Courtesy of Signature Montana magazine

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Squashing a Spring Bug

Squashing a Spring Bug

Last night I rolled over in the dark, held my breath and tilted my head toward the window. Was that a cat on my roof?

When I exhaled, there it was again: the high-pitched whine of a clogged nostril.

An hour later I woke up cowering from a World War II air-raid dream.

Buds are swelling on the honeysuckles. I need my coat in the morning, but I forget it at the office every afternoon. I’ve oiled the garden tools and doubled up the squat thrusts. Soon, it will be time to shave my legs for Spring.

I refuse to catch a cold.

Instead of running for covers, I open my medicine cabinet–nice and slow.

My secret weapon? A $3 dose of lipospheric Vitamin C that tastes so bad that I stomp one foot as I bite off the corner of the packet and guzzle the half-gelled contents by inserting the whole pouch and pulling it out out between my teeth. Instead of following instructions that prolong the unpleasantness, I deliver it, grenade style, in one swallow.

Take THAT, rhinovirus!

I’ve been eluding the creeping crud since Halloween, dodging contaminated airborne particles like automatic weapons fire. I empty trash cans with tongs and cut away from crowded aisles at the grocery store. Snotty children make me shiver. I gather my books and move my seat at the library at the the second sign of a cough.

In January, my husband got so sick that he jammed a tissue up each swollen nostril and skulked around the house imitating the Abominable Kleenex Man. I kicked him out of our bedroom for nine days.

Another Abominable Kleenex Man (NOT my husband)

Unlike my husband, who at least had the decency to hole up, many of the Walking Infected participate in a weird ritual of martyrdom and tribal recruitment. “I’ve been sick for three days,” one of them tells me. “I dragged myself out of bed to make this appointment.”

“Gee, thanks,” I say, disguising my recoil as a stretch.

Despite repeated confined exposure, no way am I buying NyQuil. Putting that stuff in your bathroom is like hanging a sign around your neck: “Come and get me.”

I will launch pre-emptive attacks with echinacea, garlic, zinc and Vitamin C. I will buy a homeopathic remedy with five syllables of O’s and C’s, but I will not not buy the dreaded green fluid until the pharmacist takes two steps backwards when I ask, “Where’s duh Die-kwul?”

And if there are extras from a Zombie movie in that aisle at Walgreens, I’m gonna wait it out.

 

 

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An Unqualified Urban Anthropologist Asks: Why are Homeless People Cold?

NYC Homeles

From Ten People a Day to at Least Five Thousand

When I’m in Great Falls, Montana, I see maybe ten humans in a typical day. When I’m in New York City, I encounter at least five thousand.

I admit that many of them are seen in a blur: on the treadmills at Planet Fitness; on the A Train as it rumbles between platforms past 23rd Street; bobbing heads across the next intersection, warning me to take a hard right to avoid Times Square.

Of those five thousand faces, I don’t talk to more than six of them a day. Speaking less than twenty words a day, and walking all around the island gives me plenty of time to observe other members of my species.

Distinguishing the Needy from the Want-y: Impossible

I don’t care how tall/short/fat/thin/pretty/ugly you are: there’s someone in New York City who is taller/shorter/fatter/thinner/prettier/uglier, usually within a ten foot radius. Among the well-heeled, the tourists, the artists and the worker bees, there are some very desperate people.

It can be difficult to distinguish the needy from the ‘want-y’ in New York City. At Bryant Park last week, a guy came up to me in a spotless Ralph Lauren polo shirt, claiming he was a veteran who needed money. If I had not been frequenting Bryant Park for years, I would not know that Bryant Park is this red-headed, pock-faced guy’s office: he’s there, year ‘round.

It’s impossible to know who is truly needy. It’s like those handicapped parking spaces: you never know what someone’s infirmity might be, so it’s best not to judge.

The Non PC Question: Who is Pathetic Enough for Spare Change?

In front of Eataly on 6th Avenue, there’s a kid with a dog. His sign says, “Everybody Needs a Little Help Sometimes.” He’s young, fit, attractive and literate–he reads the classics. He’s been there for TWO YEARS. (Yes, I am tempted to edit his sign).

Are either of these people homeless? I don’t know for sure…and a donation would not entitle me to ask. Because they are clean and appropriately dressed for the weather, I’m not convinced.

It’s a judgement that passersby make, many times a day: you are not pathetic enough for my spare change.

The Cold Truth?

The one thing that many tragic-looking people have in common is that they are overdressed for the weather.

Why do homeless people layer on so much fabric, even in warm weather?

  1. Because they are homeless, there’s no place to put their stuff. If they aren’t wearing it, it might get swiped or chucked.
  2. They are really, truly, honestly cold. Sometimes if I catch a chill, no matter how warm it is, I can’t seem to warm up. Perhaps all those cold winter nights have imprinted on them, and they are storing warmth for the inevitable winter.
  3. Malnutrition/drug use.
  4. Maybe it’s emotional insulation. Life has not been kind to them, and clothes that keep out the cold actions of a cruel could serve as a barricade. It’s got to be a womblike state, floating in all that sweaty warmth.
  5. Are they hiding? Sometimes, there’s so much stuff attached to a homeless body that it becomes urban camouflage, human beings masquerading as refuse.
  6. There are a few homeless people who make their insulation into entertainment. Somewhere around the Port Authority (usually outside one of those dollar-a-slice pizza places) there’s a guy who dresses totally and THICKLY in discarded newspapers. He’s sort of a homeless performance artist.
  7. Territorial markings. On this crowded island, it might help to recognize one of your own kind, so a territory can be staked out. A fearsome ambiance might deter panhandling competition as well as unwanted companionship.
  8. Clothing as repellant. I admit to cutting some homeless people a wide berth. Sometimes there’s a potent olfactory barrier, other times it’s as though the person underneath all that stuff lives in an alternate reality that’s best left undisturbed.

The Cruelty of Academic Analysis

It’s cruelly academic to discuss a homeless person’s attire. We should be working to deal with the root causes of homelessness: mental illness, poverty, drug use, violence, a top-heavy economy, and general hopelessness among the people who need more than just hope.

If you want, instead of poking at a problem, to actually do something, consider donating time or money to the National Alliance to End Homlessness.http://www.naeh.org/ This is a Charity Navigator four-star charity, which means the money goes where it needs to go, and the transparency of the organization is excellent.

 

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Blue Jasmine Blooms at the Angelika in NYC

Blue Jasmine opens with Windsor EF Elongated lettering, white on black. It’s the Woody Allen Font.

 

 

 

 

 

There are other signs of the neurotic master: interlocking abrasive family dynamics, New York City as a supporting character, and the basically vapid nature of anyone who possesses a postgraduate degree and/or five million dollars.

Midnight in Paris (2011) was a charming diversion, like an iced mocha on a hot day. To Rome With Love (2012) tasted like a warm cafe breve.Woody Allen’s next project, I feared, might curdle on the way to the theater.

Blue Jasmine is the most nuanced work Woody Allen has produced in ages. Whether it succeeds or fails, Allen’s work is always edgy.  Jasmine, instead of prickling and prodding, lifts the covers and hits us in the soft spots.

There’s a lot of “catch and release” entertainment out there. We’v all sat through some bottom-feeders.Good movies are a joy to watch. Truly fine films hook our psyches and tug hard, long after the credits roll.

The ensemble cast of Blue Jasmine gathers around an ill-prepared, Xanax-popping East Coast socialite who is forced into a cluttered San Francisco apartment with her semi-estranged semi-sister (like real life, it’s a long story, that no one wants to hear–and no one has to).

Though Jasmine–who has lost everything except a killer wardrobe, a monogrammed set of Louis Vuitton and a one-way first class airline ticket–is blue, she’d rather step over fertile soil than endure a transplant into the working class.

The supporting cast is so genuine that, at times, it’s embarrassing to watch. Sally Hawkins, Sara Silverman’s twitchy lost big sister, uses her body as an emotional boogie board; Andrew Dice Clay embodies the drudging naïveté that elects fools and resents elections; Louis CK makes a doughy charmer; and Woody has finally found a worthy heir apparent to Chazz Palminteri: Bobby Cannavale manages to be handsome, offensive, endearing and dopey, all at the same time.

Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay

Then there’s a guy who is a dead ringer for Alec Baldwin. Okay, he is Alec Baldwin, playing, of course, Alec Baldwin. Some actors who play themselves are annoying, but Baldwin sure greases up a screen.

Movie critics may contend that Blue Jasmine is about the untenable nature of contextual conscience. If I dragged your gut-scratching uncle to the movie, he would sit at your  kitchen table in his soiled T-shirt and shake his head. “It ain’t so complicated. What goes around comes around.”

 

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A Brief Case for Alien Invasion

Courtesy 0f Signature Montana magazine: http://www.signaturemontana.com/archives/summer2013/#/90

I’m putting a call out to any little green men within shouting distance: please invade Earth.

Our entire planet is in trouble. Ocean levels are rising. Food crops are being co-opted. Overpopulation and pollution are acknowledged global threats. Human rights abuses and terrorist acts, domestic violence, mass shootings, coups, jihad and organized genocide take turns at being our Disaster Du Jour.

Our dependence on fossil fuels can be compared to addiction; we might change our dealer, our dose, or our hydrocarbon of choice, but we have no plans, at least for the next couple of hundred years, of giving up the jobs and energy that dead dinosaurs provide.

What we need is something to unite us, a common enemy to force us to clean up our acts, to make us think twice about the things that pull us apart.

Where Nelson Mandela, Black Elk, Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have failed, I am hoping the Threat of Little Green Men will succeed.

Because most of us in the developed world have a comfortable routine, we trust that, at the last minute, someone will spare us the obvious inconvenience of rescuing us from ourselves.

There’s plenty of time, right? Everyone who’s ever seen a Hollywood blockbuster knows, before we even deserve to be rescued, things have to get really bad. Living in the majesty of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, among the great peoples of the Great Plains, it’s hard to ask–are we there yet?

Our earth has experienced at least five mass extinctions. These events occur when changes in the planet outpace the present species’ ability to adapt. Some of these extinctions were unquestionably extraterrestrial (asteroids, not aliens–gotcha).

We wouldn’t have time to fight among ourselves if there was a credible interstellar threat. We’d have to get in shape, conserve energy, and, instead of lavishing media attention and money on entertainers and sports heroes, we’d be forced to value cooperation and critical thinking skills–and possibly, good aim.

Humans  unite during a crisis: it can sometimes take the worst of us to bring out our greatest assets, our kindness and courage.

Give me the threat of an alien ray gun aimed at our bare human behinds, and we might come together to save the entire world.


 

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Pardon Me… Do I Know You?

(Reprinted with permission from Signature Montana Magazine)http://www.signaturemontana.com/

Welcome to Great Falls, Montana, birthplace of Linda Ann Hopkins and Sheila Young.

If those names aren’t familiar, maybe you’ve heard of Tera Patrick or Victoria Paris? These two women are near the top of the charts when you search online for famous people from Great Falls.

Great Falls, home of premier western artist Charlie Russell, refuge for authors A.B. Guthrie, Dan Cushman, Jamie Ford, Pete Fromm and Wallace Stegner, training ground for Olympic skaters John Misha Petkevich and Scott Davis, waystation for Lewis and Clark–and our most famous natives are a couple of porn stars?

Victoria Paris (not a recent pic, as you might be able to tell from the '80's hair)

Our Chamber of Commerce is not doing enough to promote our erotic heritage. I’ve been here all my life and I had no idea.

Imagine how this discovery could swell our tourism base. Finally, Great Falls could give Mitchell, South Dakota’s Corn Palace some stiff competition. While Aunt Betty visits the C.M. Russell Museum, Paris Gibson Square and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Uncle Phil could while away the hours at Great Falls’ newest tourist attraction, the Porn Palace.

Perhaps we could make up for ignoring Tera Patrick and Victoria Paris by erecting a statue at the Tourist Information Center. The dedication ceremony, with bands from both high schools and a nighttime fireworks display would jam traffic all the way past Dick’s RV Park.

Tera Patrick, in one of the few Internet images that did not melt my screen.

 

If celebrating our erotic heritage is not to your liking, we could try to displace our tassel-enhanced natives from the top of online search engines by launching a clicking campaign for other famous Electric City natives.

How about googling Gerald Molen? This Hollywood producer won an Academy Award for Schindler’s List, as well as producing Rain Man, Days of Thunder, and Minority Report. If his face is familiar, it’s because he appears in cameo roles in the movies he’s produced.

Respected stuntman Buddy Sosthand was also born in the Electric City. He’s worked on many A-List movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean, 21 Jump Street and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Just a ways north of town, up in Conrad, we have Wylie Gustafson, energetic country crooner and composer.

Click hard on those famous names and we’ll topple those porn stars off Google’s pedestal.  If we can’t out-click the more lurid among us, perhaps it’s time to round up investors to approach Mr. Molen, give some vitamins to that stuntman and get our world-famous country yodeler to lay down a vocal track. I have an idea…


 

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Your Salsa is from New York City? My New Yorker Comes from Boone, Iowa.

Cajole, Threaten, Hint and Lie: Renewal Notices from the New Yorker

 
The first letter came without a threat last May, in a plain white envelope.

It was from the subscription department at the New Yorker with a return address in Boone, Iowa. I felt like one of those cowboys around the campfire lamenting the origin of their salsa: my New Yorker magazine comes from… Iowa?

If there was a terrorist plot against effete rural liberals, a renewal notice from the New Yorker, postmarked from a town named after the symbol of rugged frontier justice would be just about right.

I shook the envelope. Something awful, like anthrax or Sweet&Low might pour out. Above my name, in caps, “EXP FEB 13.” Even if this renewal notice was legit, my subscription didn’t expire for ten months.

Either the terrorists would have to try harder, or I’d  hear from the New Yorker again. I tossed the unopened letter in my desk.

Within a few weeks I got another friendly reminder, same return address. This time I googlemapped Boone, Iowa. No magazine fulfillment center. I thought about staking out the Boone post office, waiting for a dandy with a top hat and a monocle to unlock P.O. Box 37685.

Wait. Why does Boone, Iowa have 37,685 post office boxes? The population, according to the 2010 census, was 12,635. I’d be damned if I opened that letter. Something wasn’t right.

The third notice came from a different P.O. Box, three doors down from the old one. It had the word “REMINDER” in all caps, above my address. Kind of classy, like the guy at the opera who coughs and stares at your crotch to let you know you forgot to zip.

I had 33 issues left, a little over nine months of New Yorkers. I ignored their request.

I admit that I am easily annoyed. I’m taking pills for it now, but they are obviously not working. It tightened my gut that Condé Nast, the publisher of the New Yorker, was rubbing its hands together, wanting me to feed the beast.

I understand beasts need to be fed. I throw money at open mouths too. I’m offended to be asked to throw money at Boone, Iowa in May for a New Yorker subscription that runs out in February, that’s all.

I also resent anyone trying to con me into paying far in advance for goods or services yet to be rendered. That’s called ‘playing the float’.

Could my highbrow magazine be attempting to shave a few issues off if I renewed early? No… The New Yorker would never commit such a low-down offense–though there have been legal settlements in the past for ‘short sheeting’ subscribers in the periodical biz.

What they are unquestionably guilty of is negligence. The New Yorker farms subscriptions out to CoMag, a company, until recently co-owned by the publisher of the New Yorker, Conde Nast, along with archrival mega-publisher Hearst.

Hearst and Conde Nast sold their distribution monster to a third party, Jim Pattison Co.. Pattison already owned NewsGroup, which distributes 1.5 billion periodicals per year.

Picture (an as yet, uncalculated) huge percentage of all the print magazines published in the U.S. and Canada, throw them into a pile of glossy glued bindings, and run them all through the same huge stainless steel distribution funnel.

Publishers shove the stuff in the big end,  they wash their hands, you pull it out the small end.

You can’t blame me for being annoyed and suspicious. No one is washing my hands.

The New Yorker is a top tier magazine. Erudite cartoons pepper pithy reviews; insightful, vetted commentary is quoted worldwide; their exasperating feature articles beat a topic with a stick, soak it in quotes, hang it out to dry and then fold it like origami. It’s a thing of annoying beauty.

Why would this bastion of intellectualism farm out their subscription service to a company that cajoles, pokes, prods, threatens, and lies to a loyal subscriber?

It’s even worse that they can shrug their shoulders and say they had no part in it.

 

 

 

 

 

Yep, they lie. I received at  least three reminders with the words “Last Chance.” (Obviously not). Two others said “Final Notice.” White ones, manila ones, blue ones.  One was emblazoned with a huge militaristic “DEADLINE EXTENDED.” Several featured a Stars & Stripes stamp. Is there a battle going on? Is it my patriotic duty to renew?

Within the past few weeks, as my subscription was truly about to expire, their tactics changed: they wanted me to think I’d already renewed, and that I just needed to send in the “Confirmation Notice: Enclosed.”

Last week  the Crooked Tree Coffeehouse here in Great Falls, Montana received their January 28 issue. I did not.

Had the New Yorker given up?

A few days later, I got my copy, with a thick paper overlay: LAST ISSUE ALERT. The attached “Pay me later” prepaid postcard offered only one alternative for last-minute renewal “$99.99 for 47 issues. 64% off Cover Price!”

I was only mildly tempted.

On Thursday, another issue arrived. Surprise. My “last issue” wasn’t the last issue after all.

It’s not the last issue I have with the New Yorker. Or is it?

 

 


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Movie Tickets as Tacit Endorsements or How to Review a Movie You’ve Never Seen

Check out my hubpages blog for a commentary on Zero Dark Thirty.

www.http://baizblogger.hubpages.com/hub/To-See-or-Not-to-See-Movie-Tickets-as-Endorsements-Zero-Dark-Thirty

 

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Check out my Hubpages Blog…

http://baizblogger.hubpages.com/hub/The-Dark-Side-of-Couponing-How-Dashing-for-Deals-is-Dow-Chemicals-Dream

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Putting my History/Poli Sci Degree to Use…Over at HubPages.

http://baizblogger.hubpages.com/hub/Economist-Joseph-Steiglitz-Rent-Seeking

What’s ‘rent-seeking’? It’s quietly creating unearned wealth and widening the economic gap in the USA. Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz explains it to me here…

Joseph Stiglitz

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Ten Good Reasons to Lose the Lottery: Why Bad Luck Might Just be Good

10. My Cat. Winning the lottery would be awful for Beats, my 15-year old mackerel tabby. Our old house is the only home he’s ever known Beats is Lord and Master of his Castle, adorned with human food servers and door attendants, an anti-dog fence, ceremonial outdoor crapping grounds, and–the reason our cellar door is always shut–a spare litter box crawlspace under the kitchen. I could never take him away from the only world he has ever known.

9. Security. I’m thinking armed guards. Imagine a lottery winner living in a diverse neighborhood–that’s what you call a city block where two people have been murdered, and a third was sent away for the deed in the last two decades.The vandals who regularly loot my 1996 minivan would have to upgrade to figuring out the gull-wing doors of a Lamborghini. And the construction noise from building all those gun turrets might send Bud next door over the edge. My neighbors would go from this pleasant state of indifference and suspicion to downright resentment and hatred.

8. Relatives. These people are bad enough if you aren’t rich. I’m sure they are worse if you are.

7.Unearned Bucks are Bad for Babies. I don’t care that they are adults. Once Dad and I began to wiggle our hineys into comfortable excess, the whining would begin. I’m all for giving people a leg up, but putting both my kids’ feet up and hiring someone to mix margaritas and order NetJets: uh, no thanks.

6. Business Schemes. People with all kinds of ideas will want me to finance them. I will tell them they are crazy stupid. They will get mad. I will be lonely.

5. I want to be disliked for who I am. Or liked for the same reason. I am not sure I would even like ME for myself if I had millions and millions of dollars. From my internal dialogue, I can say with certainty that I am not incredibly fond of myself anyway.

4. The Parade of the Curious (or worse). Sometimes people slow down to look at our old house. It’s pretty big, it’s decorated with exceptional cats, and it’s got a funky paint job. It’s hard enough trying to talk my husband into wearing underwear and stop waving to gawkers from the upstairs guest room. I would not want pictures of my buck naked butt-scratching nouveau-riche husband in a tabloid.

3. The Total Loss of Anonymity. In Great Falls I can still go places where I don’t know everyone. Yep, someone I know usually stops by my table at a restaurant or waves at me when I’m walking around downtown. The baristas at Starbucks know my drink by heart. My iced half-caf soy cocoa cappuccino would curdle in my gut if people slowed down just to point at my Day-Glo orange Lamborghini. It would make me so sad to have to build my own personal Starbucks in the backyard.

2. Fear of Kidnapping. See #10, #9, #6, #5 and #1. If kidnapping involves #8 or #7, please note that you have already been written out of my will. If it involves #10, my precious Beats, I will hunt you down and scratch your eyes out, force you to defecate in a sandbox and declaw you: this is no small matter, since declawing is essentially surgical extraction of your digits down to the first joint.

1. The Curse. West Virginia Lottery winner Jack Whitaker’s ex-wife said, after his granddaughter was found dead and over $100 million in winnings was squandered, that she should have torn up the ticket. Jeffrey Dampier, a $25 million lottery winner, was kidnapped and murdered by his sister-in-law. Winners Ken and Connie Parker’s 16-year-old marriage disintegrated within months of cashing the jackpot. Right in Sun Prairie, a stone’s throw from Great Falls, back in 1995, a 77-year old man died only a week after cashing his first Lottery check.

Face it, fellow losers: sometimes it’s more fun to dream about winning than it is to deal with it.

 

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