Valentine’s Day Musings

Another Valentine’s Day is behind us and men everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief. I got tulips from Gelson’s and chocolates from Hawaii. All in all, a lovely day.

Traditionally, that’s the kind of holiday Valentine’s Day is supposed to be: flowers or candy and a card, just like we learned in elementary school. All this pressure to buy diamond pendants and custom-made teddy bears is new, and also unfortunate because it says the value of your expression is measured by the value of your gift, which is not what St. Valentine had in mind.

Not that anyone really knows what St. Valentine had in mind or even which St. Valentine we’re talking about, as it appears there were three of them and all of them were martyred. What kind of message that sends about love is a little disconcerting, but apparently the jewelry industry is all over it.

I told my fiancé a week before Valentine’s Day not to get me jewelry. That’s the kind of thing women do these days: tell the men in our lives what to get us, what not to get us, the maximum to spend on the things they get us, and where to go to get them.

It must take a lot of the fun out of it for men, if feeling pressured to buy something is considered fun, but someone has to help them. I am not the only one who thinks so. One floral website even gives suggestions on “creative messages for your floral enclosure cards.”

They include:

     Today’s a special day for sending all my love your way!

     With you, it’s Valentine’s Day 365 days a year.

     Couldn’t wait another day to say I Love You! (for flowers delivered on February 13th)

Just remember, the above creative messages are not for everyone, especially teachers. Teachers, you may be surprised to learn, receive more Valentine’s Day cards than anyone, followed by children, then mothers, and then wives. Regular old sweethearts are way down at the bottom of the list, after postmen and hairdressers. It’s an odd order, really, since Valentine’s Day is all about sweethearts and wives. Still, it’s a numbers game and you never get more cards than when you’re in elementary school, whether you’re teaching it or attending it.

The Valentine’s Day Party is the highlight of the February elementary school calendar. I remember bits and pieces of those parties: the handmade paper bag mailboxes (a school art project from the previous week), the punch and cookie rations, and lots and lots of Valentine’s Day cards.

The parties are completely innocent, but still it’s strange. Why is a holiday with ties to the Roman festival of fertility celebrated in grade school? Valentine’s Day isn’t a day for friends or teachers, or even parents. It’s a day for lovers, sweethearts, husbands and wives. It celebrates romantic love. Power Rangers and SpongeBob SquarePants may veil the message, but the message is the same: Will you be my Valentine (translated: Can I get into your squarepants)?

You hear a lot about how kids are oversexed these days and who’s to blame. The entertainment industry takes the easy rap, followed by the disintegration of the family unit, and now the internet with its billion pages of internet porn. But I say we’ve missed the boat. I point the finger at elementary school teachers and those smutty Valentine’s Day parties they throw. Is it any surprise kids are having sex in middle school? They’ve been primed for it since grade school. Even if the parties are nothing more than cards, cookies and punch, they push the notion of romantic love on children.

There’s an old wives tale about marriage and Valentine’s Day. It says if a woman sees a robin fly overhead on Valentine’s Day, it means she’ll marry a sailor. If she sees a sparrow, she’ll marry a poor man and be happy. And if she sees a goldfinch, she’ll marry a millionaire. That means you shouldn’t go outside on Valentine’s Day until you know your birds.

So that’s what grade school teachers can do on Valentine’s Day. Have some punch and cookies, skip the Valentine sentiments and give a lesson on birds. If you’re going to play this adult game of love, you better know what you’re looking for.

Year of the Ox

Bye-bye 2020. Bye-bye Year of the Rat. 2021 is Year of the Ox.

Year of the Ox refers to year 4719 of the Chinese calendar; a solar/lunar system that repeats every 60 years instead of running off into infinity the way most Westerners do. Used mainly by Asian party planners and fortune-tellers to portend auspicious events, every year of the Chinese calendar is marked with one of 12 animals. The twelve animals are the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Pig.

Why these animals and not the majestic Elephant or the courageous Lion? It’s hard to say. One myth surrounding the selection of the animals goes like this: the Jade Emperor (Taoist ruler of heaven) threw a party and invited all the animals of creation to come. Only 12 showed up. The ones who showed got to be in the calendar.

That’s the problem with myths: they leave a lot of unanswered questions. For example, when did the Jade Emperor send out his invitations? Did he use enough postage? Sometimes invitations take extra, especially if they’re irregularly sized. Exactly how many animals RSVP’d? If only a few, maybe some invitations got lost in the mail.

Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. Why would you miss a Jade Emperor party? That’s like getting invited to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party and saying, “Gee, I don’t know. I kind of want to stay home and watch the new episode of SVU.”

It’s obvious the Jade Emperor was disappointed. That’s why he stuck it to all the animals that didn’t come by excluding them from his calendar. I mean, there he is, dressed in his finest silk party robe, expecting the cuddly Giant Panda, the elegant Giraffe, and the jet-setting Cheetah. And who walks through the door? The Rat, the Rooster and the Dog. I’ve had parties like that, and frankly, it makes you not want to have parties anymore.

I bet the Dragon only stayed five minutes once he saw the crowd. He probably called the Unicorn on his way home to find out what happened. It probably went something like this:

Dragon:    “Where were you?”
Unicorn:   “What do you mean?”
Dragon:    “The Emperor’s party.”
Unicorn:   “That was tonight? I thought it was next week. How was it?”
Dragon:    “Lame. But at least I’m in the calendar.”
Unicorn:   “Who else is in the calendar?”
Dragon:    “The Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and The Pig.”
Unicorn:   “Man, Dragon. You are desperate. I won’t even work with animals who can’t fly.”

I don’t celebrate the Chinese New Year, which begins February 12th this year, but I do celebrate the Gregorian one, which begins every year on January 1st.

One year I threw a New Year’s Eve party and invited everyone I knew, which was about 42 people. Out of the 36 people who RSVP’d, 28 said they were coming and only 10 showed up. I’m no Jade Emperor but I was plenty disappointed. I even considered sticking it to the people who didn’t show by making a calendar using only the people who did, but I would have been two months short. Instead I decided to stick it to everyone by not having any more parties.

The Year of the Ox isn’t a year for parties anyway. It’s a year for hard work, for plowing through, for wearing masks and keeping your distance. If you’re tired of that, get in line. At least, the rat is gone.

Ode to Holiday Shoppers

The holiday shopping season isn’t quite the same during the pandemic. Sure, it’s fun to have packages arrive at the door daily, but it lacks some of the magic that happens when we interact with strangers. Here’s a short essay I wrote a long while back about that.

If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably already feeling overwhelmed by the holidays. There are cookies to be burned, relatives to avoid, presents to re-gift. If nothing else, you’re behind on your shopping. How could you not be? Some stores opened at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Eager consumers packed their coolers with leftover turkey sandwiches and lined up in tents the night before. Apparently shopping, something you can do 365 days a year, has taken on the status of a Star Wars release? Next year, they’ll be lining up costume.

Look, there’s Santa, and Mrs. Claus. “Who are you? Rudolph?” a newscaster will ask a lanky young man dressed in brown fur with antlers on his head.

“Dasher. I’m Dasher,” he’ll say. It will make the 11:00 Local News.

Behind him, a short young woman in a brown leotard and fishnet stockings will volunteer, “I’m Vixen.”

The newscaster will wrap it up for the moment, but be back with an update at the end of the broadcast. Meanwhile, Dasher and Vixen, who’ve never met, will get to talking. There’s not much else to do in line.

“I was going to come as Linus,” Dasher will tell her, “just so I’d have a blanket, but I didn’t want to roll in dirt and then have to stand here all night.”

“That’s my favorite Christmas cartoon,” Vixen will say, “then the Grinch, and I always cry at the end of Frosty.”

“Me too,” Dasher will think, but keep to himself. “Nice boots,” he’ll say instead.

Without them, she’s 5’1″, she’ll admit. “I should have worn flats,” she’ll decide at 2.

Dawn will come (does dawn come at 4 a.m.?). Dawn or not, the doors will open. Dasher will think about asking Vixen for her number, then change his mind. Who needs a new girlfriend just before the holidays? They’ll say goodbye as the crowd surges toward the opening doors. And that will be end of it.

Except it’s Christmas and magic happens. Inside the store, Dasher’s list of electronics he planned to buy for himself will not seem so important anymore and he wander the aisles aimlessly for an hour. He’ll end up in small appliances and stare at a $15 foot bath for 30 minutes before he decides to purchase it. In line, a re-released CD of holiday tunes by Engelbert Humperdinck will catch his eye. He’ll purchase both items, then wait at the exit for Vixen.

“Merry Christmas,” he’ll say as he hands her the foot bath. They’ll go get some pancakes and exchange numbers.

“I have a boyfriend,” she’ll tell him, “but he doesn’t get me.”

The morning paper will report, “Holiday Shoppers Line Up Again.”

Shitholes

Back in January 2018, President Trump asked members of the House and Senate,  “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?”

This is a short satirical essay I wrote back then in response to that comment.

Do not send me comments. It’s satire.

_____________

It’s about time this whole shithole thing is out in the open because everybody everywhere is tired of pretending everything is so great. Sure, things weren’t so bad in 1985 when WrestleMania debuted at Madison Square Garden, but that was a long time ago and it’s been all downhill since then. That’s because all anybody does is think of themselves. The media and celebrities don’t help either. Social science is a complicated thing, but one thing is for sure: shitholes are everywhere.

California – Of all the shithole places in the world, California is the shitholiest. I know because I live there. Whatever the weather, it’s total crap, and don’t even ask me about the sunsets. All yellow and orange and purple like a bunch of Teletubbies exploded in the sky and I wouldn’t mind if they did. California is crowded too and full of people from other shitholes like the Midwest, and the South and the East Coast. If you like people, you might find the whole diversity thing interesting, but I don’t because all any of them ever do is get in my way, especially when I’m driving to the gym, trying to get there before all the yoga mommies stake out their territory in Exercise Room A.

Since the beginning of time, everybody’s always been going west, looking for less of a shithole than the place they just left, and when they find it, they immediately start spreading themselves out and shooting dirty looks to the first newcomer or out-of-shape middle-aged lady who rolls out her mat too close to theirs. Well, you can stop coming west, young men and women, and all you old farts too. It’s a shithole out here, and expensive also, and when you get here and find out, don’t blame me. I tried to warn you, and where west are you going to go from here? Into the Pacific Ocean?

Pacific Ocean – This ocean is a shithole and I mean literally. People pee in it all the time. I can tell because they’ll be laughing and playing in it, jumping up and down in the waves on the shore, and then all of a sudden they’ll stop and stand real still. That’s when they’re peeing. I know because I’ve done it myself. It’s practically impossible to pee when you’re jumping up and down. I’m sure there’s some stupid biological explanation for that, like the body can only do one thing at a time, but whatever the reason, it’s better to stand still and relax, which isn’t easy to do when a big wave is about to slam you into the sand.

You may not know this if you went to some shithole public school like I did, but pacific means “peaceful.” Some European explorer named this ocean that even though he didn’t come close to California, probably because he could tell it was shithole from his binoculars. The Pacific Ocean has more islands than any other ocean, but most of them are shithole islands. I’ve only been to Hawaii, but if that’s any indicator, then you can trust me on this. I know a lot of people love Hawaii, but when I went it rained, and any place that calls itself paradise is hiding something. Too bad this shithole ocean doesn’t have some magic underground city like Atlantis.

Atlantis – Is this shithole even real? Isn’t it more likely that this place just dropped off the edge of Spain and sunk? That’s why every continent is a shithole, I don’t even need to pick one. They’re all shifty and I don’t trust a one of them. Since the beginning of time all these things do is whatever the hell they want and who cares if you just built a mansion on the coast or a city on an island. I had a boyfriend once who did whatever the hell he wanted and I said, Goodbye, Charlie. He got confused when I said that because his name was Rick, but he already had one foot out the door anyway.

I don’t know why everybody always has to make up some fantasy story about what happened in 1862 or where they’re went on a Saturday evening. It’s like the whole history of the world, and dinosaurs too. Do you really believe that whole story about a comet smashing into earth and choking the skies of sunlight and oxygen, taking out all the dinosaurs? Probably what really happened is they all decided this was a shithole planet and starved themselves to death or got the hell out of here on the next comet to go extraterrestrially west to some other planet like the moon.

The Moon – Shithole planet. According to the internet, the name of moon is, get this, the moon. That’s because the internet is a shithole of information. Oh sure, the internet goes into some ridiculous explanation about how “moon” is a name just like Bertha is a name, but I don’t trust anything I read on the internet, especially regarding facts. Whatever it’s called, what did we ever find there? Nothing but rocks and dust and dirt, and we spent billions of dollars to prove it. Hell, we even planted a flag so we could say this shithole belongs to us. I wouldn’t fly to that piece of crap planet if they paid me even if space travel is the thing of the future and there’s plenty of room for my yoga mat there.


The Milky Way – Do I even have to say it? I’m not going anywhere until I can get the hell out of this shithole galaxy and go to Norway.

 

3 Easy Ways to Stay Motivated

Staying motivated is harder than ever these days, mostly because nothing seems worth doing anymore. By that, I mean, everything seems worth doing until you actually do it and see it for what it’s worth. If that makes no sense, don’t worry. Neither does anything else these days. That’s why staying motivated is harder than ever.

In the olden days, think before the wheel, staying motivated was no piece of cake either. In fact, in the whole history of time, man has done very little he wasn’t forced to do. Be it the search for food, exercising, or taking out the trash, man has found little reason to act unless a woman is nagging him to do it. For the record, women would be just as happy putting up their feet versus making dinner for a family of five. If it were completely up to us, we’d eat a lot more grilled cheese sandwiches too, which can easily pass for dinner because they require a pan for cooking and are served hot.

To that end, here are three easy steps to stay motivated.

1. Spend more time online. The vast and easily hackable web is full of at-your-fingertips motivation with blog posts like, “500 Easy Ways to Prepare Quinoa and Look Sexy Doing it” and “How to Clean Out your Closet like a Kardashian and Build Your Gluteus Maximus at the Same Time.” No time to stay in shape. No problem. Blog pictures abound of motivated people doing every kind of exercise from lifting weights while sitting in the dentist chair to doing butt squeezes while ordering fast food. Go ahead, subscribe. And keep searching. You will always learn something sitting at your computer and that will motivate you to sit there and learn more.

2. Choose your friends wisely. I don’t mean the people you invite to your birthday party if anybody still does that anymore. I mean the people you friend on social media. Remember, more is always better because when it comes to feeling motivated, numbers matter. Being motivated to do things requires encouragement and lots of likes and thumbs up, and who do you think is going to give you those? People you actually know? No. People you actually know are always measuring what they have to do based upon what other people they know are doing. That’s why people you know aren’t that encouraging. If you do something, then we all have to do something or risk looking bad. But on social media, all you have to do is appear to be doing something, and let’s be real, being on social media is doing something. So be on it, friend, and friend everybody.

3. Take a stand. Staying motivated is hard when you just squishy-squash your way through life which is how most people live. It’s not a fault. It’s an actual proven survival method. So squishy-squash your way through life, for sure, but take a stand everywhere else, like in online comments. What you say is important, and the more emphatic and hard-lined you can be, the better. When you take a strong stand online, you will naturally be motivated to defend that stand with words, MANY OF THEM IN CAPS SO PEOPLE HEAR YOU AND KNOW YOU’RE SERIOUS AND MOTIVATED. And don’t forget exclamation points! They! Are! Very! Motivating!!!

August is Back to School Month

We have a front door and in front of that, a heavy screen door that locks with a bolt. Most days we have the front door open. This allows for a nice flow of air through the screen door, except in the summer when we would really appreciate it.

I don’t know much about air and how much it weighs, but you definitely need a shovel to move it in August. Without a shovel, most of the August air just piles up outside and we can barely push through it to get to the car.

I like having a screen door, but it does have disadvantages, mainly if someone shows up at your door unannounced and sees you sitting in the living room, it’s hard to pretend you’re not home. My boyfriend has a friend who likes to show up unannounced. If I’m lucky enough to get a glimpse of him coming up the walkway, I’ll hide behind the sofa until he goes away. Hiding behind the sofa is not an effective long-term solution though, because friends who show up unannounced are like mice. You pretty much have to kill them to get rid of them.

The advantage of the screen door is that you can talk to people through it without ever having to unlock and open the door, which is particularly useful when dealing with door-to-door salesmen, and sometimes even your mother. I don’t get many door-to-door salesmen anymore unless you count missionaries, and to be fair, they’re not technically “selling” salvation.

Once in a while a young kid comes around selling candy. He always wears a plastic-laminated badge around his neck that’s supposed to look official, but never does. He says he’s sells candy for a non-profit organization that works to keep at-risk kids, like him, off the street. I don’t really believe the story and he doesn’t seem to either. I always buy some candy even though it’s ridiculously overpriced because I feel sorry for the kid. I’m pretty sure he’s mixed up in some sort of child labor ring, but I don’t have any proof, and it seems rude to ask.

I’ve read about businesses like this where somebody hires a bunch of kids, shuttles them around to different neighborhoods to sell candy door-to-door, and then pays the kids a commission, usually a couple bucks for every box of candy they sell. Laws vary from state to state, but “for-profit” door-to-door sales are illegal just about everywhere for kids under the age of 16.

I unlock the screen door and open it to hand him a five. “I’ll take a Reese’s,” I say.

I want to say something else, something like, “Stay in school and study hard,” but it isn’t really my business. And as my college-aged nephew is quick to point out, “Steve Jobs dropped out of school.”

It’s hard to make an argument for school these days when you can learn just about everything from YouTube and Wiki, including important stuff like how to play beer pong without a table. I have two degrees and still don’t know the answer to “Why is the sky blue?” So when my niece asks me, I just shoot back with “Why are we even here?” which is a lot to hit a first-grader with.

“Hey,” I say, as he heads down the walkway, “If you want to earn some money, you can come back tomorrow and shovel some air.” He looks at me like I’m crazy and I lock myself back in.

Packing List

I’m off to Hawaii tomorrow. You know what that means. It’s time to start packing. Well, not exactly yet. I still have the rest of the day. For now, there are too many other things to do, like begin my swimsuit exercise regimen.

I’m a little late on this, I know, but I figure if I do 100 stomach crunches an hour for the next 10 hours, by tomorrow I’ll look 1000 stomach crunches better than I do right now. Of course, tomorrow I’ll just be sitting on a plane drinking Bloody Marys and eating salted peanuts, so what’s the rush?

Even with the 1000 stomach crunches, I’m still going to look a little bloated when I hit the beach on Monday. That takes some of the pressure off to get to the whole swimsuit exercise regimen right away. The other thing that takes the pressure off is my age because even with 1000 crunches, I’ll still have spider veins and dry elbows.

Packing, like exercise, is rarely an easy task to get to, which is probably why so many people put it off as long as they can. Some people even have other people pack for them, like children and Paula Abdul.

I can understand why children need help. Imagine if you said to your 6-year-old son, “We’re leaving for Hawaii tomorrow. Don’t forget to pack.”

He would hardly forget. In fact, he’d probably finish sooner than you if it meant not having to clean his room. Then he’d get to Hawaii, unzip his bag and the only thing in it would be his blankie and his goldfish, Nemo, which he cleverly packed in a Ziploc bag full of water.

“What on earth?” you’d say, “Why did you pack the goldfish?”

“So I can put him back in the ocean,” he’d say.

Gee, kids are cute. Unfortunately, they are also crazy-making as you have just arrived in Hawaii and now the first thing you have to do is drive to the mall to buy your kid some underwear.

That thing about Paula Abdul having someone pack for her, I saw that on her Bravo TV show “Hey Paula” that aired for a quick minute about a decade ago. I remember it because it never occurred to me that you would have someone else pack for you.

My mom once said if she could have any kind of help she wanted, she’d have a personal chef. I said a personal driver. My sister said a personal shopper. It was easy to see what each of us was tired of doing. None of us said a personal packer.

Packing is one of the most personal things there is, which is why it’s so disturbing when a TSA officer opens your bag in public and start fingering everything in it. Standing next to someone in the drugstore line can also be very personal, especially if you stare at what they’re buying.

What’s public and what’s private is an interesting question. Many women consider their age private, mainly because we live in a culture that thinks younger is better–and it usually is when you’re in a bathing suit. But making one’s age public can be useful too–and it especially is when you’re in a bathing suit.

“What do you want?” you can say, as you tap your bloated Bloody Mary-and-salted-peanuts belly. “I’m 50.”

Or you can jump up and down and scream, “Fire!”

Either way, no one will notice you because two 18-year-olds sun bunnies are playing Frisbee nearby.

I suppose I could pick up some kind of natural diuretic at the drug store to deal with the bloating, but I might run into someone I know who will stare at my purchase and wonder if I’ve developed an eating disorder.

Or I could go the mall and look for a new super-strength shape-slimming bathing suit that not only flattens my belly but also constricts my breathing.

But I still have to pack and do my 1000 crunches. So the question is, as it always is when any of us is packing: What do I really need?

I know! A tan. If I hurry, I can get in three sessions before dinner.