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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Rough Draft of My Doctoral Thesis:The Aesthetics of M&Ms


I'm fixated on M&Ms lately. They're so convenient to eat. I have a crystal cookie jar in my livingroom that I have turned into the candy jar (what does that tell you about things at my house?), and I routinely empty large bags of both peanut and plain M&Ms into it. Recently, I noticed--much to my chagrin--how horridly gaudy they've become.

I blame it on the blue.

There really was no reason to add the blue one into the mix. The original mix was so pleasant: a rather natural and almost autumnal blend of red, green, yellow, orange, tan, and brown. Take a moment to appreciate how lovely the colors look together. Nice, isn't it?

And then, in a misbegotten marketing ploy to hype sales and rekindle interest in what many may have seen as an impossibly old-fashioned confection, the people at M&M/Mars Company decided to launch a campaign whereby the public got to vote on a new color of M&M. And blue won. Did they tell us that poor old tan would be replaced? Honestly, I don't remember. But look at the M&Ms now: red, green, yellow, orange, brown, and blue. Yuck. That's just wrong. It's like...a tutu at a funeral. It's Grandma at pole-dancing class. It's Michael Jackson in...you finish that one.

Sigh. I miss the old M&Ms. And I hate the fussy "Holiday M&Ms", too. Until the day after the Holiday. Then they get marked down to 50% off and I can dump them by the double-bagful into the crystal cookie/candy jar.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

How Appropriate that Streisand Sang about Memories


I took a class in the 80s about learning styles. According to its theory, you could supposedly assess a person's dominant learning mode by asking him to recall a childhood memory and observe his eye movement: if the individual looked upward to remember, he was a visual learner; if he looked to either side, he was an auditory learner; and, if he looked down, a kinesthetic-tactual or "hands-on" learner. It's a fun little experiment that doesn't really prove much.

One thing I know for certain, human beings are powerful olfactory, or smell, recallers. We are greatly and profoundly moved to memory by smells. There is a compendium of research to back this up, but I don't need it. I live it.

One whiff of Final Net hairspray and I'm back in 1977. You see, I got my waist-length hair cut in the "Farrah Fawcett" style, all feathered and layered. In order to maintain those perfectly symmetrical wings, I used a ton of the stuff every Friday and Saturday night before hitting the disco. No way a chick could line dance and hustle and try Stayin' Alive and still look good without half a bottle of good old Final Net to lacquer down the 'do.

I absolutely cannot abide any candy or drink that is grape flavored. Why? Blame it on Dimetapp. When my eldest son was in his childhood, he practically lived on the stuff. He never just got a cold; he always got an ear infection with it, and that meant reducing the congestive fluid. Enter Dimetapp, the grape flavored decongestant. Every time I smell artificial grape flavoring, I am vaulted back to sleepless nights, trips to the pediatrician's office where there is always a 45 minute wait in a cramped waiting room full of snuffly kids, and that jittery feeling of wondering whether or not your kid will end up with a worse illness than what he was there for in the first place.

Hot tea with lemon = illness. At least it does for me. When I was a kid, I got it all. Scarlet fever, tonsillitis, German measles, mono, strep a million times, a kazillion chesty colds, chicken pox. At the forefront of all my mom's curative arsenals was hot tea with lemon. Now just the smell of it makes me feel achy and sick. A general malaise blankets my body almost immediately. I won't allow anyone in my house to prepare it. Earl Grey comes close to triggering the response. Dangerously.

I have the usual pleasant aromatic associations that most people do. The Christmassy smells of cinnamon and pine, Thanksgiving's turkey and pumpkin pie, the powdery pleasance of drowsy babies. Walking into a chocolatier gives me warm memories of my aunt and uncle's candy shop where I used to hang out with a favorite cousin and pick chocolatey drips off of the enrober. But the so-called "new car smell" that automobile fanciers rave about eludes me. I just don't get it. I guess it's because I just see cars as a necessity--I drive a 1996 Ford and hope to for a long, long time.

My husband doesn't wear any cologne or aftershave. He never did. Once, I bought him some that I really liked. It was Aramis. I still really like the smell of that stuff. He never wears it, but he smells just fine without it.

He used to use Flex shampoo, and when I smell it, I remember him with his long, long hair burnished gold in streaks by hours of sunny construction work. It was beautiful and wild and I used to look at it spread across his pillow when he slept. When he got "a real job" he had to cut it all off. I was so sad, and still am. I saved it in a plastic bag in my drawer and in my memory, and in every bottle of Flex shampoo.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

No, Really...Oh, All Right, Then Send Me Flowers

Northeast Ohio is enjoying a very mild January. Last year at this time, we had 29 inches of snow in the greater Cleveland area. This year, less than 5. There are doubtless tons of theories for this: La Nina, El Nino, a fickle jet stream, global warming.

All of them are wrong.

The reason is very simple. We here at the Dept. of Nance, having had our fill of a record-breaking snowfall last winter, decided to take matters into our own hands. We knew it was time to virtually guarantee a mild winter. And so we did.
Meet the Storm 5524, also known as The Deterrent. Since its purchase in mid-December, we've racked up less than 7 inches of the white menace.

You're welcome.

Friday, January 20, 2006

K9 Jihad

Osama bin Laden addressed the American public again, this time via audiotape delivered to his producers at Al Jazeera studios. He warned us that plans for attacks within the United States were already underway. He went on to offer a sort of thorny olive branch--a conditional truce. The White House response: the equivalent of "the finger."

Bad idea.

Am I the only one suspicious about this news item that turned up in the paper today? How the heck does a 60-70 pound Labrador retriever just happen to fall off an overpass? And hit a car, killing the driver? Police questioned the dog's owner, and he swears he did not throw the animal. Hmmm....

Clearly, this is the work of Al Qaida. These bastards are recruiting pets to be suicide bombers now! (They've done their research, too! Labs are one of the most popular breeds for pets, according to the AKC registry.) These mujahideen breed the animals, put them in training camps and teach them to hate Americans, the infidels. Then the terrorist pups are sold in the U.S. where they are adopted by unsuspecting families. Later, as full-grown dogs, they hear Their Master's Voice, and a key word in Osama's message sends them into a pre-programmed frenzy. They run blindly off the nearest overpass or into interstate traffic. Death is the sad result.

Obviously, the collateral damage from this sort of pinpoint attack is relatively small. But the terror quotient is high. Americans love their dogs. Dogs are, simply put, doggone American. Pets are part of the American Way of Life. If we become afraid of our pets, then the terrorists have won!

I am at a loss as to why Homeland Security has not picked up on this. I have waited, in vain it seems, for the terror level to be raised to reflect this threat. Surely we should be orange by now. At least.

And let me just say this: I'm glad I have cats.



Tuesday, January 17, 2006

And the Call Goes Out!

I know it comes with the territory of being a teacher of English, but I must admit that I am growing tired of being a Defender of the Language. My battle-scars are many and my spirit is flagging. These days in particular, I feel as if I am reduced to leading what amounts to a bayonet charge against the ubiquitousness of a single word.

This word has become the 2005-2006 equivalent of what "awesome" was to the 90s. It is the new "whatever". It is fast becoming the single most overemployed adjective to describe everything from food to fashion. I dare any of you to watch "How Do I Look" on the Style Network and not hear it at least a dozen times in an episode. You cannot listen to a single interview on any infotainment show and not be subjected to it. It is as cringeworthy to me now as the word "like" peppering a student's monologue about why he doesn't have his homework.

The word is "amazing." And it's everywhere.

The made-over ugly duckling-turned-swan now looks it. The fragrance of the grilling tuna smells it. The scene of the devastation can only be described as it. And the effect it has on my blood pressure is certainly approaching it.

The only solace I have is that now I have extended the fight to you, compatriots. Take up arms with me in this fight. Stop using this word. Tell others how sick you are of hearing its overuse. Employ thesauruses! It's not too late!

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Content of Its Character

I'm off today for Martin Luther King Day. My sister who works in the bank is off, too. My husband, a project manager for a construction firm is not off, and my sons who work in retail are not off. My mom is getting a hip replacement today, so her surgeon is not off, either.

When I go back to school tomorrow, a few of my black students will likely start talking about MLK Day and it will lead to Black History Month and they will start joking/not joking in their way about how Black History Month is in February, the shortest month of the year. And some white students will start in about how there is no White History Month or Puerto Rican History Month, etcetera etcetera etcetera, until I just stop it before I have to set them all on fire.

Or perhaps I will make the point that at least MLK Day still has its dignity. As of this writing, there are no MLK Day Sales in the paper. Macy's has no 20% off coupons "in honor of" MLK Day as they do for Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still honored by civic programs and commemorative marches in our town, not by people opening their pools or ceasing to wear white shoes. His speeches are made by church and secular leaders to respectful crowds; retail outlets are not decked in cheap patriotic bunting in order to sell unrelated seasonal goods. Sometimes the point made is missed.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Book It, DoN - O

Is nothing more annoying than reading a bad book? I keep soldiering on, giving it a chance to redeem itself. I await a breakthrough chapter, the emergence of a clever plot device, an engaging character's arrival...all for naught. And then, halfway through, I'm trapped. Do I dump it now? Now that I've invested all this time? Rendering me unable then to say "Oh yes, I've read that. It was crap" and not feel as if someone could challenge me and say "Well, did you read it all the way through, because once you get near the end..."?

Oh no.

I am a compulsive book-finisher. I just am. I am the Reverend Dimmesdale of bad book readers: flagellating myself with the bloody scourge of lousy literature. I absolutely loathed Life of Pi, but I finished it. Every last bit of it. Groaned during the familiar and formulaic Angels & Demons (which I read after The DaVinci Code), but I finished it. (And I was not all that enthralled with the sometimes contrived, elementary writing of TDVC, either, but you don't see my name staring out at you from the spines of hardbacks, now do you? I know, I know.) A bad book for me is like biting into a mealy peach. Such disappointment and betrayal!

Now, good books...is there anything more satisfying? Don't you love that realization when, as my friend Roger says, you discover that you've been smiling as you read? That moment when you purposely look up from the page to see with whom you can share what you're reading? A good book is like the feeling you get when you flop your pillow over to the cool side. Instant gratification and comfort and contentment. I'm currently immersed in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. This woman is so in love with Abraham Lincoln that when she writes about him, I swear the page becomes illuminated. And I was completely taken by The Time Traveler's Wife as a story about the strength of human emotion. Now Roger has ordered me to read anything by Tom Robbins, especially Skinny Legs and All. This is how my booklist grows.

And no, he is not responsible for any bad books. Not yet, anyway.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

DoN Takes a Look at Her Cabinet

For some reason, I started thinking about the men I've been obsessed with over the years. There haven't been a whole lot. I get to indulge my little fancies at school by hanging their pictures in my high school classroom where they are sometimes appreciated by my female students and goodnaturedly derided by the males. Here's my first official crush from my earliest days of teaching in the 80s:

Admit it; he's very handsome and nonthreatening. You saw "St. Elmo's Fire" and loved him. He was Billy, the bad boy who just needed someone to take care of him and save him from himself. Then he had the soft-core porn scene with Demi in "About Last Night" and you almost had the big "O" right there in the theater. Sigh. Heavy sigh. So cute. Still is.

Then, in the 90s--1992 to be exact--my mother called me and ordered me to see a film. I was reluctant since it had a bunch of Indian fighting in it, but she told me that the lead actor was "just my type." I went and saw it: "The Last of the Mohicans" provided me with my longest running obsession/crush, Daniel Day-Lewis.

There have been a few dalliances here and there. Notably,
only as Tristan; then only as Braveheart.


Then I discovered

who I'm pretty much still stuck on because Daniel Day-Lewis refuses to remember he is handsome and has good hair and currently looks like this:

In other words, like that smelly weird guy outside your vacation hotel who keeps saying "Havin' a good time? Need any maps tahday? Call ya a taxi? Howsabout some spare change on ya's?" I can't even defend him to my buddy Roger (whose hobby it is to abuse me for my longstanding amour) and say that he's doing this for a movie role because he's not. He just looks this way because he wants to. How sad is that? Doesn't his wife care? I mean, I would, and I'm not even an acquaintance. I've tried to quit Daniel Day-Lewis millions of times, but here's what happens. I show "The Last of the Mohicans" in my English class. And it drags me back in! I know he isn't Hawkeye anymore. I keep having faith that, one night, Daniel Day-Lewis and the missus will watch "The Last of the Mohicans" on DVD and she will turn to him and say, "Hey, Dan. Let your hair grow out for awhile. And let's make an appointment with the plastic surgeon to get that nose straightened out. It's time to re-establish you as a romantic screen hero." Mrs. Day-Lewis would be doing a lot of women and directors a big favor, let me just say it right here and right now.



In the meantime, I'll add . He's young, pretty, British, and aging well. Plus, he has a straight nose and has not yet embarrassed me by wearing bad clothes or a shaved head in public.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

...But Fear Itself

This morning was not a happy one for my eldest son. He was from his slumber untimely ripp'd to take me to the dentist at the ungodly hour of 8:30 a.m. (I'm a dentophobe from way back and have to receive nitrous and, thanks to my ongoing adhesive capsulitis, am still not driving.) He was a completely good-natured gentleman about it; that is, until we stepped inside the dentist's waiting room. Where there is a 50-gallon aquarium.

Jared: Jesus-Christ-there's-fish-in-here! MOM!

Me: Oh. Yeah. That. I forgot about that being in here. Just sit over there and don't look at it.

Jared: How could you forget about THAT?!

Me: Jared. Just relax. Don't look at it. There's a lid on it and everything. Do you need to go and sit in the car? For heaven's sake. I'm the one having major dental work. I'm the one who is being gassed, remember. I'm the one who might reveal intimate, personal details while under the influence of anesthesia. What if he asks me something strange? What if he asks me my PIN? What if---

Jared: Oh for fuck's sake. The Muzak is The FISH. It's the Christian station. I'm gonna kill myself right now. This place is my own personal hell. Am I being punked? Are there hidden cameras in here? Do they know I'm an atheist with a phobia about fish and they're doing this to torture me? Are you kidding me right now?

Me: Just relax. Read your Plain Dealer. Really, your concern for my welfare is touching. It really is. I'm about to go in there and have a filling and a crown. A crown. I've never had a crown before. Not that you care. Because at any minute, a dangerous fantail might erupt from that tank and deal you a deathblow. While you are given a requiem by "Awesome God." How can you live with yourself?

Jared: You could have warned me about the fishtank. That's all I'm saying.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Two of the Rs

Truly fine writing is an enviable skill, and when I come across it, I feel like whooping and weeping in gratitude simultaneously. Consider:

People don't usually gather together rejoicing about the subject, but everyone privately agrees that a hearty and effortless bowel movement is one of the morning's significant satisfactions. It represents casting off the burdens of the previous day and rising up to begin the new one unencumbered by the past, and it deserves a little quiet celebration. ( from Endangered Pleasures by Barbara Holland)

What graceful words to express the vernacular of taking a shit.

Especially dear to me is her essay on "Praise" from which I mined this wonderful gem: "A nod of satisfaction from an expert carries more weight than eulogies from the ignorant." Would that more parents of the 90s realized that; my job as a public high school teacher would be easier: students would be working harder with more realistic estimations of what their "efforts" are actually worth. Oh my! that sounded bitter. Perhaps from the thought of holiday break coming to an end day after tomorrow. Heavy Sigh!

Take a peek at the Barbara Holland book. Lovely reading on a variety of topics from taking naps to the lost art of talking to shopping to cigarettes. (And if you're an English teacher, they make great examples for classroom use.)

And if you owe a gift to an English teacher...!



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