (although not by Bill) for riding the clutch.  I must not ride it too much though because, as I’ve already told you, M. said my stick shift is still working fine. You might also be interested in knowing what M. said about my age — yes, I let it out, just to see what would happen — when he picked me up at Newark on September 4.  “Well, there’s 84. And then there’s 84.”

Tactful, wasn’t he? But who am I to argue with a cop, even a retired one?

WRITING SHORT: 39/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

In grade school, we memorized poems. Memorization was hard for me (it still is), but I did my best to remember the assigned passages at least long enough to recite them out loud, palms sweating, if called on. I think this practice was supposed to saturate us with uplifting and ennobling literature that would provide comfort in the tough times ahead when we became adults.

I’ve been an adult for many years now, some of them quite tough. All I could ever recall of those elementary school efforts were two lines: “By the shores of Gitchee-Goomee” (Longfellow) and “Into the valley of death rode the four hundred…” (Tennyson). Neither was particularly sustaining when encountering life’s challenges.

What did stick with me was the idea that memorizing was an approved endeavor for classy young ladies. When at the age of twelve and a half I fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), I therefore had to memorize some of his verse – if only to show his spirit (surely hovering over my bedroom in Queens, New York) that I cared. For some reason I chose “Ozymandias.” Because it was only fourteen lines? I have no idea. But I memorized with such diligence I remembered it long after I’d traded in Shelley for Leonard Bernstein as my love object.

Did “Ozymandias” help in getting through life? Not really. Not until recently, when I took another look with adult eyes:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear —

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Think of the many hot shits in the world you can’t stand. For all their self-importance, nothing of them will remain. They’ll be nada. Buried in bare, boundless sand.

Feel better?

WRITING SHORT: 34/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I want to eat everything. The whole carton of chocolate ice-cream. The whole cheesecake. The whole box of blueberry muffins.  The whole family-size bag of potato chips. All the candy the kids collected in their hollowed-out pumpkin on Halloween and couldn’t finish.  It doesn’t matter that it will make me sick, and  later fat.

I want to buy everything I like in Vogue or at Pret-a-Porter — coats, dresses, sweaters, pants, boots, shoes, sandals, bags, scarves, hats. It doesn’t matter that I don’t need, can’t afford, wouldn’t know where or when to wear any of it.

I want to live in France, Italy, Spain, Greece — without moving away from home.  I also want to see Scandinavia, Germany, Japan, South America — without moving away from France, Italy, Spain, Greece. It doesn’t matter that unless someone figures out how to access multiple parallel universes before I die, this is impossible.

I want to be young, adventurous, and sexually attractive to all men I find attractive, while retaining everything I now know about youth, adventure and sexual shenanigans and without relinquishing Bill, social security, or the privileges of age. It doesn’t matter that this would make me a dirty old lady who can work miracles.

I want to take piano lessons, relearn French, enroll in a Shakespeare course, lead a meditation workshop, tutor English as a Second Language, do Pilates, participate in two reading groups favoring long books because I like the women in them, play Scrabble once a month, pet the cats, and go to New York once in a while without giving up my blog and long luxurious afternoon naps on our new bed. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t enough hours in the day for all this or enough energy in me, doesn’t matter that I’d collapse, despite the naps.

I suppose you could say I want to be God. (God can have everything.) But I’m still asking “Is there a God?” and coming up with “No.”  So it looks like I can’t have it all.  Bummer.

WRITING SHORT: 18/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Bill often dreams about his second wife. Let’s call her Norma. He says they’re nightmares. In all our time together, he’s never dreamed about Marie Claire, his Swiss first wife. Bill and Norma were married for eighteen years. It’s been twenty-four years since they divorced. For the last fourteen of those twenty-four years he’s been with me. But it’s always Norma I hear about in the morning.

“What terrible thing did she do in the dream?” I ask for the umpteenth time. He never remembers. He does remember plenty about what she “did” in the marriage, beginning six weeks into it when she smashed a valuable objet d’art on the floor that had been a wedding present from his sister.  I’ve heard it all, always knowing Norma’s account of their eighteen years would differ, and sometimes imagining her version, despite not knowing Norma herself.

I used to think the Norma of Bill’s dreams might be a metaphor for me. We do have our squabbles. (Although I don’t resolve them by smashing valuable gifts on the floor. Not that it’s relevant, but his sister never gave us a gift to smash, probably because we never married. It wasn’t because she didn’t like me, although she didn’t. She didn’t like Norma either.)

Bill assures me dream-Norma isn’t me. He’s a psychiatrist; he should know. But I take nothing on trust. “So will you get Norma out of our bed!”  It’s supposed to be funny, although not entirely. I really am sick and tired of Norma.

This morning when we woke up, he had a new announcement: “I dreamed about you last night,”

“Really me? Not Norma?”

“Oh, yes. You, Nina.”

“Bad dream?”

“Not awful.”

“What was I doing?”

“We were squabbling.”

“What about?”

“Nothing much. What’s for breakfast?”

A dream like real life! Could this be at last the end of Norma?

CRIMINAL LAW AND ME

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I’ve enjoyed movies involving criminal trials as much — well nearly as much — as the next person, especially before I became a lawyer. (Afterwards, my interest devolved into seeing how many mistakes about courtroom procedure, the practice of law and the office life of lawyers I could find in what I was seeing, which was fatal to that temporary but willing suspension of disbelief essential to viewer appreciation.)

It’s true I entered law school at the age of 51 principally to be able to earn enough money to finish raising my two trusting children as I thought they should be raised. But I did feel I might be a good trial lawyer because I’d always been a big talker.   As a seasoned movie-goer, I visualized myself mesmerizing juries with my words. Then I discovered mesmerizing juries came last.  There was a lot, a lot, a lot of other stuff that preceded it, especially in civil litigation, where 90% of cases settle on the courthouse steps, if not before. As for crime in its less than murderous aspects, much of it is plea-bargained before it reaches fact-finding in court, which is what jury trials are all about, at least until the penalty phase.

[Before moving on, are we clear about the difference between civil and criminal litigation?  Civil cases are claims of harm brought by one party against another that don’t involve alleged violation of a federal or state statute, or of a municipal regulation.  The plaintiff (complaining party) seeks either injunctive relief — “Court, make him/her/them stop it!” or “Court, make him/her/them do it!” — or else money damages, as compensation for the alleged harm done.  No one goes to jail or prison or is condemned to death.  Criminal complaints, on the other hand, always allege statutory or regulatory violations, are brought against the defendant(s) by state district attorneys or federal assistant attorney generals acting on behalf of  governmental entities and, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, do result in jail or prison time, or — as in the recent Boston Marathon bomber trial, brought under federal law — a death sentence.] 

Okay, back to me. What kind of future did I have in mind  when I applied to five law schools in the greater Boston area and entangled myself in considerable federally-backed loan debt?  Candidly, I was hoping for any kind of job I could get at what everyone thought of as “my age.”  Lawyer husbands of neighbors counseled that after I had passed the bar, I should set up shop at any small local law firm that would give me a desk, and then represent anyone who came in: this potential client population, they anticipated, would consist of friends, or friends of friends, seeking divorces or separation agreements or modification of custody agreements, or perhaps a new will.  No salary, of course. Just a percentage of whatever I brought in.

Theoretically speaking, there would have been an alternative to this unappealing prospect right at the outset, although no lawyer husband of a neighbor mentioned it. Any member of the bar can sign up at any Massachusetts trial court to represent indigent defendants and be paid by the Commonwealth. It’s not much per case, but probably more than a percentage of any domestic dispute fees I might have been able to generate. I could also have applied for a job as a county Public Defender and, if hired (despite my “age”), become a “regular” employee of the Commonwealth. These two avenues would have been open to me because criminal defendants are legally entitled to representation by counsel and few, other than members of the Mafia or those accused of white collar crime (that is, of playing footsie with the federal and state securities laws) can afford to retain private defense lawyers. Therefore the government which has indicted them must also provide a defense.

Perhaps not surprisingly, public defense work never crossed my mind. Defend criminals in order to send my darling children to good colleges?

I know, I know.  Under the Anglo-American system of law, you’re not a criminal until it’s proven.  Accusations can be wrong. You’re entitled to a defense. Even if there’s seemingly compelling “proof” that you’ve done what the criminal complaint asserts you’ve done, there may have been legal flaws in the way such evidence was obtained which should preclude any verdict based on it.  I do believe all this.  However, I’ve never believed it enough to step into a jail cell, even with a prison guard right outside, in order to confer with a sullen client, perhaps not guilty of the particular offense with which he was now charged, but only perhaps.  (Although a defense attorney wouldn’t really want to go into that, because unlike in movies, the job after indictment is not to find truth, whatever it might be, but to identify flaws in the prosecution’s case.) I would have been especially reluctant to step into that cell if the sullen client were known to be generally comfortable with wielding knives and punching people even if he may not have done it this time.

That’s not to say I don’t admire lawyers who do step up to bat in order to preserve what they can of how our legal system is supposed to function.  I know a wonderful woman, married to a man with whom I shared a secretary when I practiced law, who emerged from Harvard Law School with a stellar record, held a prestigious federal clerkship, and then turned down a great offer from a major law firm paying major money to go defend criminals in Suffolk County, which includes downtown Boston and its slummier corners. At the start, she earned barely a living wage walking into those prison cells alone. But her defense work, which is now in the federal system and supervisory, has since that humble beginning been praised and commended by the entire Massachusetts judiciary and bar.  I might add she continues to correct you if you happen to use the word “criminal” in connection with anyone in her client base.  “Alleged criminal,” she says quickly, with a smile.

So how about the other side?  Nina Mishkin, tough on crime?  Criminal Law was one of the five mandatory courses of the first-year curriculum at Suffolk Law School when I enrolled in 1982.  I found it confusing.  But then I found the other four courses confusing, too. (Constitutional Law most of all.)  I suspect everyone did, but being twenty-two and twenty-three, they all played it cool and pretended it was a breeze.  At 51, I sweated bullets. Going to law school “at my age?” What had I been thinking?

I did like the Criminal Law professor, though.  She was about as old as I was but had gone to law school at 39, after an early marriage splintered into divorce.  Then she practiced in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office for eight years, building up trial experience. (I found out all this later, of course, not while her student.)  She was also attractive, wore great suits which I much admired, and had good legs. She must have had the legs before she became a lawyer but they did add to her appeal as a role model. When the results of the Criminal Law exam, given in December, were posted in January, it appeared that sweating bullets had been of some merit as a methodology for learning law. I finished first in the class:  1/345.

Encouraged by early success, I made a mental note to take, in due time, the other course she taught, a third-year elective called Criminal Practice.  Which, in my third year, I did. This was not, as you might imagine, simulated courtroom practice in a classroom, although there was some of that — to somewhat prepare us for what awaited in a real court.  (“Objection!”  “Objection!” “Objection!”)  No, no.  We would actually be thrown to the lions.  Had I considered carefully, I might have had second thoughts. I have never done well with on-the-spot stress and angst.  (Stress and angst that I can take my time with, although not good, is part of life. By contrast, thinking fast on your feet doesn’t come up very often.) But I already had a job offer for when I would pass the bar. (God willing!) And so, with carefree abandon, I registered. What the hell. That was exactly the right word.  For me, hell is what it turned out to be.

It was then possible to offer live courtroom practice to students under a statute I can no longer cite permitting them to represent the Commonwealth in Massachusetts District Court (not to be confused with the federal District Court) under the supervision of an Assistant District Attorney.  This court had jurisdiction over only a few relatively minor criminal offenses. (Complaints involving weightier matters were brought in Superior Court.) The two I now remember were “‘Larceny Under” (thefts of under $100 in value) and “OUI”s (“Operating Under the Influence” — that is, drunk driving).  Over the semester, two OUI’s came my way.  I knew nothing of adroit cross-examination, how not to lead the witness, how to rephrase, or when to make my own objections.  Truth to tell, despite the 1/345 I knew nothing, and neither did any other law school student or graduate, about how to practice law, or how to try cases.

I nevertheless prevailed.  Bottom line: Nice-looking middle-aged lady in navy blue nunlike skirt suit actually won.  Both times.  In front of two separate six-person juries.  The second time, even the hitherto dour judge smiled approvingly. But the stress and angst to reach that result, the splitting headache that left the premises with me, were too high a price for prosecutorial triumph. At the end of the semester, I accepted the job offer from a (big) civil litigation firm, which provided plenty of stress and angst of its own, but spaced out over the next twelve years. Those two little OUI trials therefore became the only true war stories of my legal career — good examples of what thinking outside the box and life experience can do for you when opposing counsel and a not particularly friendly judge seem about to shut you down.

You want to hear?  My pleasure.  Another time.

I HATE CLAMSHELLS

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I feel entirely comfortable announcing my hatred of clamshells to the cyber world because Judy Kugel has declared in her own usually upbeat twice-a-week blog that she hates snow angels. Judy is a slim, trim 77-year-old academic, recently retired from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who is a self-proclaimed lover of exercise;  the way I love to eat, she loves vigorous cycling and hiking. They’re her idea of a super good time. (I believe she and her husband also have bulky gym-type equipment in the home, which they use regularly and properly, not — as I once did with a stationary bicycle — to hang clothes on.) So if she can hate her angel wings in public, who am I to prevaricate about my feelings for clamshells?

“Clamshells” in this instance are not what you find when you go clamming at the shore. Nor are “snow angels” what small children make in the snow.  They are part of an armatorium of whimsically named exercises imposed on those of us who are aging by licensed, and perhaps also by unlicensed, physical therapists in alleged restoration of the swift and pain- free movements of our youth. (Ha!)  There’s also “table top,” “soup bowl,” “chair” and “bridges.” If truth be told, I hate them all, but “clamshells” get first prize, with “chair” and “table top” tied for second. (“Bridges” is not so bad, unless you have to do it with only one foot on the ground.)  There’s also another extremely unpleasant one, done on your stomach with knees bent, but it seems to be nameless.

I don’t know the nature of the problem Judy and her trainer are attacking with snow angels against the wall:  fifteen at a time, hands and arms never leaving the wall.  All she says in her blog post is that she can only do five and they hurt. The reason I am supposed to be confronting three sets of fifteen clamshells on each side every day is that, according to this new therapist I’m seeing, I have weak hips and glutes — but especially on the right side — as a result of improper guidance by and work with another therapist five years ago after a right hip replacement.  (Why is it that one thing corrected always leads to another going wrong?) This weakness — which I admit without demur, although I wouldn’t blame it on my nice former physical therapist — has resulted in the top line of my pants tilting slightly to the left, an idiosyncrasy I could live with, and my left knee and leg periodically sending signals of something between discomfort and pain whenever I do much more than sleep or loll around.

I might add we live in a condo with two flights of stairs and no master bedroom on the ground floor, having been beyond optimistic in our late seventies when we bought it that we would remain gazelles forever.  However, I do not consider my left leg’s deficiencies and complaints over the past four years a reason to put the condo on the market.  (There are perhaps several other reasons, but these can wait for some other blog post some other time.  Maybe, if we’re lucky, some other year. Life is uncertain: surely I’ve already established that in this blog.)

The new therapist’s theory is that my left knee and leg are complaining because they’re doing not only their share of the work involved in moving me around but also the right leg’s share.   My sunny-tempered physiatrist (I call him Dr. Feelgood), he who wrote the prescription for this year’s bout with physical therapy — I use the word “bout” advisedly — does not necessarily agree with the new therapist’s diagnosis but does believe exercise is always a good thing.  (He even wrote several books about it in his spare time.)  Accordingly, every time I make an appointment for the knee, which is about once a year, he administers a series of four weekly shots  — the first a steroid, and then three of Synvisc, which provides lubication to the cartilage.  Bill and I used to be holier-than-thou about steroids, but not any more; Dr. Feelgood’s ministrations pretty much get rid of the “discomfort” for a while and provide what he calls a window of opportunity for all those healthful exercises. He writes the script, I go away promising to be good and try. (Yes, I really do try. At least for a while.)

Helpful acquaintances — usually at least twenty years younger — have suggested I spare myself this annual ritual of retribution for unknown past sins and have a left knee replacement.  They just don’t know. It’s not as if I’m a crack tennis player who must get back in the game.  I’m not (yet) in screaming agony.  The only reason I finally broke down and had the right hip replaced was that I absolutely positively could not step on the brake anymore and had to halt my car in my own driveway with the hand brake. Having recovered from a hip replacement in a rehabilitation facility where I shared a room with a woman who had just had both her knees replaced at once, I mentally divided in two what she was going through to rehabilitate herself, and decided no thank you, I would do whatever it took to forestall even one of what she was having.

This year whatever it takes in my current, discomfort-free window of opportunity includes “clamshells,” one of six tedious, boring, perspiration-making activities I’m supposed to perform every morning, or at least most mornings, before getting on with the day.  The other five, which chew up about forty minutes if done slowly and properly, I could perhaps learn to live with — although the cloud of gloom they cast over the prospect of getting out of bed tends to keep me from setting feet to the floor until the hands of the clock are well advanced towards noon and guilt overcomes indolence.  But “clamshells” are something else.

I know, I know: you still don’t know what “clamshells” are. (Unless you’re a physical therapist, or the victim of one.)  They’re like this:  You get down on the floor, if you think you can get up again, or on a very thin hard mattress if you’re not sure about the floor. We have one of those man-type mattresses left over from Bill’s divorced days; it’s now adorning his old bed in the finished part of the basement.  There you lie on your side, draw your knees up to a 90 degree angle, keep your back absolutely straight and unmoving (no rolling towards the mattress) and hold your feet together throughout the exercise.  Now you’re a closed clamshell.  Try to open the shell by raising the top knee and then close it again, with a controlled motion if possible. Fifteen times.  That’s a set. Rest. Do two more sets — that is, forty-five times all together.  Then you do the forty-five open-and-shuts on the other side.

This is supposed to be so good for my rear end muscles — which I never knew existed, and maybe they don’t — that I shouldn’t mind that my clamshell won’t open. It doesn’t open at all when I lie on my left, and barely enough to insert a pinky finger between the thighs when I lie on my right. But I do mind.  I hate failing at anything, especially failing at something I hate in the first place.  So my clamshells aren’t really like Judy Kugel’s snow angels.  I know she will persevere until she conquers the wall she’s standing against to do them.  Me?  All I know is why I wrote this post.  It’s to shame myself in public into getting down to the basement even though it’s already 3:30 in the afternoon.  If I go now, I can be back upstairs before 4:30.

If, if.  Now if only there were such a thing as a human clam opener.  No, scratch that. It doesn’t sound quite right.  Weak rear end muscles or no, I do try to run a clean blog.

THE RETURN OF NOW

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[If TGOB was ever read by more than a couple of isolated souls in Finland, it got by WordPress.  Finland is definitely not one of the non-Anglophone countries whose flag I ever expected to see more than once every three or four months, if that, on the stats page. France, Italy, Greece — yes. Even (rarely) Norway, Denmark and Azerbaijan. But Finland?

Until about ten days ago. Suddenly, a flurry of interest from one or more Finns!  Thirty-three Finnish views in an hour!  For me, drifting along in the quiet backwaters of the blogosphere, thirty-three views per hour from non-followers is a lot.  And from just one country? Mind you, this was not simply Finnish attention to the current post. “My” Finns (if I may call them that) were scouring the past, in some instances going back to the blog’s early months.  

Naturally I went back, too — to see what was so interesting back there in TGOB’s babyhood.  It wasn’t “Roger Angell On Life In His Nineties,” the all-time most viewed piece I ever posted.  Or “My First Bra(s),” ever-popular in hot countries where by religious or cultural edict women tend to be all covered up.  No, it was a brief bagatelle from sixteen months ago called “Now Is All There Is.”

I cannot explain the particular appeal of this post to Finnish sensibilities. Nor do I recall that it was such a big hit anywhere when it first appeared. It just came, and then it went. But it’s still all true, or mostly true.  The part about my being unable to meditate has been somewhat addressed this year by forming a meditation group. If you form a group, the group expects you to be there to lead it.  I can therefore truthfully say that as of May 29, 2015, I am sitting down with four other people to meditate for at least thirty minutes once a week. That’s a kind of progress, isn’t it?  Whether or not I’m able to remain in the now for the full thirty minutes before the gong sounds and we all open our eyes I leave to your imagination.  I might also add we’ve temporarily abandoned breakfast oatmeal for a smoothie made in the VitaMix, consisting of baby spinach, blueberries, and Mango-Banana Skyr  — the Skyr a sort of Iceland buttermilk, now replicated in the US. But who knows how long that will last?  Bill is already complaining it seems rather “thick.”

The Finns have now departed from my stats, having apparently read everything of interest to them.  Nonetheless, I still like “Now Is All There Is,” which is probably what matters most.  So with a tip of the hat to the good people of Finland, here it is again.  Better read it now (if you’re going to read it at all) before now becomes then.]

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NOW IS ALL THERE IS

Let’s look at another way of approaching “Now is now.” It’s my first principle for getting better at getting old, or getting better at getting older than you are today. [To see them all, revisit “My Twelve Principles for Getting Better at Getting Older,” posted on January 1, 2014.]

In reframing this concept less philosophically, I’ve somewhat paraphrased the Beatles, or at least their rhythm, in hopes that swiping the beat of their song about a four-letter word starting with “L” may help you remember what’s important here. Just hear them in your head when you say “now is all there is” aloud. Listen to the slowly fading sound of their blended voices singing together, and then dying away at the end: Now is all there is, now is all there is, nowisallthereis….

Now is all there is is worth remembering — whether or not you do think love is all you need — because now is all there is. All you and I ever have is now. By the time tomorrow gets here, it’s now. Now also becomes yesterday before you can say “Jack Robinson” if you’re not keeping a close eye on it.

Minimizing the amount of time I spend not keeping a close eye on now has always been a big problem for me. I don’t mean just that I fail to admire the sunset when it appears, or that I don’t pause long enough to enjoy the sight of little birds coming to the feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seed that hang off our kitchen porch. I mean I have a really hard time staying firmly in my own life — right now, this very day, this very minute. I am almost always off in a daydream, a reminiscence, a strategy, someone else’s story, fictional or not. Sometimes, I’m even away from now when driving, which is a very big no-no. I also occasionally waste now by wondering how it will be when I’m dead and there’s no more now for me (even though I know perfectly well that when I’m dead there won’t be anything at all for me, much less a now) — because being truly dead is something I cannot conceive of! How can I possibly not be? How can there be a time when I won’t know how it will be to not be?

When you don’t stay in the now, you can get really far out of it.

And don’t tell me about meditation. I have tried it in groups, and at Kripalu with a friend, and on my own with Bill and a timer to tell us when it’s time to stop. The meditating mind — at least mine, the only mind of which I can knowledgeably speak — is, as they say, an unruly horse. I don’t do well with a verbal mantra, but closing my eyes and following my breath as it moves in and out of the nostrils feels good and is calming, so I do that. Until I discover I’m not doing that anymore but thinking about something else entirely. Which is probably after about two minutes, but I can’t tell for sure because I’m not supposed to open my eyes to look at the timer. Then I try to rein in my unruly horse and start again.

I was never on a real horse but once in my life. [You see how my mind is wandering away from meditation towards mares and stallions here?] It was a small horse, a very brief experience, and on all counts — except falling off, which I did not do because the trail guide was holding me — a failure. Maybe that partially explains my poor results with meditation. But I don’t think so. It’s just me. Also my choice of partner. Bill is usually willing to meditate, but also usually falls asleep before the timer rings.

Now perhaps you understand why I say “now is now” is not a resolution, even though it’s a principle. For me to resolve compliance would be to fail. On the other hand, to keep it in mind (as best I can, haha) does move me along in the right direction.

But now I have to go make oatmeal. It’s almost noon and we haven’t had breakfast yet. I used up breakfast time writing this for tomorrow (which is now today) and now it’s time for (yesterday’s) lunch. Oatmeal for lunch? Why not?

I hope all this about now has been helpful. If not, don’t sweat it. Now it’s history. Go appreciate now somewhere else. And try to get that Beatles beat out of your mind. It’s so yesterday.

BONUS FOR FOREIGNERS: WHY ENGLISH IS SO HARD

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OR, DO YOU WEAR BEET ON YOUR FEET OR BOOTS ON YOUR FOOTS?

[Multiple Woes With the English Language]

[Following up on the success of yesterday’s post with Anglophone readers of TGOB, I present more of the contents of the envelope I was given upon volunteering to tutor an international student at Princeton University in English conversation.  As was pointed out by one reader yesterday, none of this is funny ha-ha if you’re learning English from a book. On the other hand, it remains funny peculiar (note the two meanings of word “funny”) even if you are a beginner.  The following poem about the pitfalls of English plurals was first printed in David Booth’s “Spelling Links: Reflections on Spelling and Its Place in the Curriculum,”Pembroke 1991.]

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WHY ENGLISH IS SO HARD

Anonymous

We’ll begin with box, the plural is boxes.

But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese.

Yet the plural of mouse is never meese.

You may find a lone mouse, or a whole nest of mice.

But the plural of a house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of a man is always men,

Why shouldn’t the plural of a pan be called pen?

The cow in the plural may be called cows or kine.

But a bow, if repeated, is never called bine;

And the plural of vow is vows, not vine.

If I speak of a foot and you show me two feet,

And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

If the singular’s this, and the plural these,

Should the plural of kiss ever be written kese?

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say mother, we never say mothren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his, and him.

But imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim!

So English, I think you all will agree,

Is the funniest language you ever did see.

HINTS ON ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION FOR FOREIGNERS

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[I take no credit for what follows.  It’s part of a package of materials I was given last week after I volunteered to do one-on-one tutoring in English conversation for the Davis International Center at Princeton University. My international student for the next five months will be a visiting scholar from China, who has come to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory.

International students at the University must read and write English at an acceptable level or take a remedial course.  Being able to speak so that others can understand is something else.  And then there are the idioms!  I’m meeting my student for the first time later this morning, and so won’t know what his conversational problems may be until then.  In the meanwhile, however, here’s something for you to enjoy.  We anglophones are so lucky!]

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I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.

Well done! And you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird,

And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead —

For goodness’ sake don’t call it “deed”!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)

A moth is not a moth in mother

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there’s dose and rose and lose —

Just look them up — and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cart —

Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Man alive!

I’d mastered it when I was five.

T.S.W. (Only the initials of writer are known)

BORING CONDO TO-DO LIST

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I’m not really a house person.  I did help occupy a house for eight years in Duxbury, Massachusetts, when I was still the mother of growing boys and had a (second) husband reasonably good at fixing things that broke.  But apart from that, I’ve spent all of my childhood and most of my adult life in urban apartments, where there are supers you can call when things go wrong.

Bill is the first to admit, with a candid smile, that he’s not handy.  So when we moved into a suburban condominium townhouse here in Princeton, it was reassuring to know the grounds and the leaves and the snow and the gutters would be taken care of by the condominium association.  I could put my mind to more productive and satisfying matters than property maintenance.

Little did I know. Yes, the association takes care of the outside. (And charges extra when the winter weather’s really bad.) But there’s also the inside — the part we ownWhy just in the past month or so, while I’ve been beguiling myself (and hopefully you) with seductive blog posts about times gone by, the present has gone on making its destructive inroads into the status quo.

All the electric plugs in the master bathroom have given up the ghost. That means the comforting little night light now fails to go on at night.  My electric toothbrush has stopped working. After I wash my hair, I have to plug my hand-held hairdryer into a socket by the bed where’s there no mirror and I can’t see what I’m doing.  TO DO:  Call Gold Medal for electrician. After said electrician replaces the electric plug (for $145 plus tax), he is sure to find some other expensive thing to fix while he’s here. He always does.

Bill helped himself up from the “guest” toilet downstairs by grasping a handy towel bar and pulled it out, dislodging some plaster in the process.  Now the “guest” towel hangs by a dowel protruding from a partially open hole in the wall. (Can we invite real guests to do their business in such an unsightly venue?)  TO DO:  Call Don for appointment to make repair estimate. Don is the nice man who helped another nice man take to Cranbury Books many of Bill’s excess books at one time piled up in the garage. On that occasion, Don claimed ability to do all kinds of  construction or repair work in the home and thrust his card at me.  No job too small! (He said.) Any port in a storm. (I say.) What will Don charge, I wonder.

Condo association has just voted that all dryer vents must be cleaned every three years. Copy of paid invoice should be filed with association office by June 1.  (What will they do if I fail to comply? Evict me?)  TO DO:  Call guy recommended by condo association management company, which has negotiated special price of $69 plus tax with this person, based on volume. (There are 52 units for him to work on.)

The winds of March blew out the pilot light in the gas-powered fireplace. This morning, a cold one, I wasted half an hour on my knees (cushioned against the hard floor by throw pillows) — peering into its dusty innards and pushing switches marked “on,” to no avail, although the cats loved the dusty innards and acquired a dusty coating themselves.  TO DO:  Brush cats before they spread dust everywhere. Then call local fireplace guy to get pilot light on again.  The last time he was here (and reproached us for the dust, but who dusts inside a gas-powered fireplace?) — his help and reproach cost $125 plus tax.

The cleaning ladies, a Polish mother and daughter ever-vigilant against moths, saw one fly out of my closet and another out of the upstairs litter box, which is filled with corn-based litter.  With Slavic looks of reproach difficult to withstand, they are strongly urging that next time they come they should empty my closet and scrub it from top to bottom with noxious-smelling substances, after which they will replace my clothes, probably hanging them in the wrong order. For this I will have to pay them extra, and then rearrange everything after they’re gone. No, I am not a total wimp. I did refuse to replace the litter with a non-natural brand. If moths want to feed where my pussycats defecate, so be it. TO DO:  Purchase noxious-smelling substances at hardware store on Tuesday, when there’s a senior citizen discount.

I have agreed to host a new group of would-be meditators on Tuesday afternoons. We live in a no-parking-on-the-street neighborhood. There’s room for only one car behind our two in the driveway. If there were less “stuff” along the sides of our garage, Bill’s car — slightly smaller than mine — would fit. Then there would be room for four carpooled guests in two cars to park behind mine. TO DO:  Call youth who works part-time in hardware store and ask if he would like to make extra money by helping move heavy “stuff” from garage to basement. Neatly.  Discuss with Bill how much to pay him. Discuss with Bill how to make sure he’s neat. (He wasn’t, last time.)

Please notice there’s no “TO DO: Write next amusing TGOB post”  on this list. Now you know why.

AD BIZ FOLLIES (#3)

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Getting paid as a copywriter by Harold M. Mitchell, of Harold M. Mitchell, Inc., was, metaphorically, a walk in the park. As the weather in the spring of 1960 improved, it was sometimes a real walk in the park as well — Bryant Park behind the main New York library on Fifth Avenue being a pleasant lunchtime destination.  Harold did not watch the clock, and there was never a whole lot for me to do.

In fact, it was hard to say Harold was in the ad business at all, at least as I had come to know it, although he was certainly in some kind of ad business, running advertisements of another kind entirely. Moreover, the business he had must have been profitable enough to fund his spacious operation on the third floor of a Fifth Avenue building between 39th and 40th Streets, convenient for forays to Lord & Taylor across Fifth when the weather prevented midday excursions to the park.

In fact, Harold had a whole roster of clients. They were drugstores, discount stores such as Klein’s, and auto supply stores, for which he bought space in newspapers and flyer inserts, then placed the weekly (and sometimes twice-weekly) all-print ads of twelve to twenty-four specials per page which alerted client customers to come hurrying in for mega savings.  For this he did not need a copywriter, as the clients provided the bare-bones copy themselves. (I never had anything to do with any client he already had.) But he did need an unambitious art director and a humble paste-up person. These two sat alone with lots of space around them in a cavernous, decently lit studio behind the two front offices.  There they bored themselves into somnolence fiddling with the innumerable full-page “Save! Save! Save!” ads that put  bread with butter on it on all our tables.

Neeedless to say, Harold had greater ambitions.  He wanted to place ads for prestige products (or at least products sold full price in department stores) in glossy magazines (or at least the Times Sunday Magazine section) — so that Harold M. Mitchell, Inc. could at last become a real Madison Avenue advertising agency. As far as I could see within a week of joining his enterprise to assist him, he had three strikes against him in realizing this goal:

(1) His art director, a charmingly exhausted-looking dark-haired fellow from France in his early forties whose name I’ve forgotten so let’s call him Jean-Pierre, lacked all awareness of the currently favored look of print ads at the Art Directors’ Association of New York. Moreover, during our long conversations when there was nothing to do (which was often), and after he had decided he could trust me, Jean-Pierre indicated he had life plans which did not include a career with Harold. These plans were temporarily on hold because they depended on the agreement of another.  This “other,” who would frequently emerge from the elevator around five o’clock to be taken out for a drink before dinner, was a Chinese youth who looked to be no more than twenty, spoke neither French nor English well enough for me to understand him, and always wore a sulky expression which did not bode well for “agreement.”  I suspected that for him Jean-Pierre was a deep-pocket meal ticket and that both of them were therefore going to be in for a big surprise.

That’s because Jean-Pierre had also shared with me his modus operandi when personal outgo exceeded personal income. You could delay payment of bills without injury to your credit rating by writing a check for what you owed Store 1, putting it in an envelope addressed to Store 2, and vice versa. That bought you a month’s grace at each store.  Of course, this was in the days before computers, when real people in real accounts-receivable departments opened real envelopes, looked at what was in them and called you up if you had made a “mistake.”  Alas for the Chinese youth if his meal ticket was juggling stores and checks like that. I foresaw heartbreak for Jean-Pierre and hours of mutual commiseration ahead if we were both still “working” for Harold that long.

(2) Harold had no portfolio of glossy ads to show potential clients of the sort he coveted.  All he had, now that he had me, was my portfolio of ads — unfortunately designed by the art director at The Gilbert Agency and not by Jean-Pierre. But he also had the gift of gab.  He certainly did talk our way through several brand-name company doors. And he was a cock-eyed optimist.  He could make advertising sound like the answer to any poor profit picture you could describe. Since he had to bring me along on these exploratory visits in order to display my portfolio, I needed better clothes.

Ed, my unemployed husband, thought the place for me to shop (if absolutely necessary) was in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, preferably for garments made of reprocessed wool because they were cheaper.  I was therefore still wearing, in rotation, three suits bought at J.W. Robinson in Los Angeles, on my mother’s employee discount, to teach college English five years before. (To some things — like reprocessed wool — I simply could not stoop.)  Without remorse, I had thus begun keeping from Ed my father’s birthday and Christmas checks, allegedly meant for both us.  I cashed them at the bank where we had our joint savings account and kept the proceeds at the bottom of my purse, from which the money could easily have been stolen, but wasn’t.

Since there was lots of leisure at Harold M. Mitchell, Inc. to check out the sales at Lord and Taylor, Peck & Peck and the boutiques a block away on Madison Avenue, I was able to seize the day if the price tag was right. Once I had smuggled a bargain home and squirreled it away in my closet, I was safe from inquiry. Ed never noticed — new, old — what I put on.  My prize acquisition during this period was a black cashmere knitted dress from Italy. European designer imports were still very new. The dress had been $150 at The Cashmere Shop but had dropped to $20 by April. So there to reprocessed wool!

(3) Harold had abiding faith in the power of the written word. The triumph of the visual in early 1960’s advertising had completely passed him by, just as it had Jean-Pierre.  Harold loved it that I had been an English major with an A.B.D. (all but dissertation).  He loved it that I had written drama criticism in Los Angeles for a monthly magazine called Frontier and wanted me to bring in whatever copies I had kept so he could read my columns.  He even asked if he could read my master’s thesis on Edmund Wilson, the literary critic.  I dissuaded him from including these accomplishments of mine among his talking points to, say, the manufacturers of Spotstik, the coverup for facial blemishes, whose offices we visited at some point that spring. But he did insist on my drafting pages of speculative copy for every presentation we made.  Secretly I believed pages of test campaign copy were the wrong approach, but who was I to argue? Besides, they were fun to do.

SPOTSTIK PRESENTATION: SMALL SPACE NEWSPAPER TEST CAMPAIGN #1.  Should Susan Eat the Strawberries?

SPOTSTIK PRESENTATION: SMALL SPACE NEWSPAPER TEST CAMPAIGN

I never learned the outcome of what I thought of as Harold’s doomed efforts at Spotstik since — spoiler alert! — I had moved on by the end of June.  But it’s barely possible that he actually did manage to prevail over company doubts and persuade someone somewhere at the company to try a small space test campaign.  If so, it would have had a tiny photograph of a Spotstik accompanying the following:

#1. SHOULD SUSAN EAT THE STRAWBERRIES? Probably not. She knows what will happen tomorrow. She’ll “break out.” That’s what. But who can be strong all the time? And there’s always Spotstik handy to efface the traces of Susan’s dietary fall from grace.

Spotstik really works, you know. No one has ever been able to duplicate the formula. Unlike ordinary make-ups in stick form, it’s simply marvelous at completely concealing annoying little facial disturbances. Such as? Morning-after shadows under the eyes, for instance. Freckles. Once-a-month blooms. Signs of minor sin like Susan’s.

Doctors recommend medicated Spotstik as important first aid to good grooming. Have it on hand. Fastidious women everywhere do. 1.50 plus tax, at drug and department stores. A Lydia O’Leary product.

There were more, many more.  To wit: “Cheer up, Cheryl — It Happens to the Best of Us!”  and “Sheila Should Have Danced All Night!” and “What Will Debby Do When They Pass the Chocolate Candy?” Plus nine others.  But I will spare you (unless someone really b-e-g-s to read them all.)  Let us hurry right along to my major accomplishment during the time I spent with Harold.

The Myrurgia Presentation.  Myrurgia was a Spanish perfume company then new to America and seeking to wedge itself onto upscale department store counters next to Chanel No 5, Arpege, Joy, Madame Rochas and the like.  Somehow Harold had made his way, alone, into its New York office, was invited to make a presentation and brought back a bottle of Maja by Myrurgia to inspire me.  The company was talking maybe full-page ads in the Sunday Times:  Harold’s dream come true.

We opened the bottle and each inhaled deeply.  “What do you think?” he asked, after recovering from the overpowering aroma emanating from the bottle.  Personally, I thought Maja by Myrurgia smelled the way a brothel might smell, had I ever visited a brothel, which of course I hadn’t, but could imagine. I was unable to divulge this opinion to Harold.  He was such a nice appreciative man, and had saved me from near-destitution and having to spend too much time in the company of my husband.

“Mm, earthy?” I suggested.

“I’m sure you can come up with something,” Harold said, hurrying away to his own office, which had a window one could open. He had such confidence in me.

I was twenty-nine, my marriage was a train-wreck and I was getting through as much of my life as I could with the help of daydreams, mostly of an erotic nature. Over the next two days, I wrote three pieces of Myrurgia copy slowly, by hand, savoring every word — with the explicit instruction at the top of each page when I finally typed them up that the illustration should be of a beautiful, tastefully naked woman in a seductive, reclining position, front or back view being up to Jean-Pierre. Did I get somewhat carried away?

The first:

This is the woman primeval in you…

In each woman there are many women. Maiden mother, helpmate, friend. And also, this elemental woman, who dwells eternally in man’s desire, where her every golden silence whispers yes. This is the woman in you who wears Maja perfume by Myrurgia. In those hushed and precious moments for which there are no words, you will want him to sense its intimate aura about you. Something without defense, without pretense, an exhalation of your very being that warms and welcomes him with your love. Maja perfume is made in Spain, where there is deep feeling for these tender mysteries. For many years, well-bred women over the world have made it their preference. You will understand their reasons once you have worn it. No other fragrance is even remotely the same… At finest stores.

The second:

The you that only he will ever know…

Each woman to the world plays many parts…friendly, helpful, charming, kind. But only in the shelter of a deep, abiding love does she reveal the trusting, most essential she by which man knows that she is ‘Woman.’ At such an hour as this you will wear Maja perfume by Myrurgia. In those unguarded moments when you become the only woman in the world, you will want it to whisper assent to his desire…an unspoken message in the silent language of the heart. Maja perfume comes from Spain, where these tender mysteries have long been understood. It has been the preference of cosmopolitan women the world over for half a century. Once you have worn it, you will know why. No other fragrance is even remotely the same.

A-n-d:

This is the you of his most deep desire…

Because you are a woman, you are many things to a man…mother, daughter, sister, friend. And also, this primeval woman, whose trusting eyes create for him a world of tender privacy, where the sought and precious only occupant is you.  It is this woman in you who will wear Maja perfume by Myrurgia. In those golden moments which transcend description, you will want him to sense its aura about you…a poignant murmur of response to his deep-felt desire. Maja perfume comes from Spain, where such fervent mysteries have long been revered. It has been the instinctive preference of gentlewomen the world over for many years. You will understand their reasons once you have worn it. No other fragrance is even remotely the same.

It was certainly a fact that no other fragrance was even remotely the same. But the only real mystery is how Harold ever sold this fervently heavy-breathing kerfuffle to a company hoping to make it in New York with well-bred cosmopolitan gentlewomen (to use the language of the ads). This stuff actually ran in the Sunday Times, not only the following fall, but also the year after.  It’s true Jean-Pierre had toned down my specified visuals.  No more naked Maja.  Instead we saw three well-bred-looking fully dressed models as far from my hot-blooded “woman primeval” as you could imagine. It must have been his Parisian aesthetic.

Woman primeval?

Woman primeval?

The trusting most essential she?

Trusting most essential she?

Trusting eyes creating a world of tender privacy?  (Well, maybe.)

Eyes creating a world of tender privacy? Well, maybe. Is that a blanket, or sand, she’s lying on?

Nevertheless, I tore each of these disappointing pages out of the Times to save for my portfolio in the event there was a cataclysmic revolution in tastes in advertising during my lifetime  — although by the time they appeared, an employment agent at Jerry Fields had already made good on her promise that something would come along for me.

But before we move on to this next chapter in my ad biz adventures, you may ask what ever became of Myrurgia after its god-awful entry into American merchandising as designed by Jean-Pierre and me.  I’m pretty sure Saks and Bergdorf’s never made room for it on their perfume counters. But believe it or not, it’s still around today.  Perfume.com offers the eau-de-toilette for 19.95.  This is part of what you can read about it there:

Create an alluring, tempting vibe wherever you go while you’re wearing this Maja fragrance for women. Released in 1921…this timeless and captivating scent by Myrurgia has been wowing the masses for the better part of a century.  It…lingers behind, even after you’ve left the room.”

Whether “wowing the masses” is a better inducement to purchase than “woman primeval” I leave to your discriminating judgment.  In the meanwhile, I shall pass on to the story of my first six months at an agency with a real Madison Avenue address. It was there I finally achieved a legal separation from Ed in my private life while professionally having to deal with a client proud of having made this:

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That should keep you hanging till next time.

TIME MARCHES ON

Standard

It’s tax time!  Yes, I know we (Americans) don’t have to file until April 15.  Nonetheless, our new accountant, who we inherited from the former one (now retired, having put his three sons through expensive colleges), wants his workbook filled out and essential documents assembled by March 21, or else he may have to file for extensions of time within which to file.  That would cost us not only the filing fee of $75 each right there, but the cost of his time and anything else he can find to bill us for.  Time, time, time. (Sigh.)

His cover letter does say “may.” But I think I better get going, even if I miss his deadline by a couple of days.   Coming up with more posts is certainly more fun than adding up medical expenses (deductible only if exceeding 7 1/2% of income). But life can’t be all fun, fun, fun, can it?

However, in looking through that portfolio of old print ads which amused some of us so much recently, I fortuitously came across another example of time marching on.   I have no memory of writing the following important message to store buyers of ladies’ foundation garments, or for which ad agency I wrote it.  So I can’t pinpoint the exact date of this great advance in the design of a support system then little spoken of in polite society but relied on by at least half the women in America. However, it was probably the spring of 1960, when I managed to become again employed after my abrupt dismissal from the Gilbert Agency.

Rest assured, most of us fashion-forward and relatively slender young un’s no longer wore such instruments of torture to hold up our stockings in 1960; we had moved on to panty hose. Unfortunately, the portly, lumpy or old-fashioned — who of course looked nothing like the sketches in the ad — had no such option.  But in view of the spirited discourse about undergarments of this period in the comment section of an earlier post, it could be both timely and relevant to fill you in on the inch-by-inch progress in this area of life being made at the time.  (And give you something new to look at while I toil away at our taxes.)

Men may choose to think of the ad below as educational.  Women should thank God time has indeed marched on. Alternatively, they can yawn or skip it entirely. Mea culpa for having written it in the first place.  Like MacArthur, I shall return — but only when I have won the annual battle with Form 1040.

IMG_1396

[Reading this is entirely optional.  It won’t be on the test.]

New phrases. New claims. A new product. You’ve listened. Perhaps you’re also one of the many who’ve already bought. If so, then you understand the importance of “proportioned” panty girdles to the foundations industry. But if you’re still hesitating, then you owe it to yourself and the future of your business to read this advertisement carefully.

“Proportioned Panty Girdles” by Scandale are completely different from any other panty girdle you’ve ever stocked. The significant way in which they differ is in their sizing. Every experienced corsetiere has always known that any two women who wear the same size (medium, let’s say) may differ considerably in their dimensions. These differences are not important in selling them a girdle. But correct fit in a panty girdle involves another body dimension: the customer’s waist-to-crotch length.

And no manufacturer until last fall had ever successfully incorporated this length dimension in his panty girdles. The waist-to-crotch (or torso-length) measurement of his garment was always that of the model on whom it had been originally designed.

That is why panty girdle fitting was such a hit-or-miss affair. A fitter had to remember that X’s garment tended to run long in the crotch, while Y’s was short. Then she had to match each customer to a panty from a different resource. If she couldn’t, the customer might complain about “tugging” or “riding up” — or refuse to buy a panty girdle at all! It was much like brassiere fitting before the introduction of A, B, and C cup sizes.

Scandale’s “Proportioned Panty Girdles” solve all these problems. They are the very first garments which have been scientifically and successfully sized in waist-to-crotch lengths. We call this torso dimension “SPAN.” Span A fits the woman with a short torso length. Span B is average in length.  And Span C is long. It has been our experience, during the two experimental years of measuring women from every walk of life, that 50% of your customers will wear Span B. 49% will need Span A or Span C. The other 1% is the one woman in a hundred whom we cannot custom fit. (You see, we’re honest.)

There are no shortcuts to this kind of sizing. “Adjustable” crotches or panels in one size that fit all torso lengths? Such panels or crotches cannot permanently and comfortably remain stretched a whole size larger. (Imagine a woman who needs a C cup brassiere trying to squeeze herself into one with an “adjustable” A cup!)

And there is no way of cutting down the somewhat added inventory which Scandale’s “Proportioned Panty Girdles” necessarily entail. (Except to cut down on inventory from other resources.)

On the other hand, there is no way of stopping progress either. “Proportioned Panty Girdles” are the sizing of the future. Would you really like to go back to the days of one-cup-brassieres?

I especially like the two experimental years of measuring women from every walk of life.  (Did wealth, or lack of it, really affect crotch size?) Now that  must have been an interesting job!