Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Shopping Cart Handles Teeming With Microbes

Well, duh. The Microbes have to hang out somewhere. Now that smoking has been banned in most indoor places they no longer have to collect in the bar, slowly getting drunk and trying to pick up other Microbes who get increasingly better looking before last call. No, Microbes have gone suburban, like the rest of us. They drive to the local supermarket in an SUV, probably riding buckled in the backseat with the kids. Two sneezes later and they are breezing through the cereal aisle on the shopping cart handles, waiting to be invited to some other family. They just discovered this NOW? Approximately half a century after the invention of the shopping cart? Well past the era of polio? No. They just did a "report" on this recently, and no one had noticed the microbes on the shopping carts except Sarah Jessica Parker, who has other people to do the shopping for her anyway. (Most notably NOT Matthew Broderick, who apparently does nothing to contribute to staying alive. She has to do everything but breathe for him, as he is kind of helpless. He is however very good at projecting his lines, so it is good he is doing his own breathing.) So now that everyone has been made aware of the Microbe Problem, we have moved on to the Sanitizing Wipe Solution. (Perhaps the sanitizing wipe industry has been smart enough to initiate the Microbe Studies? Maybe they have even been planting a few Microbes in surreptitious shopping expeditions?) A local supermarket here in Lakeland has been progressive enough to provide an entire container full of wipes for the shopping population! Unfortunately this is supposed to be the supply for the month, and it is usually gone early Monday morning after all the mothers with toddlers have shopped. But a helpful grocery spokesperson has pointed out that we can always "ask" a cashier or customer service person for a free wipe. Oh yes! I will stand in line behind the people wanting returns, lotto tickets and directions to Disney World so I can watch the customer service person roll his or her eyes as they daintily hand me "a wipe." Or better yet, I will try to get a cashier's attention by standing at the bagging area and waving my arms with Windshield Wiper Style Sweeps. Or I'll perform jumping jacks! That sounds likely. I think the "normal person" (and we don't see so many of those these days) would just bring some wipes in her purse. OR! Maybe use a little hand sanitizing solution AFTER the shopping trip. Or better yet (and this is my preferred option) NOT worry about it until the next flu outbreak or SARS scare. Because unless you are living in a hermetically sterilized jar like Michael Jackson's NeverMetAGermICouldDealWithLand, you are gonna come in contact with the Microbe Community. And I already know the solution to that, because my parents imparted the prevailing wisdom when I was approximately at the toddler intelligence level. Wash your hands before dinner.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Toy Tsunami Engulfs Household

I suppose you're going to blame US, the parents. For allowing that many toys to be brought into the household. But the fact is, we had no warning. Sure, there was that little temblor on the calendar, referred to by religious people everywhere as "December 25th." But we had no idea the toys would become so thick that we would need some Jaws of Life equipment to make our way from the playroom to the kitchen. And this was a necessary trip, as the children needed occasional nutritional replenishment in order to continue playing. You are thinking we should be buying them clothes instead. Or saving our money for retirement. Or donating cash to the U.S. government to help fund Medicaid. (Oh, sure, we WOULD do that, except the money somehow gets diverted into projects involving depleted uranium, protecting turtle eggs or paying pharamcy companies to run studies saying their drugs are safe.) Well the fact is, we are tired of the old toys. Yes, Hubby and I. We play with them all the time, or banish them into high places (where they sometimes leap out at us when we forget they're there) when there is a Plaything Dispute, or at a minimum have to pick them up. So Hubby and I want all new things to play with! And we weren't disappointed. It started with an outbreak at school. A couple small parties that included toys as favors. It escalated at some neighborhood parties that had cleverly invited Santa to attend the week before Christmas. Toys came with him! Finally, that special day we like to celebrate involving everyone except Jesus arrived. December 25th! Toys. Toys. TOYS! When Hubby and I set it all up the night before we took a picture of it in its pristine state. Then we remembered more toys we had bought months ago, so I retreived THOSE from remote parts of the house. More pictures. We got up the next morning around 7:30. The kids were so excited they couldn't fall asleep the night before. Now they were, ahem, SLEEPING IN. Much to Hubby's and my disappointment. But it wouldn't have been parent-like to shake them awake. You never waken a sleeping child. Not even when the house is on fire. (Then you just carry them over your shoulder still sleeping.) So we couldn't violate the sacrosanct rule. I was tempted to open something up and start playing with it, then maybe put it back in the box. But I didn't. I made coffee and admired the stockings. I was in charge of the stockings again this year. Hubby does not fully understand my obsession with them. It was one of my favorite parts of Christmas morning. Getting all the Christmas stuff, and then, just when you think the drama is over, you spy the stocking, STILL untouched! Filled with other cool stuff! Like little games! Candies! And in our case, toothbrushes, floss, pencils, packs of cards and dice. It is like a virtue/vice thing. Go ahead and gamble, but make sure you brush your teeth! ( I never did ask my parents if this was the message they intended to send.) So this year I got them candy! Dice! Pencils! Floss! Chapstick! Toothbrushes! Scooby Doo mini action figures! Glow in the dark stuff! Rubber dinousaurs! And, in what I still consider a coup, I got them each a see through-plastic human body figure with colorful plastic internal organs! As my 5-year-old said when he pulled it from the stocking, "WOW. I wasn't expecting THIS!" Then after a few moments' consideration he said, "Maybe we can use it for a Scooby Doo Mystery Monster." Creative child. When the children finally got up they were dazed at the wall-to-wall toys. Didn't know what to approach first. Hubby filmed every angle while I blinded them with still picture flashes. Before they were completely done opening everything we got them dressed and hustled them off to their grandparents' house so they could get more...TOYS! Big ones! The 3-year-old became engrossed with playing, to the point where he became quite crabby when we bundled him into the car to go his aunt's and uncle's house, where they got...BIKES! Along with lots of other toys. From their aunt and uncle. AND their cousins. Later that evening, the 5-year-old was lying in the playroom in a bit of a stupor. He was at an angle because there were no longer any flat surfaces in the room. Everything was covered with toys, wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, game instruction manuals, and objects that moved, flashed, conversed or tried to get you with pincers. Finally he said, "I'm bored." My eyes opened wide. I said, "Bored?" I picked him up. "That's good. Because the toys are going to bed now." I think maybe next year we should just get him a laptop. And maybe fewer toys for me and Hubby.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Not So Silent Night

We took the children to Christmas Eve Mass, the 5 pm one, specifically. Anyone who chooses to attend this Mass has to expect a little "crowd noise." Beyond what is going on at the altar or in the vicinity of the choir, I mean. It is a Mass designed to be kid-friendly, so it is best to expect a good serving of commotion along with your prayers. We arrived early so we could get seats. Christmas Eve Masses are always standing room only, so you need to get there at least half an hour early to be guaranteed a seat. And in our case we had our family, Hubby's sister's family, plus the parents-in-law, so we actually commandeered an entire pew for ourselves. I was deathly ill on the verge of rigor mortis at the time. If it hadn't been Christmas Eve I definitely would've chosen to stay home and start self-embalming rather than trying to follow along with the readings and keeping the 3-year-old from grabbing people's ankles from under the pew. Normally if I have a SARS or ebola-type infection I will seat myself in a location far from other people in an attempt to be neighborly. However this is impossible on Christmas Eve. It is the first time I just brought an entire box of tissues to the service. Why dink around with estimating how many you will need when a whole box might not be enough? I tried to cough in the direction of the kneelers, and not let my eyes water on any unsuspecting parishioners. Hubby tried to remove the jacket from our unwilling 3-year-old. This resulted in the first pre-service tussle, fortunately partly drowned out by the choir warming up. Then the 3-year-old tried to go full bore in the other direction and started removing his shoes. Hubby put a stop to that too, so the 3-year-old was getting cranky. But the songs were done by a children's choir in robes, so I held him up to see them. "Look! ANGELS!" he shouted. We agreed. It was nice to have angels in attendance. Due to a variety of distractions involving illness, numerous clothing changes and eating, we hadn't brought any special toys with us. So I hunted through the carry-all bag for something for the 3-year-old. A book? A map? A snack? Finally at the bottom of the bag I discovered a McDonald's-based army action figure complete with weapons. The 3-year-old grunted with glee and began making fighting noises. About halfway through the service the 3year-old got bored and was stretched out on the kneelers below us. Every once in a while I would see someone in the pew ahead of us flinch as though bitten by a bug. Then I would drag the 3-year-old to a sitting position and explain to him he must not touch people's ankles. He lifted his shirt and displayed his nipples to the people behind us. They smiled at this. They were a husband with a wife visibly pregnant and several other adults. They were viewing their future. In all its bare-nippled glory. Hubby tried to tuck the 3-year-old's shirt into his pants which were starting to slip down and show portions of his butt which are admittedly cute but not acceptable for public display. Now this is our in-laws' church, not ours, so our parish won't be getting our Christmas envelope until Sunday, probably. But Hubby wanted the children to have money for the basket. So he gave the 3-year-old a ten dollar bill. He seized it and then shouted, "I'm rich! I'm RICH!" The crazy people behind us started giggling again. They have no idea how much sleep they are going to lose in a few short months. At the sign of peace I did not shake anyone's hand, explaining, "I have a cold." As if they couldn't tell. Actually I sounded more like I had end stage pneumonia. By the end the 3-year-old was insisting. "Have to go home now. Mass is OVER. It's time to go HOME." By then I think everyone was ready for us to leave. He also did manage to bellow, "Happy Birthday JESUS!" before we left. But this is the second year in a row that we've done Christmas Eve in a pew. Perhaps we are ready to graduate from the glassed-in special children's area. If only we could get the 3-year-old to keep his clothes on.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Dashing Through the Wrapping Paper

Fortunately Hubby wraps most of the Christmas gifts, since gift-wrapping technically falls under my Arts & Crafts disability. I can DO it, of course, but sometimes I have trouble getting the lumps out of the wrapping paper. "Lumps?" you wonder idly. "Since when does wrapping paper come with lumps? Perhaps she is thinking of gravy." Exactly. So let's move on, shall we? I just put out the pre-holiday trash. This is the stuff we are desperately trying to get rid of before our house gets inundated with more stuff. I believe Jesus specifically instructs us in the New Testament that we should not mix New Stuff with Old Stuff. No matter how much you've had to drink. So anything with fewer than half its original pieces, missing an important anatomical feature such as the head, or that looks like it has gone through a cow's digestive system gets put in the Rubbish Pile. The biggest problem, of course, is that the moment I start the pile, the children are attracted to it like tourists to a theme park, and they begin carrying off these trash-bound items and start playing with them. My subterfuge is to explain to them we are making room for Santa's toys, so we need to "store" some of the items in special bins in the attic and garage. Now the attic stuff does indeed get stored until it is cycled back down into the playroom, say, during the next hurricane season. However "garage" is just a euphemism for our donation to the Polk County Landfill. Yes, I do feel slightly guilty when the children search for toys in the garage, all wide-eyed innocence and expectation. So guilty that I distract them with a promise of chocolates. Final note on the Christmas cards. We just started sending them out this week. Yes, STARTED. My friend Shari Antonio gets the first card. Every year like the Catholic School student I was raised as, I start at the beginning of the alphabet and don't stop until I reach Z. Well, actually "W." I would not dream of doing it in reverse or starting in the middle and expanding outward like a slowly melting popsicle on the floor. (I don't know WHAT created that imagery in my mind.) Christmas time is confusing enough without trying to get fancy with the alphabet. Incidentally, Shari Antonio then went on to marry a fellow named Dave ANDERSON, and I'm sure the reason was so she could remain at the head of everyone's Christmas card lists. There are plenty of people who will receive our cards after Christmas, but hopefully before 2005. In some years I have even allowed myself a grace period up to the Epiphany. This year I tried to get the children to line up in front of the Christmas tree next to the manger scene so I could take their photo for the Christmas card. The 5-year-old turned on his cherubic smile, but the 3-year-old became very, VERY angry. He was making loud exclamations in his Imaginary Language: "This is too FLUVIN. Going to RACHENT you. I have to FRIZBOP." It is not a good sign when he starts speaking his Imaginary Language. But we can tell by his tone that a tantrum is not far off. Hubby tried to nudge him into the photo with his brother. The 3-year-old started snorting and making horrible faces. Both the manger scene characters and the holiday village structures were endangered. I took a few photos of the 5-year-old with the 3-year-old's: elbow, butt and back of his head, respectively. Finally I was desperate. I said to my grimacing 3-year-old: "Did I forget to ask you about the poopy butt?" He looked over at me, with a bit of disbelief. "Poopy butt?" Then I saw a small smile. "POOPY Butt. Poopy FACE." "Poopy Helicopter!" the 5-year-old chimed in. They were off to the races, or at least the latrines, anyway, while I snapped away at these gleeful smiles in front of the Christmas paraphernalia. Honestly, I wasn't even going to object to "Poopy Jesus." Well yes I would've, but after I had gotten a good shot. Turns out that although many of these bowel-inspired shots were nice, they will probably end up on a calendar or mug, or something, because I liked their smiles better in the Helping with Dinner shot. I am also done shopping for the stocking stuffers at our local Walgreens and CVS stores. Floss! Toothbrushes! Toothpaste! Chapstick Brand chapstick! Yes, I got them chocolate santas too. And pencils that glitter. And bendable Scooby-Doo characters. Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow there will be time to pray.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & ...Crest?

I was doing some late-night food shopping the other day. It is the absolutely best time of day for me to go shopping, if it means I can leave the kids at home with Hubby. Because when I shop with the kids it is more of a triage situation, or a Swiss Family Robinson, "quick, let's get everything onto the raft before the boat sinks" type of deal. It is a constant war of Vegetables vs boxes festooned with Action Figures and Cartoon heroes. Yes, I know ideally you simply avoid the animation-laden aisles, but sometimes we need to replenish the crackers. Anyway, I was enjoying my time alone with my cart. Sauntering through produce, admiring the fruits, nuts and croutons. It was so relaxing I felt like popping the incredibly expensive seedless green grapes into my mouth if only I could get a stock clerk to fan me. So I had time to notice a strange sight near the organic vegetables where the fresh spices hang out. It looked like tubes of toothpaste. Very odd! And they weren't even stuck in there at crazy angles, the way shoppers do when they are having Dental Product Remorse and decide to skip brushing once they realize how expensive the bananas have become. Turns out, it wasn't toothpaste at all. It was spices jammed into a toothpaste type tube! Ready to spring out at your dinner with just a little too much pressure applied to the container! Or maybe this great invention has been around for a while and I only just noticed it now. Maybe all of you are out there squeezing cilantro into your culinary creations without a second thought. Maybe you are creating little faces with the ginger as you coax it out into a measuring device. Maybe you are having Basil Wars with your spice tubes if you drink too much wine during dinner preparations. I just don't know! There must be a demand for this sort of thing, right? Maybe not. They just created that viagra-class therapy for widows who have no interest and no one to date anyway. So I suppose demand is inconsequential. But the fact remains, these tubes exist. They are expecting someone to buy them. Probably me, because I like to use fresh spices, and the ones in the tubes are surely fresher than those powders in the teeny tiny containers. I am actually the sort of person (I should say, WAS the sort of person) who would buy fresh ginger root, lop off the bark, and then grind it up so I could use it in a homemade Chinese dish. So ginger in a tube sounds easier to me! That reminds me of an encounter I had with some ginger in this very same aisle a few months ago. I didn't have the energy to deal with the fresh ginger, but I noticed some that came in a jar. So I bought the jar. But when I got it home to use it, the top came right off. Let me repeat that in case you were napping. The top CAME RIGHT OFF. Like back in the olden days before packaging became a science! There was no plastic seal around the lid. No protective foil under the lid. No vacuum sealed "Ploink" sound when the top was removed. I didn't even need appliances to help remove the lid. It just opened. I was probably lucky I didn't hit myself in the jaw and fall to the floor with the amount of pressure I normally have to exert on a brand new lid. It was the culinary equivalent of unsafe sex. They expected me to interact in a nutritional way with Unprotected Spices! Now I remember the Tylenol deaths that resulted when those bottles were tampered with in the 1980s. (Thus introducing the modern era of Impossible to Penetrate Packaging.) And while it is highly unlikely that anyone was tampering with the ginger, it is hard to focus on that when the entire Ukrainian nation is transfixed by the recent poisoning of presidential candidate Yushchenko, who had his soup spiced up with dioxin this fall. If I were still single I would march back to the store with it and say, "Look, you can't SELL food this way anymore." But I didn't have the energy to do it. So I chucked the ginger. Even though there may be un-poisoned people in Africa craving Chinese food. I am ready to try the tubes of spices. They had better have a protective safety seal. I will insist that Hubby squeeze from the bottom. Never mind. He won't be allowed to touch them. He probably won't realize they're spices, anyway. He'll think I'm storing toothpaste in the fridge.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Liz Taylor Dies...but Otherwise is Feeling Fine

Let me state right off that Liz Taylor is alive as I'm typing this. The reason for the misleading headline is an item I read in the paper yesterday. The acclaimed actress has suffered a smorgasbord of health problems for years, most of them chronic conditions. Well the latest news is that she is suffering from congestive heart failure. But you know those cheerful spokespeople, always ready to spin news to the positive. On the heels of this announcement they add, "She's doing well and is moving on." I'm fine with the Doing Well Part. I think I would've even added she is Receiving Treatment. And perhaps, Responding Favorably! But Moving On? Who "moves on" from congestive heart failure? That sounds to me like it's time to buy flowers and compose a eulogy. So that is the point of my headline. I am ready to be some celebrity's Uber-Publicist. "Yes, she's dead, but she looks great!" "Sure, he's up on charges of child molestation, but he's been nominated for Baby-Sitter of the Year by the Incompetent Parents' Guild!" "Of course a stint in rehab is necessary, but he's donating his old blood to ex-heroin addicts." "Yeah, he grazed a pedestrian with his Hummer, but he was trying to put a stop to jaywalking." "It may LOOK like she's anorexic, but she's really just fasting and praying for world peace." "He wasn't trying to shoot his wife, she had a mosquito on her ear." (That one is just for accused killer Robert Blake.) "It wasn't exactly an affair, she was trying to broaden her husband's appreciation for polygamy." I guess it depends on what the meaning of "Is" ain't.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Christians Are Mad As Hell...

...and they're not gonna take it any more! That's how things are shaping up here locally, right in Bartow, Florida, the seat of Polk County. Which is not to imply that the proper name Bartow can be substituted for any other vernacular words implying "seat." I love Bartow! It's fun to pronounce with a drawl! Applying fresh meaning to the phrase "Onward Christian Soldiers," the good folks of Polk County have decided to Take Back Christmas from the secular heathens. Having drawn the battle lines so succinctly, I can't precisely ascertain where I fall. On the one hand I am a regular churchgoer who considers herself to have both a personal and sacramental relationship with Jesus. On the other hand, I do WAY too much shopping for this holiday, and we have "Scooby Doo" cling-on decorations in our house. Without permission or expressed, written consent, the Polk County Christians (under the cover of darkness) went ahead and BUILT AN ENTIRE MANGER SCENE ON THE COUNTY'S FRONT LAWN. Take that, elected officials! What are you gonna do about it? The reason for this undercover operation is that Polk County does not permit Nativity Scenes on Government Property. You would think they'd reconsider their indifference to God after three major hurricanes passed over the county buttocks, but no, they figure they'll just rely on insurance in case of disaster. So the county's administration has this unwanted display, and as a local reporter put it, we don't know if the Baby Jesus is going to be evicted prior to His birthday or not. And doesn't this conjure up the same sense of hospitality as the Innkeeper who told the Holy Family there was no room at the inn? To add to the sense of inappropriateness permeatiing this whole affair, the county's attorney sent the responsible church group a nasty letter, calling the display both trespassing and an Illegal Erection. Egads! I am thinking now that the first Christmas salvo has been fired, futher hostilities may ensue. Perhaps the Nativity Scene statues will be taken into custody. Maybe the church group will napalm the lawn. Perhaps passersby will sport bumper stickers saying "Honk if you love Jesus." County commissioners may have to fine the perpetrators. (read: Tax Collectors) Supportive citizens may bombard County Hall with religious-themed holiday cards. Will the county take back control of the lawn? Or will they leave it under the influence of the Holy Family and assorted worshippers? Only time will tell, but I can't help but admire the Christians for their derring-do. (Figure, most of these folks were grandparents.) And if Polk County happens to merit some extra graces by tolerating this display at Christmas-time, well I'll take that too. So for now, from Polk County, we can officially wish you a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Mankind Faces Extinction...Sort Of

Just read the alarming news that in the opinion of a prominent New Zealand scientist mankind runs the distinct risk of becoming extinct within 100 years. You know, I'm all for nice round numbers, but that figure of 100 has a big, fat problem. Namely, no one reading about it will be alive to experience "going extinct." We will all be quite dead and gone! Except, possibly, for Miss Jane Pittman, who is about 150 and still going strong. Not only am I excluded from this being an immediate worry, it pretty much excludes my children, and even any potential grandchildren will be of retirement age by 2104, so this solves the whole Social Security Debacle for them! See, I knew there had to be an up side to this news. If they had chosen a number like 18 years we might be a little more worried. The reason for us going extinct will be some combination of global warming, consumption of excess diet sodas, and the fact that everyone in the U.S. dissatisfied with the outcome of this year's presidential election will have moved to Greenland, causing a big depression in the northern hemisphere. (Physical...psychological...does it really matter?) Another way to look at this news is that it's incredibly optimistic, given what's going on globally between the fall of the dollar (reportedly greenbacks are comparing unfavorably to cereal prizes these days, with foreigners dumping dollars in favor of Count Chocula), the arms race (which is barely reported on between updates on the size of "former fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson's jail cell," and the sneak attack that Russia has been plotting since 1989, backed by China. Whoops! Wasn't supposed to let that one out, but what the hey, no one has time to build fallout shelters anyway. I've never understood the fuss over extinction anyway. Are we worried there will be no one to read our ancient diaries or look at our dissolving home videos? Environmentalists complain often enough that we are "destroying" the planet; well so what if we make it uninhabitable? Then it'll be the biggest Empty Bus Shelter you ever saw! My thought is that we need to start planning right now as to what kind of monuments to leave behind for anyone who comes across the planet in future millenia. A pile of nuclear waste was not my idea of a testament to Civilization.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hark, the Herald IRS Agents Sing

Last night was the 5-year-old's school Christmas Pageant, dubbed "The Christmas Pagick" by our 3-year-old. (The 3-year-old declared he wasn't going because "I have homework." As if.) The 5-year-old has been practicing for his part for weeks...maybe even months. His sense of time is flawed; he told us rehearsals had been going on for some million years prior to the actual performance. Perhas we could carbon date his costume. Anyway, this was no boring old play with stock cardboard characters like Joseph (family man), Mary (long-suffering wife), and "Jesus." (cute prop with no speaking parts) No! It was a musical extravaganza with updated characters and jazzy background accompaniement. However it still retained its religious character, it must be noted. This is after all a Catholic school. They can't throw out the Baby with the holy water. It was designed to be highly entertaining along with religiously edifying, which meant lots of singing along with fluorescent costumes. Our son was one of the Celestial IRS agents. Who knew the tax collectors were going to get such an exciting role? And at a minimum I would have to admit it was taxing, no matter how much time they spent in the pew awaiting their turn in front of the manger. I guess sheep are out of favor these days, or maybe they wanted to give it a distinctly American flavor, since the parts that normally go to shepherds were played by a couple dozen first or second grade "cowboys." With drawls! Which isn't that hard to obtain here in Florida. Fortunately they did not decide to replace the non-human manger scene participants with Florida-like creatures such as gators, panthers or fire ants. We sat with the rest of the audience in the pews because the glass-enclosed crying room was filled with 4-year-olds awaiting their turn to sing. I secretly slipped the 3-year-old Wheat Thins to keep him quiet. After the first number (performed by the 4-year-olds in the PreKindergarten class) there was enthusiastic applause by the parents. This caused our 3-year-old to step out into the aisle, hold up his hand like a traffic cop (all five fingers spread wide) and shout, "Stop this noise!" I am not sure if he was bothered by the clapping, or if he was just relaying to them what we had previously told him about the need for silence during the performance. Eventually the cowboys drawled, the IRS agents sang, a choir of kids in crowns cavorted, and at last Jesus came in what was billed "Miracle at Midnight." The miracle for us was that we didn't have to leave the performance with the 3-year-old before it was over. Now if our 5-year-old becomes an accountant, we'll know what got him started.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What Amount of Money Buys Happiness?

Fortunately in our society we have answers to everything, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that an exact amount has been calculated in terms of an annual salary that will make you happy. I think they rounded it off to make for a nice figure, and that figure is $40,000. This has been confirmed by an article in Oprah Magazine (didn't read it!) and some Harvard psychologist (never heard of him!) But figure, while the Oprah people may fall short on the academic research for their conclusions, and the Harvard geniuses may forget to take into account Real Life, they are in agreement on this one. So it must be true! (I am awaiting an announcement by Oprah about the upcoming multi-million dollar salary cut.) The reason is that if your salary goes from, say, $20,000 to $40,000 annually, you will definitely be able to move to a nicer neighborhood and stop buying every last thing on sale. But if your salary goes from 40K to 80K, your life doesn't improve enough to outweigh the accompanying hassles and new expenses. Like you might move to a neighborhood where people care what kind of car you drive. And you might have to insure your jewelry if it's worth anything! This is why I buy cheap sunglasses. So I don't have to have remorse when I sit on them. When we visited Naples, Florida (which is pretty ritzy) Hubby said we would look like the Beverly Hillbillies compared to these people. And who needs to wait in a two-hour line for a restaurant? Once you hit that magical $40,000 figure, you're better off working on enjoying what you have and improving your outlook on life, rather than finding ways to make more money. It turns out the people at the top of the earning charts are just as dissatisfied as the people at the bottom! They are never making enough to be happy. And they are always comparing themselves to other wealthier people, and somehow imagining that THOSE people must be happier. When I look at celebrities there seems to be a brief period of time when they are on the way up that they seem ecstatic. They are making more money than they've ever seen in their lives, and people are stopping them on the street for autographs! Everyone knows their name and is sending them a script. A few years later their careers are stalled, or their work seems boring, or they've had a few flops or bad reviews. Then the tabloids make up stories about them and dissect their every weight gain, DUI crash or public spat. And all these stupid fans are interrupting their dinners with requests for autographs. Life was better way back when! But I have to say life was perfect when I was seven. And I wasn't even making close to 40K.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Should I Reason With Him?

You may have gotten the impression that our 3-year-old's meltdowns occur mainly in less familiar settings such as airplane trips, miniature golf courses and graduations. But the fact of the matter is these meltdowns are as unpredictable as a sneeze, and about as easy to control. For instance. Today we were going to pick up the 5-year-old from school. This happens each day, Monday through Friday, at an assigned time. He is usually a good traveling companion, cheerful and cute, often asking his brother brightly, "How was your day?" like a pint-sized concierge. Today was no different. At first. I was standing in the crowd of parents holding up the sign that would cause someone from the school to call my son's name to come to the door of the "herding" area. (Sometimes they pop up to the door like fish, where you can see them, and then they swirl back into the student crowd and you have to wait for another sighting.) While I was vainly holding my sign waiting for someone to notice, the 3-year-old was edging off the grass and perilously close to the parking lot. I told him he needed to stay on the grassy area or I would have to pick him up. Today he decided this was a challenge. He put one foot on the pavement, looked at me. I was still holding the sign. Then the other foot came down. I came over and picked him up before he could go further. He began wriggling. I held him by the torso while still holding the sign aloft. Eventually he squirmed onto the ground and lay there with "mad face" while a teacher finally called my other son's name. The 3-year-old lay spread out on the ground and began issuing threats. "I'm going to hit you," he declared. " "Well then I'll have to kiss you," I replied. "I'm going to bite you!" he shouted. Other parents were eyeing him. "Not in a good mood today, huh?" one parent said to me. "I'm going to batter you!" he yelled. Finally the 5-year-old had emerged from the school and was ready to leave with us. "I'm going to SCRATCH you!" he said. "Why is he on the ground?" the 5-year-old asked me. "No reason," I said. "He wants to be in the parking lot." He STILL wanted to be in the parking lot. I informed him he had to hold my hand in the parking lot, or I would have to carry him. Because the traffic patterns are very messy during after school pick up. There is a car line, a pickup at the door of the school area, cars parking, cars leaving, cars arriving, and cars doing 18-point turns in a tight area. They cannot watch every little head that dashes in front of their bumper. That's our job. The 3-year-old announced he was going to RUN through the parking lot. I caught him as he came out of his grassy gate. "Then I guess I'll have to hold you," I said. "NOOOOOOOOoooooo!" he shrieked. He tried to grab my glasses but I was ready for him, holding him toward the ground at a 45 degree angle. I asked the 5-year-old to carry the sign (which is showing a significant amount of wear) and to stay close to us. Other parents gave us a wide berth as I held three limbs and part of a torso while carrying him across the lot. "PUT. ME. DOWN!!!!!" He was howling his displeasure. Every ten feet or so I had to change my hold on him or risk having him squirt out of my arms onto the pavement. Some of the drivers in other cars were wide-eyed watching his Houdini-like performance. At one point he was perpendicular to the ground and I had him by the a knee and ankle. We finally reached a remote area of the lot where I had parked our van. I like to park in wide open spaces for just such an emergency. Unfortunately in one of those weird coincidences some parent in a nice car not only parked right next to me, but with barely enough room for me to open the door. I somehow managed to get the door open without scraping her car and herd the 5-year-old in. Then the other driver showed up with her middle school age son. I knew getting the 3-year-old into the car seat with the door open was going to be a lengthy process, so I closed the door and waited near her front tire so she could get in her car and, hopefully, make a quick exit. But no, she was sort of staring at the 3-year-old's tantrum, fumbling through her purse, gazing at her kid, who was saying impatiently, "Could you open my DOOR?" Meanwhile I was trying very hard to maintain a good grip on the 3-year-old because he was still shrieking and I was afraid he was going to rip her windshield wiper off or dent her hood. She finally sat in her car and was adjusting her makeup or something. And looking at me like she couldn't understand what I was doing there with a howling child. WAITING FOR YOU TO PULL AWAY SO I CAN OPEN THE DOOR, LADY. He came very close to putting an Elmo sneaker imprint on her nice door. Getting him into the car seat really required the assistance of four burly state troopers but somehow I found reserves of strength I didn't know I had. I can only praise the Child Seat Industry that he can't undo the buckles yet. The shrieking continued for the entire 15-minute ride home, with him ordering me to leave the car. He was crying so hard I thought he was going to throw up. He started making horse-like noises. Every time I looked back at him he got louder. As we pulled into the neighborhood with him still sobbing I said, "That's it. Your getting a bad behavior stick when you get home." (A stick is a mark on the refrigerator. Not a beating. Ahem.) Then when I finally came to get him out of his seat he blubbered, "But I said I'm SORRY." "That's great!" I said. "I didn't know you were sorry. You don't have to have the stick." When we got in the house he was done. And I still don't know what caused the meltdown to begin with.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Planet Spam

We have a variety of Imaginary Places that we like to visit in literature: Dorothy's Oz, Alice's Wonderland, Frodo's Middle Earth. But I am wondering what it looks like to live on a planet we should all be familiar with to one degree or another -- Planet Spam. The neighborhoods there are filled with cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of empty houses. Everyone on the planet owns at least a dozen houses with two or three low-cost mortgages each, but obviously they can only live in one at a time. People don't eat foods there, they just take pails full of vitamin pills, some of which can lengthen your lifespan by 25 years. At which point you can retire to one of your many housing options. Of course then men on Planet Spam all have penises the size of small trees. They lug them around in public with the help of those carriers designed for skis. But no matter how big they get, they need to buy new creams each day in the hope of ever greater enlargement. Engineering specialists on Planet Spam are working on ways to redesign public and private transportation options to accommodate these ever-growing members. At the moment the men all use stairs, even in tall buildings. They don't dare get in the elevator. On Planet Spam everyone has a financial advisor based in Nigeria who is busy investing the multi-millions that the person has earned by helping someone take advantage of a Great Opportunity. The women are all really thin, too, because they are able to lose a pound a day without cutting any calories. (They will need to be extremely thin in order to fit in the bed with their husband's ridiculously-sized organs.) The people on Planet Spam don't speak English, exactly. The speak a variant that resembles English but with a lot of hard-to-pronounce symbols interspersed which translates roughly to occasional burping sounds when you are speaking. Something like, Hi! Nic$ to meet you, Mr. Smi%^th. We're so Gl*^d you were able to j@&in our cong#(5grega@$tion. If a burp is not physically possible then you just substitute a swear word. Whenever anyone makes a request on Planet Spam you must do what they ask immediately, or risk being told over and over and over (complete with rapid fire burps and swears) until you comply. However once a day you are able to delete all un-completed requests from your mind and you can start fresh the next day. If on any given day your mind gets filled with more requests than your brain can process, then you are allowed to return to one of your heavily mortgaged homes, lock the doors and draw the curtains. Entertainment on Planet Spam is X-rated of course, with hot teens of every variety and all your favorite celebrities performing unnatural acts. The mildest programs shown during the daytime and family hour are rated Triple X, while cable and more mature fare is rated "AP" for American Pi, constituting an endless number of dirty digits. I hope our children's children to not grow up to be natives of Planet Spam.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I've Never Decked Any Halls

Our house is a Christmas Wonderland, rivaling the old Harlem-Genesee store in Buffalo. It is all due to Hubby's efforts. His Christmas Mania is not limited to Santas (although that is a primary manifestation). We actually have two full rooms in our house, the living room and dining room, that have nothing in them but Christmas paraphernalia. Now it is a happy coincidence that those rooms aren't furnished anyway, since we haven't gotten around to buying furniture for them yet. This is why when we have people over the snacks are confined to the "great room" and the "kitchen." The only way to eat in the living room or dining room would be in conjunction with the kids' inflatable castle. Which has been deflated for the holidays. It was either that, or start stringing up lights on it. Now I am no Bah Humbugger when it comes to Christmas. (Egads. I just made Scrooge sound gay. Well there's speculation for a future Christmas party.) I like Christmas just as much as the next person. However when the Next Person happens to be Hubby, it DOES tend to make me look like my attitude is more of a HO HO HO HUM. Which is totally not true! I love the baking cookies part! And the eating of Christmas foods! And the Christamas carols! And the cards! Okay, I doth protest too much. I really just like to eat. But I'm fine doing it in the glow of blinking lights! All right I'll admit the parts I don't like. All these details. Tons of stuff. Things to remember. Lists I can't find. Receipts I have to save. Deadlines I need to make. Maintaining the Christmas Spirit even when someone signals left and swerves right. Basically with me it is an Organizational Nightmare. And I used to have coping skills for it. For example. When I was single I had this Christmas tree that was about two or three feet tall. I would place it on a tray table (no special equipment needed!) and I was all set. Then when Christmas was over I would throw a Hefty Bag over it, secure it with a twist tie, and stick it in the closet until next year. Without removing any of the ornaments! I treated it like a plastic palm with a jewelry problem. I also had this manger scene that was a one-piece ceramic thing that fit into the palm of your hand. I would bring that in to work, plop it on my file cabinet, and I was all set there too! No more decorating needed! This minimalist approach to Christmas did not in any way lessen the impact of the season for me. If you really want to look at Christmas decor you can always go into a department store or swivel your head as you drive around the neighborhood. And there is no shortage of Christmas music playing from every possible amplifier. But this left me with plenty of free time to do something more useful, such as go to a few daily Masses. All of which have cool readings at this time of year. But now I have to have a Family Approach toward Christmas activities, even if this involves viewing parades and installing life-size glowing things on the lawn complete with surge protectors and ground fault interruptus issues. Fortunately Hubby does all the heavy lifting for Christmas (figuratively and literally) and I focus on things like the Christmas card and newsletter, and maybe getting the cookies made. Also I swear I'll find the holiday music CDs before December 24th. I forget what I did with that 2-foot tree. Any takers?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

How about this for a tree-topper? Posted by Hello

Angels in decidedly war-like mood! Posted by Hello

Angels OVER America

It is the seasonal time of year for angels, and for the past several years Angel Stories have abounded in popular literature. Not sure if these are True Stories, Figments of Overactive Imaginations, Wishful Thinking, or Urban Legends with Wings. But angels are part of our culture whether they are of the religious variety, or simply come in the guise of a Homeless Sage. Now I am here to tell you they are making their presence known in a more visual way. They are trying to insert themselves in our holiday greeting cards! This is what Washingtonian Carrie Devorah discovered as she was photographing a Chabad Menorah during the first night of Hanukkah at D.C.'s Ellipse area (I guess the two red lights are on the Washington Memorial, although the building itself is barely visible to the left of the candles.) Devorah's Menorah (and someday that should be made into a fun Jewish children's rhyme) is in the foreground in the shot, but then in the upper right of the picture are some weird, glowing blue shapes that she thinks may have Angelic Implications. She saw the lights at the time she took the shot, and was surprised at their clarity once the photos were developed. I have to admit it definitely looks like a celestial version of Battling Tops. So if these ARE angels, the message is decidedly war-like. (Note: I didn't look it up, but I have always understood the term angel to refer to "heavenly messenger.") News of Jesus' birth was routed to the virgin Mary not via the mail, but by God's Instant Messaging system: an Archangel. Now people being how they are in this country it is only a matter of time before someone tries to shoot the angels down and take them home like a 12-point buck. "Look, honey, do you know how to prepare angels?" (First, remove the wings...) Or someone will steal it like the inflatable Sponge Bobs that are being kidnapped from the nation's Burger Kings as we speak. Or the Secret Service will arrest the angels for trespassing and they will be detained as Enemy Combatants. Or mabe they will be seen as immigrants and get jobs driving cabs in New York City. But I will admit the world seems to be in a heightened state of confusion that could perhaps use the intervention of angels. And if they have a protection racket going, so much the better. Sign me up! Now if an angel appeared to us in our sleep, would we heed the instructions given? Or would we stop the late night snacking? I don't think Guardian Angels are mythological creatures like the Dental Fairy and the Easter Hare. I believe in both flossing and heavenly aid. But in order to hear our angels, I think we need to be (as Elmer Fudd would say) "vewwwy, vewwwy quiet." Because God speaks to us in the silence and openess of our hearts. Leave it to God to attract our attention with a Heavenly Blue Light Special.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

What an SUV Really is

People concerned about the environment and highway safety have been railing against SUVs (Super Unhealthy Vehicles) for some time now. They write impassioned letters to the editor begging drivers to stop buying them. Reporters write column after column detailing just why these vehicles are Evil: Bad Gas Mileage! Poor Safety Records! Tendency to Roll Over! Harms Other Smaller Vehicles! Blocks Vision of Other Drivers! Pulverizes Cars of Other Drivers! And so forth. And many people have noted that these vehicles are designed for off-road "sports" type of occasions where you have a gun rack and return home with a carcass. Instead people are just using them to drive faster on icy highways with the 4-wheel-drive feature. (Which is why you see so many SUVs positioned at crazy angles after they slide onto the median.) It is the fashion equivalent of showing up at work in climbing gear in case a mountaintop blizzard should break out right in your cubicle. Never mind that the entire box of office doughnuts plunged to the floor when it got caught on your ice pick as you lumbered past! Well I'm here to tell you something about all these Guilt Campaigns you have been mounting to get people out of their SUVs. IT ISN'T WORKING. I haven't done any scientific surveys, but I have been out on the road. Surrounded by SUVs. None of whose drivers look guilty. Some of them are busy swatting their kids in the back seat, but they are not planning hunting and fishing trips. People who do that wouldn't be caught dead in an SUV. They buy rugged looking pickups. So I'm going to offer you free of charge a public relations campaign that is more likely to get people to stop buying SUVs. In fact they will probably trade them in the next day as soon as this campaign gets underway. Here it is, in all its glorious simplicity. The next time you see an SUV owner, take a good look at the vehicle, admire it a bit, and then say to the proud owner: "I like your STATION WAGON." It is important to say this loudly enough so that everyone else can hear it, so it has a fuller effect. The owner will blanch, of course, make a nervous laugh, and then point out the obvious, "This is an SUV!" At which point you will chuckle, slap this person on the back and say, "These things are for carting kids around. The automakers may be building them bigger so they can charge you more every time you need a tire, but it's still a STATION WAGON. Anytime anyone sees these on the road they think STATION WAGON WITH BIG WHEELS." If the owner does not immediately run screaming into the house, he or she may start calculating the trade-in value before you leave the premises. Be sure to keep this up everywhere you go. "Nice STATION WAGON!" you should yell out every time someone's window is rolled down. Once these owners realize they are not fooling anyone, they may give up their gas-guzzling, safety-challenged, road-hogging vehicles. They will be forced to stuff their kids into the glove compartment of a Corvette. Note: I drive a full-sized van that could crush an SUV. I call it my Partridge Family Vehicle, so I am immune to any status-conscious ploys. Actually I would like one of those big old station wagons with the wood grain paneling. Then everyone would know it was us when they saw us driving around town!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I'd Better Not Pout

We had only been dating two months when it became obvious to me Hubby-to-be had a Problem. It was evident the moment I stepped into his living room in Orchard Park, shortly after Thanksgiving. It was not a small problem. It was Everywhere. The question was, should I continue dating him, or should I get him some help? You see, there was simply no hiding the fact that he is Santa-Obsessed. And his family was enabling him, purchasing ever more exotic Santas with each passing year. They were helping him to feed his frenzy. It was obvious he was not going to admit to his problem. He pretends to this day that "others" are simply "Santa-deprived," or "Not In Touch With Their Inner Santa," or possibly, "In Denial About Their Deep-Seated Santa Urges." So I really had no hope of changing him. And really, why should I want to change someone who derives such joy from the Christmas season, when so many of us in the world are jaded, cynical and tired of shopping? He has Santas from every country (not sure about Myanmar, though) and historical Santas through the ages. We have golfing Santa, medical Santa, baseball Santa...I'm sure you can envision the variety. To date I have not noticed Iraqi Insurgent Santa, Space Alien Santa or Animal Rights Santa. This last I believe we will never see, as obviously there is the ongoing issue of the Enslavement of the Reindeer. For most of the year the Santas all live upstairs in a specially designated Christmas Attic that is separate from our Regular Attic. Hubby released them all recently, so now they have taken up positions in our living room and dining room. Last year they engulfed the piano, looking like the Santa Tabernacle Choir with facial hair. This year he bought them a special table so they would not be overcrowded since they are competing with nutcrackers, Christmas villages and trains. You are probably wondering, when is he going to hit Rock Bottom? Admit he has a problem and ask others to intervene to help solve the Santa Problem? The answer is never. You see this is only a problem for people who don't "get" Santa. It is not a problem for Hubby, and while I am in awe over his collection and devotion to it, it is not a problem for me. It is part of who Hubby is. Santa is a warm and fuzzy extension of the central religious meaning of Christmas (he is not nicknamed "St. Nick" for advertising purposes), and that is what we are celebrating. Little do the children know that Hubby IS Santa, for them, anyway, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I love Santa.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I Am the Kids' Cruise Director

We do not own a boat of any kind, yet I am the kids' Cruise Director. I concluded this over the weekend when we had two separate birthday parties to attend. The 5-year-old even turned down a half-day Music Camp experience in order to go to one of these parties. They officially have better social lives than we do. On Saturday we attended the party of one of the 5-year-old's classmates. Fortunately these Kindergarten extravaganzas are designed to accommodate younger siblings, so the 3-year-old's social life is also better than mine and Hubby's. Although this party was located at a suburban house, the parents were outnumbered by huge quantities of Rented Wildlife. Wait, that isn't quite right. These were tame animals. They were Rented Farm Creatures. The Farm Creatures came complete with personal bodyguards and trainers (a.k.a. ranch hands, or more likely it was the farmer, his wife and his kids in the dell. The Cheese Stood Alone.) The Farm Personnel wisely brought along farm animal restraints such as portable wire pens and horse accessories. The 5-year-old was thrilled at the possibility of riding the two ponies, while the 3-year-old told me he was shy around animals. That didn't last terribly long. Eventually he broke the ice and chased a few panic-stricken rabbits around the portable pen, trying to shove hay up their nostrils. If rabbits do ingest hay, I believe it is not taken nasally. Hubby had to work, or he would've been at my side shooting amazing video footage of Perturbed Chickens, Goats and Sheep. In addition to the animals there were other kid-friendly activities such as a purple plastic horseshoe game, face painting, a funky craft (I try not to get too close to crafts for fear of being contaminated with glue and sparkles), and sack races. Interestingly, many of the children were racing between bales of hay (also provided by the farmer) while the sacks lay unused on the ground. Later the 5-year-old explained to Hubby that "Sack Races" is just what they called the racing, but there was no such thing as Sacks. According to him sacks are an imaginary object. Just as well! I'm sure there were fewer injuries that way. Later there were catered McNuggets. This was after the 3-year-old prematurely discovered the party's Animal Cracker Supply and consumed most of it. He also managed to touch most of the chunks of cantaloupe before consuming half a platter of those. He didn't schedule his meltdown until the Cake Stage of the party (precipitating event: desire to scale the hosts' fence to an off-limits playground). Today's party was thrilling to the kids in a completely different way. It was held at the YMCA, which does not allow animals on the premises. Instead it offers an elaborate play area that is almost completely padded, so the kids can literally run into the walls and you don't have to yell at them until they bounce off and land on other children. And this was really unnecessary because there was a large pit of foam squares a bit bigger than bread loaves that the kids could jump in. So they all jumped onto each other in this pit. Understandably, the 3-year-old told me he was shy around foam, at least for the first 10 minutes or so. Then he ran up to the pit and jumped on his brother. The 5-year-old actually preferred this party, mainly because there were many games involving running, crawling and shrieking. He acquired two brush burns and several bruises. I should note that as soon as we arrived at this party the 3-year-old said loudly, "I'm HUNGRY." After all the parents turned to look at me, he bellowed, "I'm STARVING." You would not know I had just fed these children lunch. The pizza was not scheduled until a full hour of interaction with the foam pieces had been completed. When it was time for pizza the rest of the children were contentedly munching on their slices. The 3-year-old was already finished and saying, "Where's the CAKE? I want CAKE." After the singing was done the 3-year-old ate both his piece of cake and his brother's. Fortunately there were a lot of wipes. I am fairly certain that even the Rented Farm Animals have better social lives than Hubby and I. In fact they were on a strict schedule to get to their next engagement. Hubby and I just like to sprawl on the couch in exhaustion and admire the holiday decorations that take up our entire living room and dining room. I will describe this eventually. Because we're sure the kids will be having their friends over to look at it.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Speed Reading for the Distracted

There has been a book on Hubby's nightstand for a long time now. Long enough that there are water glass marks on the cover and the pages are curling up at the edges. Possibly there are some fossilized dust mites nestling in the binding. The name of this book is: 10 Days to Faster Reading. Now. Please don't think I am making fun of Hubby. Really, I'm not. It has taken me more than 10 days to getting around to bringing up the subject. And as far as I can tell Hubby has no difficulty reading at a fairly rapid pace. But he buys books on speed reading in the same vein that I buy books on conquering clutter. He doesn't have time to read the speed reading books, and I can't find the clutter books. My point is that this is a ridiculous title for a book. It's like a 200-page punch line. It touts self improvement in only minutes a day! But the real question is, how many years is that book going to remain on the nightstand before it gets replaced by one of MY books: "Finding things you forgot you owned by re-arranging stacks of objects in your bedroom." Actually Hubby bought a new Palmtop recently, and then declared I could have his old one if I could find it. You see he had one before we moved (a year and a half ago) and it hasn't been seen at least since 2003. This was obviously an item he never fully utilized or we would have launched an all-out search by now. Anyway, today in the process of trying to find a place to store our new turkey fryer I came across the old Palmtop unit! With the charging cord! Don't ask me what it was doing in the pantry above last year's candy canes and the emergency hearing protection ear thingies. So it was like an early Christmas present. I can't wait to see what exciting self improvement book Hubby is going to put on his Christmas list this year. I think he is planning to teach the kids to speak Italian without the useful intermediary step of us learning it first. Ciao!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Amherst Pellet Project Poops Out

Or perhaps the subtitle should be, "What are these people smoking?" (Answer: Fertilizer Pellets) The joke's on Amherst. Or is it Clarence? Or perhaps the man in charge of running a decade-long project designed to turn sewage into marketable fertilizer pellets. No, not convicted killer Scott Peterson, although this job sounds tailor-made for him. Maybe we could get him assigned to Attica. The gist of it is that the town of Amherst faced escalating costs for treating its de-liquefied sewage, aka "sludge" and was looking for a way to reduce costs. Enter the Duke and the Dauphin, no, wait, make that the marketing manager for New Coke, hold it, okay, let's go with The Emperors New Men's Shop. Well, whomever it was, the brilliant idea was to transform the sludge into marketable fertilizer pellets which would no longer cost the town to dispose of, but rather would earn income that would offset other expenses. Great idea! I have always wanted to use coffee grounds for mulch or rain runoff for gas or ordinary household dust for drugs to be sold on the black market. So why not sludge into fertilizer pellets? Unfortunately there were some significant startup costs, and they had to hire the Wizard of Oz to oversee the project. It took years to come to fruition, but when it finally did they were in the Waste Marketing Business big time. The Miracle Pellets were christened "AmEarth" a funky combination of Amherst and the planet upon which it sits (precariously, it must be noted, as Amherst moves ten feet closer to China every time a car strikes a deer in the area.) Not dissuaded by any tenuous link to the term "Amway" (would the whole town soon be able to retire and spend the rest of their lives sailing their yachts around the aforementioned planet?), the town plunged ahead with its plan. I would have come up with a name reminiscent of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound era of music and called the product "Stoolettes." The town spent $16 million on plans, equipment, operating expenses, and of course "consultants." (I of course was not consulted. I would've asked what other town in America was successfully funding their local ice skating rink by selling people its leftover sewage. After I received the list I would've wiped my butt with it. Recycling! Perhaps reams of paper from the town meeting's minutes can be turned into a product called Fharmin.) Anyway. Well 1998 turned out to be a banner year for Sludge Sales, with 682 tons of pellets being sold to local farmers and others. (Retail price: unknown. But this is Buffalo. I'm sure everyone used their coupons and took advantage of 2 tons for the price of one specials.) At last Amherst, one of the most prestigious suburbs of the Buffalo area, was ready to stake its reputation as King of the Cowpies. Buffalo too could benefit from the added cachet of being associated with such a successful project. Forget the Rust Belt! We could be the Colony of Compost. The Deans of Decomposition. The Emperors of Entropy. Or whatever the chamber of commerce could think up to cash in on our revitalized aura. But after 1998 a suspicious odor began emanating from the project. It was not the Sweet Smell of Success. By the turn of the millenium instead of seeing glowing reports in Business Week, Forbes and Fertilizer Daily, they were looking at red ink. And complaints from towns such as Clarence, which felt its residents were being overcharged for expenses due to a questionable project that no one had a say in. The town was still furiously producing the pellets, but was now only selling 12 percent of them. Many of the farmers were taking away tons of pellets for free. As a charitable thing. At least Amherst wasn't paying for having the stuff hauled away. You see there's another problem with the odiferous little pellets. They are combustible. Yes! They have a tendency to burst into flames at odd moments, such as when the Niagara River is flowing. To top it off, the town has spent exorbitant amounts of money trying to sack the project manager, whom they blame for the whole mess. Others say he is being scapegoated for telling the truth, which according to him is that the project was poorly planned. (d'ya think?) Of course the town followed improper procedures in attempting the disciplinary action, costing even more money and causing the poor fellow to be reinstated. (I call him "poor fellow" only in deference to how this must look on a resume.) So now everyone is upset, and the locals in those sewage districts are left holding the bag (perhaps it has been affixed to the town's collective rear end, like they do with horses in New York City). But there is a silver lining in all this. If Buffalo really runs into trouble with its whole budget and taxing crisis, it can always send up a flare. Just run up to Amherst and light a match.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

One Rocket Fuel Milkshake

The headline writers take their jobs seriously, and the number one priority, I think, is to scare us all into thinking things are bad and getting worse, and, generally, Death is Imminent. Which may be true, of course, but I don't necessarily care to be reminded of it. Like today's headlines informing us that rocket fuel has somehow worked itself into our food supply. Well heck with that. If it's good enough for the space shuttle, it's good enough for me! And if it isn't rocket fuel it's some other odious substance such as dioxin, depleted uranium or windshield washer fluid. You could also make the point that we've been consuming pesticides daily for decades and there are still eight billion of us and counting. Imagine how many there would be if we DIDN'T season our food with pestidcides. I think we should just fight back by deliberately contaminating the rocket fuel with organic vegetables. We could chuck several hundred heads of broccoli into the tank and watch the rockets refuse to perform. "I can't fire up. The broccoli TOUCHED my fuel. I HATE broccoli." Plus there are the stories you hear about this that and the other chemical substance now found in the human body that isn't supposed to be there, like mercury, DDT and Olestra. If people thought they could lose weight by eating DDT I'm sure they would. After all, we are already eating synthetic fat in an effort to avoid looking like Kirstie Alley. I am glad they give me a lead shield when they X-ray my teeth, but some days it just feels like you could wear a lead shield all day long and you STILL wouldn't be safe from environmental assault. Especially if there is rocket fuel in the McNuggets.