Archive for August 2009

Overheard/ Seen

August 31, 2009


1.  Overheard in a Grand Central Station tunnel:   “A woman scorned… she can be nasty, man.”

“Oh boy.  You make a woman mad, that’s the end of it.”

Chuckling.  (Gently.)

2.   Seen on elevator news screen (more or less):  “Test shows that the part of the brain that signifies anger is far less active when the person angered is lying down.”  [The actual test, I discovered later, had to do with the brain’s response to insult and was conducted at Texas A& M University by a team led by Eddie Harmon-Jones.]


The first point is one I’ve trying to impress on my husband for some time.  Luckily, my very sweet husband, like the men underground (who really did smile, laugh, and ruefully shake their heads), usually  seems to get it.  That is—and I don’t mean to sound sexist here—that anger is sometimes to be expected (and accepted) in a wife.

(Just a note, the scorn the men seemed to be talking about was not the bitterness of unrequited love, so much as the irritation of unappreciated labor.)

Women do an awfully lot these days, what with many serving both as a significant, if not primary, wage earner, as well as chief cook and bottlewasher.  A little frustration now and again should be seen as par for the course.

Which brings me to point 2.

“I’m not going to take that lying down,” appears, in the light of this study, to be an exceedingly poor method of resolving arguments.  Especially for married couples.

Maybe, given applicable brain patterns, arguments between partners should be scheduled for bed, or at least, by mutual agreement, immediately moved to a prone position.

I’m not really sure I needed a cognitive scientist to tell me that this strategy would likely lead to prompter conflict resolution.  Still, it’s always nice to know more of what makes the brain (ahem) light up.

Check out 1 Mississippi (Karin Gustafson) at link above or on Amazon.

Ted Kennedy and My Grandmother Pearl

August 31, 2009

Thinking about Ted Kennedy again this morning after watching Obama’s eulogy.  Sorry, if this seems belated.  I don’t watch t.v., so missed what I’m guessing was wall-to-wall coverage.  (I wasn’t even online much this weekend, due to a stay in a house without internet access.)

But I’ve felt bad that my earlier post re Kennedy focused so much on my childhood feelings about his brothers’ deaths, and so little on Teddy himself.  (There was something awfully narcissistic about that—sorry!)   Seeing/ hearing Obama’s eulogy made me want to write more.

First, about Obama himself.  He really is such a graceful wonderful speaker.  I’m sure he has assistance writing speeches; yet, one also feels that most of the words are his own.  I, at least, am continually amazed by the breadth and maturity of his vision, by the genuine quality of his compassion, by the subtlety of his understanding, all of which he can actually express.  I don’t quite understand how we got lucky enough to have someone like him as President.  I pray everyday that he’ll be kept safe.

As for Teddy:  I was a child, at least on my mother’s side, of New Deal democrats.  FDR was spoken of in hushed tones.  Even the murmur of his initials seemed to express the phrase: “and there was a man.”

When JFK was inaugurated, my maternal grandmother, Pearl, (who, as a mother during the Depression, was probably the main FDR worshipper) was visiting us in Washington, D.C.  Although in her 70s, she got up very very early to shovel snow, determined that we’d get to the inauguration.  Later that morning, my metal chair at the Mall was frozen solid.  That’s all I really remember of the ceremony in fact; the icy silvery chair that my thick tights half-stuck to as I tried to scoot to some warmth.

Given all of that, I could not help but like Teddy’s politics.  (I really really loved my grandmother, see e.g. post re elegy.)  (This is, weirdly enough, partly why I named my dog after her, see e.g. post re Robert Pattinson and my dog, Pearl.)

But I also admired Teddy’s resilience, his plodding, legislative, energy.  As a parent, especially a more or less single parent, you really do learn that the devil is in the details.  There is much in the parenting life that is grand and exciting, public and acclaimed (let’s say, your child graduating from college), but very very much that is not grand, far less public, and not much acclaimed (let’s say, making the dentist appointments in the face of resistant schedules, re-reading the problematic English paper, sending the right shoe that got left at home, making sure that the health insurance coverage forms are properly filed. ) (As kids reach college age, this usually means filing all forms at least twice.)  You can’t help but feel that Teddy, as a dogged senator, did a lot of the day-to day shoe-sending, and virtually all of the filing of the health insurance forms.  (Okay, he had a great staff.  Still, he hired them.  And his was the voice on the phone.)

Of course, one admires his strength through all the tragedies life forced on him.  But you also have to admire his strength in the face of those he sort of courted.  Yes, again he had the help of his staff, and wealth, and alcohol, and finally, a really terrific wife.  But still, he kept on, genuinely trying to help people, to push policies that he thought would help.

My grandmother would have approved.

Robert Pattinson and My Dog Pearl

August 30, 2009

My online astrologer wrote that the troublesome opposition between Saturn and Jupiter this weekend might bring up a host of old, but nettling, problems.  I don’t actually pay that much attention to my online astrologer these days.  Any astrologer who predicted, as he did, that the economic downturn of 2008 would improve markedly at the end of August 2008—that is, a couple of weeks before the collapse of Lehman Brothers—has lost an identifiable percentage (let’s say 65) of my confidence.

That said, it was a nettling weekend.  I felt the other side of manic, that is depressed enough last night, to actually seek out images of Robert Pattinson on my blackberry. (I had no internet connection.)  (Yes, it was pathetic.)

The images were very very small, and frankly, some of the ones that were retrieved were irretrievably model-ly.  Plastic.  They looked about as much like my preferred Pattinson as elevator music sounds like real music (i.e. not much.)

Still, I persisted, thumbing the little keys to next and next, until I finally got to a couple of tousled-haired, sweet smiles.  I felt immediately a bit better.

Yes, it’s very weird.


In my defense, my interest really is not combined with any fantasies about Pattinson, not even a narrative line.  (Other than the fantastical stories of the Twilight books, I suppose. Though, those are not my fantasies.  I don’t even identify with them except perhaps with the heroine’s physical clumsiness, and …loyalty, and, okay, there’s the whole unrequited love aspect.)

Still, feeling stressed, I guess, yet non-manic, I sought out the little postage stamp pictures.  (See e.g. post “From Rat Race to Rat Rut.”)

The whole scenario reminds me of my dog (my family’s dog) whose name is Pearl.  Pearl is a very cute dog.  White tousled fur, black-nosed and eyed.  An easily anthropomorphized face whose (very cute) expressions run the gamut from “delighted”,to  “quizzical”, to  “I want,” to “pretty please” to “I don’t want” to “oh no!”

She looks a bit like a classic cartoon, a children’s toy, which is to say mopsy, fluffy but ragtag, bemused.

I am Pearl’s groomer.  Which is to say, she is not terribly well-groomed, certainly not symmetrical or in any way poofy.

People absolutely love her.  Passersby stop and stare at her when we walk.  They smile.  They laugh.  Small children reach out their hands.

The public reaction to Pearl has often made me feel that perhaps my whole purpose in life, the secret but true reason I was put on this earth, has nothing to do with my work, my wonderful wonderful children, or even the payment of taxes.  But simply to walk this cute little dog around, and, by doing so, to brighten peoples’ days.

Which may be, at least a part, of Robert Pattinson’s purpose.

Does it have something to do with tousled hair?


Check out 1 Mississippi (Karin Gustafson) at link above or on Amazon.  Thanks!


August 29, 2009

Can’t help it. I’m afraid of them.

Not one on it’s own perhaps.

But in the U.S. there is hardly ever just one cow out on its own.

There’s usually a crowd.

Okay, I’m even fine with a crowd, if it’s behind a fence. But I’m not so happy if it’s me with a crowd not behind a fence (that is, on the same side.)

Yes, I know all about the archetype of the gentle cow. The patient, dull, cud-chewing cow. The sweet-breathed cow. (Though this last has always been a bit hard to swallow.)

I’m even familiar with “la vache qui rit,” the laughing cow, red and smiley, staring knowingly from a wedge of processed cheese.

But when I’m in a field with a bunch of them what comes immediately to mind is the less classic archetype of the “BIG cow.”

And, “is any of them a bull?”

And, “why are they staring at me?” (Their eyes like another set of their huge black nostrils only disconcertingly, gleemingly, intent.)

I can’t help but feel that if several ran at me at once, at least some of them would be a whole lot faster than they look.

I imagine the run of cows to take the form of an avalanche. One starts a determined scamper, sort of like the first pebble or snow ball, and then suddenly, they’ve all taken off.

After me.

I squint now. Is that huge one in front a bull or not?

(I should point out that the cows in the fields near me are beef cattle rather than dairy. This somehow makes them feel inherently more aggressive, i.e. even the nursing mothers aren’t swayed by udders.)

I run into the cows this morning (up in upstate New York) as I cross over from a deeply forested stream bed to the next field where I hope to ascend to some open air.

The stream bed is beautiful, but, with all this rain, it is more peaty, musky, rotten-loggy and slippery than ever. Teeny fluorescent orange and yellow mushrooms sprout from the dark forest floor like wild flowers; interspersed are paler, bigger, knobbier ones.

I felt extremely enterprising before leaving for the walk. As a result, I carry a small thermos of tea in one rain coat pocket, a small cup in the other.

If one of my daughters were with me, we would probably be “herping” (engaging in herpetology), which means turning over damp rocks to search for salamanders. (There are tons, it turns out.)

On my own, I am merely searching for a nice open, not too damp, spot, for a nice spot of tea. A cuppa with a view. I even have my notebook in tow. (Stuffed into the waistband of my trousers.)

But, as I climb up to the field, there they are. Too many too count, especially since I instantly shrink back from their sight. Huge. Brown. Knobby kneed. All seemingly staring at me. Especially that imposing one in the front, whose underside is not completely clear to me.

Needless to say, I back down the dark bank to the stream bed.

And am now sitting on a regular bed, in a comfortable, if slightly musty house (it really has rained all summer), thermos open to my side.

The only hint of cow, the milk in my still-steaming tea.

If you prefer elephants to cows, check out 1 Mississippi (Karin Gustafson), link above or on amazon.

Dog’s Birthday This Weekend

August 28, 2009
Best Not To Let Her Make Her Own Cake

Best Not To Let Her Make Her Own Cake

Five Important Points Re Dog’s Birthday

1. Your dog will not be upset if you don’t get her a present.

2.  But if you do, a pig’s ear will usually suffice.

3.  Except that if it’s an old dog, maybe skip the pig’s ear.  (If you have a nice carpet, that is.  Or any carpet.)

4.  Either way, it’s best not to let her make her own cake.

5.  Even if she begs.

(Sorry I meant to put in picture of begging dog as well as baking dog, but I didn’t have one scanned.  I’ll get one soon.  Have a great model at home. )

If you like elephants as well as dogs, check out 1 Mississippi (Karin Gustafson) at link above or on Amazon.

Subway Blog – Autopilot

August 27, 2009

Late late late.  In this case for someone who has come to a meeting at my office forty minutes early and called me at home wondering where I am.  Not entirely my fault.  Still bad feelings coat stomach.  Pace platform.

Where I find that the expensive purse which I bought in a trance last night in a shop in Grand Central really is too big, too heavy, to be truly comfortable.    Yes, the price was slashed by 70%.  (The store has been closing for weeks, and was down to the wire.)  Even reduced, it is the most expensive purse I’ve ever bought, and I’m not even someone who cares about nice leather.  I’m vegetarian for God’s sake!

When finally on train, I sit across from a pale, but slightly red-faced, man who wears round tortoise shell glasses, a pin-stripe shirt, a careful, if curly comb-over, and thick suede hiking boots.  He  seems to be talking occasionally, gesticulating, not wildly, but in the mild considered way of someone wearing a headset, only we are on a moving train and his ears are clear.

I can’t stop myself from meeting his eyes repeatedly, though they have a slightly fishy blankness (mixed with intensity) which tells me I shouldn’t.

Late late late.  Why did I wash hair that was washed last night?   And then I had to rinse it repeatedly because I was hurrying so much I first started drying strands still sticky with shampoo.

Ate swiss muesli too (something which should never be eaten fast) with guzzling speed.

I regret that speedy muesli now as the train chugs along and I catch the eye again of the round-glassed, slightly muttering man who suddenly looks genuinely sad.  His expression makes me feel somehow sick again, beyond the lateness sickness and the muesli sickness;  I wonder what has happened to him.

Or maybe, I think suddenly, in my wishful vegetarian blogger way, he’s just reciting poetry to himself.  What with the round tortoise shell glasses.  He has an umbrella too, on his lap, one with a wooden handle which means it was probably not bought on the street in a storm.  It could be the umbrella of someone who recites poetry to themselves.

But his mutters do not have the consistency of line for poems.  And, in addition, to the flickers of sadness, there is a strong cast of resentment around his mouth.  The only poet I can think of at that moment who is resentful is Bob Dylan, and the guy across from me is definitely not singing.    Though he does flick his fingers repeatedly.  Still, no.

Oh-oh.  I think he just said “swine”.  Twice.

I try to look away.

But the autopilot mania of my lateness, my prospective workday, my morning fatigue, and the rushed muesli, makes it really hard.

I force my eyes to the hand resting on the round purple tummy of the girl right next to me, pregnant, ruffly-bloused, whose long-lashed eyes are closed.  I strive for a bit of her calm.

But striving and calm don’t mix all that well, and the guy across from me says something a bit louder now, over the sound of the train tracks.  I look up;  this time he stares right at me.

Oh the New York City subway system.

Now we stop.  Train traffic ahead.

Right next to my guy sits a blonde woman writing hurriedly on a pad with lots of pastel pages.  She seems happy, animated;  her ears do wear earphones, she sometimes twitches with rhythm, energy.  I wonder immediately if she’s writing a blog and imagine it to be a funny one. .

Then my guy, the one I’m trying not to look at it, suddenly punches the air, each elbow at a sharp right angle, as he hits the space before him.

No one else seems to notice.  And I force myself to look away.  Punching’s a bit much.  Stare instead at the black-bordered screen of the guy beside me.  He watches it intently, his thumbs on dials.  It looks like there is a animated woman in a noose on the screen.

When I get off, I walk fast.

(The above post is part of a continuing series about stress.  See e.g. “From Rat Race to Rat Rut” and any post mentioning Robert Pattinson.)

If you want something unstressful to read to kids on subway, check out 1 Mississippi, (Karin Gustafson) at link above, or on Amazon.

Verizon – Grrr….

August 27, 2009

I hate Verizon.  Really hate Verizon.

For one thing, I don’t like the idea of a little crowd of nerdy-looking polo-shirted people trailing after me.

For another, they don’t have the iPhone.

Most importantly, I simply hate the name:  Verizon.  Even before I had the service, I hated it.  The only time I liked it was years and years ago when it was something sensible like Bell Atlantic, the name of a real person and a real place.

Verizon is a hybrid nothing word that sounds to me like a synthetic material used for making countertops.  Something that looks like plastic but at least is not supposed to stain.

I suppose it’s meant to raise the specters of Horizon and Truth.  Truth on the Horizon with Verizon.   (I’m not quite sure what that has to do with phone calls.)

But to me, it raises the specter of plastic.  Plastic that probably does stain.

Speaking of plastic, it has become nearly impossible to pay Verizon with same.

I used to do this quite frequently.   (I’d just as soon pay by check but I’m always out of stamps.)  But I tried last night, and it turns out that paying for your phone by phone now requires a password;  even just holding on the phone requires a password.  Online payments require it, of course, and online chat agents need one as well.   If you try to trick the chat agents by telling them you don’t have a password, they will insist, chattily, that you do.

Strangely, every person I talked to, or chatted with, had a three syllable name ending in “cha”.   (At first, I wondered if I was talking and “chatting” to the same person again and again, but each was different.)    Each was also extremely polite but clearly under strict orders not to speak with persons like me, suffering from password memory lapse.  I finally got frustrated enough to write out for the chat agent a list of the passwords I frequently use, some of which I have disclosed to no one else in the world.  (I don’t know what got into me.  Maybe it was the notion of Truth on the Horizon.)

I kept insisting that all I wanted to do was pay my bill.   But “money” it turns out is not a universal password.  Finally, on my third call, the agent took down my credit card number, all the while telling me all the wonderful passwordy things I could do if I just made my way to a Verizon store.

Note to self:  buy stamps.

Check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon at link above.   (Warning, you may need a password to buy, but not to read.)