Our Hometown Newspaper

I guess we’re lucky to still have one.  Some days it’s so thin, the Mister says he could shave with it.

I understand I’m in the minority but I still want my physical paper in my hot little hands every morning and I’m not happy if it’s not there by 6 am.  I need the feel, the smell of newsprint and the gentle sounds of turning pages.

The Island Packet is sustained, by and large, by ads extolling the modern miracles of health care, thus providing a clear picture of the paper’s target market.

Full page advertisements for new and supposedly improved hearing ads are common. Sometimes, the ads are four full pages!

We’re bombarded with ads for stem cell treatment for nearly everything that ails us.  Most of it due to our aging bodies.

Quick fixes for varicose veins and sagging arms are usually right next to the obituaries. Cataract surgery ads catch our eye.

Then there are the walk-in bathtubs, designed to save us from disastrous slips, falls and the horrors of broken hips.   They promise one-day free installation if you “Act Now!”  Operators are standing by!  Offer ends soon!

We don’t believe the ads for one minute but we’re grateful for the revenue stream that keeps our paper alive.  Everyone needs a little life support.

But just this morning, there was a new advertisement.  Of sorts.  The headline reads: “Rise and Walk!”

Yep, the old time revival tent is back.  Come one, come all. Everyone is welcome. The lame will walk; the blind will see; the deaf will hear.  All it takes is a little faith.

At this point, if I had to put my money someplace, I’d put it on the tent.  Prayer and belief have been around a lot longer than stem-cell treatments and hearing aids. 

And they’re a whole lot less expensive.

Halloween

That one, simple, scary word sends shivers up my spine. And it has nothing to do with ghosties and goblins.  Halloween’s all about the nifty costumes and the requisite creativity to make them.  I find that utterly terrifying. As parents, we’d send our boys out into the dark of night, “dressed” in the Mister’s old and tattered shirts, with a schmear of black gunk on their faces.  That was it.  No imagination.  Nothing clever. Just regret that they always brought home so much candy in spite of it all. 

Here in our new surroundings, all holidays are celebrated.  Fancifully.  Gaily.  There’s music, table decorations, flowers, colors.  We go all out.  We get with the plan or stay home.

And so it was, that lacking said creativity, we regretfully declined a lovely invitation for the Halloween bash.  But at the very last minute, we decided to pop over to the Big House and take a peek at all the fancy get-ups. No costumes necessary. No one would even see us.

We slipped in the back and immediately saw the Halloweeners pictured above  They definitely were not what we’d expected.  And not necessarily what was welcomed.  In fact, it wasn’t long before the “unknowns” were forcefully ejected from the premises. 

We thought we heard laughter as the pair were escorted to the elevator and sent on their way.  But who knows?  Perhaps it was just a gentle snort or two from behind the somewhat obscene masks.  Only the ghosts really know for sure.

Lights! Camera! Action!

When it comes to enjoying artistic endeavors, I prefer to by-pass those things.  I like my artists up close and personal. Unscripted. Uncostumed.  Unlit.

I got lucky many years ago when I worked at the New England Conservatory of Music.  Most of the professors at the school were also members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  An elite group of musicians, indeed.

But I knew them as just regular people who walked into the school every day.  Just like the rest of us.  They always stopped by the registrar’s office where I worked and chatted with us.   I attended their rehearsals every Thursday during my lunch hour and saw them at work.   No lights, no cameras.  Just a group of very talented people working together to make beautiful music.

Just recently, our son and daughter-in-law hosted the Hilton Head Dance Theater for a small event at our old house on the May River.  Prior to the performance, the young dancers mingled among the party-goers.  We watched them giggle and laugh and talk with their friends. We saw them in their shorts and t-shirts.  No make-up.  No glitzy costumes. 

Then, transformed into ballerinas, they emerged from the kitchen and onto the grassy lawn.  No stage door for them.  No fancy backdrop.  Just a beautiful, cloudless, afternoon of Ballet on the May.  

The audience was gathered on the porch, wine glasses in hand. Cell-phone cameras  quietly capturing the beauty of the afternoon.  Proud parents.  Happy ballet enthusiasts.

Just exactly the way I like it.

An Indian Summer Fantasy

It was a late summer day so I put my little beach chair in the car and headed to the ocean. October sun, gentle breezes, tourists gone. I found myself closing my eyes to just enjoy it all.

Now, you might think that conversations at the beach would be private and contained.  But, when there’s a breeze….and there usually is…..voices carry.  And so it was last week that I became privy to a wide ranging political discussion, just up wind from where I sat.

As I eavesdropped, I learned that the women sitting near me had, to a one, watched the latest presidential debate and were sharing their varied ideas and positions.  They’d paid close attention to the big themes:  health care, immigration, taxes, gun control.  Each had a studied and thoughtful approach.  They were, decidedly, NOT of one mind.  They were engaged in a “judge-free” discussion and I learned a lot.  I did wonder at the time if they knew how lucky they were to be able to do that but that’s another matter.

Then one singled out a candidate and said:  “She needs to “style-up.”

Whoa, I thought.  They just morphed into a whole other level of debate.

Apparently, there was more than one die-hard feminist in the group.  Those women, of course, took the position that “styling up” was frivolous and silly.  Stick to the issues, they said.   Surely, we’ve moved beyond this.

The other side suggested that if clothes make the man, then why not the woman?  Image counts, they said.  So do first impressions.  This is important stuff we’re talking about here. 

Those in the middle were busily hedging their bets. 

It was a vigorous debate and I was enjoying every minute of it.

On and on they went. Civilly agreeing to disagree. Honoring and respecting one another’s opinions. They were friends with differences.

Then a chill wind woke me from my pleasant little nap. And that, as they say, was that.

Beach chair painting by Vic Mastis

Which Comes First?

“Dear Abby’s” advice column or the New York Times crossword puzzle?

The puzzle definitely comes first.  At least for me.  “Dear Abby” just happens to be on the same page as the puzzle so, yes, I do read her column.  Especially when I’m stuck on a clue.

One day not long ago, Abby was responding to a reader who is moving to a retirement community where she and her husband know no one.  The writer admits to not being great at small talk and wonders how she’ll make new friends.

Abby recommended her very own booklet called, something like: “How To Start Over.” It’s a mere $8.00 and my check is in the mail. How could I not want to read that?  It gets to the very core of moving someplace new. 

I can do the actual move bit.  Done it many times.  Hung the pictures.  Arranged the furniture.  Placed the lamps.  Shelved the books.  Sorted the closets.

But after the do-ing,  comes the be-ing.  That’s the hard part.  Certainly for me, as a self proclaimed, card carrying, introvert. And for some of Abby’s readers, apparently. 

I’m eager to see what Abby offers up.  She’s been around a while.  Seen a lot.  Done a lot.  She’s the go-to-woman for many people.  Asking for her advice is new to me.  But so is this move.  So, bring it on, Abby.  I’m checking my mailbox daily.

Image thanks to hoaxes.com

Breakfast Table Un-Conversations

Mostly, they’re just gentle mutterings as one reads his iPad, the other works a crossword puzzle. It’s music of a sort. Humming noises in the background.  A soft blur.

It’s all easy and expected.  Until last Saturday morning when one uttered the following:  “I was visited by smells last night.”

Then the world stops. There’s a palpable gasp.  As if the dead has been resurrected.  Which is exactly what those words mean.

The questions start.  Was it flowers or fruit?  How long did they last?  Were you sound asleep when they came to you?

The questioner already knows the answers but they need to be asked anyway.  For confirmation.  To make sure.  Why now, we wonder?  She’s been gone several years.  

She, for the uninitiated, or the forgetful, is my mother.  Dead now for over twenty years, she spent many of those years appearing to us in the night as “sweet smells.”  Sometimes fruity, sometimes floral. Strong, intense aromas that wafted over us, waking us from deep sleep. Never visiting both of us at the same time.  Ghosts don’t do that.  Don’t ask why.  The episodes always lasted between 15 and 30 seconds. Then they’d be gone.  Poof. Just like that.

The abnormal became the normal.  The peculiar, the accepted.   The why, the why-not. The events became shrug-worthy. Nothing more.

But now, after a hiatus of several years?

There’s a reason it’s happening again.  We just don’t know what it is. Yet.

Oh, The Things We Learn

This little blog is rapidly turning into Life on the Lagoon. There’s a lot going on out there and we appreciate every bit of it from the comfort of our porch.

And so, as we looked out on that little porch just yesterday, we were shocked to discover that someone had spilled white paint all over everything.  The railings, furniture, flooring, plants.  Nothing was left “unadorned.”  Was it a vandal?  A repairman in the wrong place?  The mister sleepwalking?  Paintbrush in hand?

Nope.  None of the above.  It was a new resident.  Just going about his daily behaviors.  His regular activities.  Tending to business.  Doing what comes naturally.

He’s built a room in a nearby pine tree.  One hundred and fifty feet above our house.  And with a clear gravitational drop to our porch.  He knows what to do, how to do it and he does it frequently.  So, look out below. Take your hat with you if dare step outside.

Unless, of course, you don’t mind being on the receiving end of the Osprey’s bodily eliminations.  Children wouldn’t beat around the bush.  They’d call it what it is:  Poop.  Osprey poop.  Which is white.  Which we learned about the hard way.

Is the Osprey a permanent resident or a renter?  A “snow bird”or a full-timer?  Is he just looking or has he made a down-payment on the nest?  He’s a beautiful specimen.  Admirable in flight or in repose.  A magnificent bird of prey. 

And, I’m sorry to say, I truly, deeply hope he goes away.  I know that sounds like a “not-in-my-backyard” kind of attitude.  And, in fact, it is just that.  I want to admire him from afar.  A far, far way away.  I’ll happily ooh and aah as I watch him gracefully and majestically soar off into the great beyond. 

With extensive liberties, a person could (sort of) be reminded of Bogie’s famous Casablanca sentiment: “Of all the pine trees in all the towns in all the world, he had to fly into ours.”

Be Careful What You Wish For

Or, in this case, what you whistle for.

Our family has a “family whistle.” It came, like a dowry, from The Mister’s family.  We used it to round up our children, and they, subsequently, to round up theirs.  Our great-grandchildren are too young to whistle but they know what it means.

It means, simply, to come home.  Those few shrill notes make it clear that you….whichever family member you might be…. better get home right now!

Just the other night, as the Mister and I sat on our second story porch, overlooking the lagoon with its teeming wildlife, we discovered that children aren’t the only creatures who respond to whistles.

Bubba, the big alligator, was having a bit of a swim, lazily swinging his tail, in no apparent hurry.  Until The Mister whistled the family whistle.

To our surprise….nay, shock…. Bubba perked up and swam, quickly, purposefully, in our direction.  Was it an aberration?

No.  It wasn’t.  That much has been made clear over the last few evenings.  Bubba is responding.  He stops in his tracks to determine where the sound’s coming from.  Will change directions if he needs to.  He swims up to the shore…..never nearer….and we have a few moments of mutual appreciation.  Then he goes merrily on his way. 

I think we’ll back out of this relationship, however.   We know all too well that alligators are not toys. Or pets. They can and will respond to noise and can and will turn feral in a heartbeat.

We enjoyed our brief and up-close lesson in alligator behavior.  We will, however, be more mindful of who or what we whistle for in the coming days.

Photo: Bubba on the bank (unprompted by whistle)

She Sells Seashells Down by the Seashore

Yeah, yeah, we all know she does and has done so for years, even though we still have trouble articulating it.  It’s old news.  But now, if she’s a savvy seashell seller, she will go shopping for a She Shed.

Said “She Shed” will surely give both seller and seashells shelter from sudden showers and will shield them from the sizzling sun.

Not being as au-courant about new things as perhaps I should be, I was not aware of the She Shed phenomenon until recently. They seem to come in all sizes, shapes and price ranges.  You put ‘em up, stash your she-stuff in ‘em, make ‘em fluffy and comfy and then you go in ‘em when you’re feeling blue and overwhelmed.  At least that’s the way they’re represented.

That all sounds good.  Fun.  Happy.  There are, however, some serious shortcomings.  Electricity and plumbing, for two.

Absent those necessary elements there is no she-shed in my foreseeable future. Perhaps there’s an easy solution for those somewhat sticky issues.  I wouldn’t know anything about that. In the meantime, I’ll just have to wait and she what happens.

Shed shot thanks to skinners_sheds.com

What To Do????

Make believe you’re the director of a non-profit organization.  You’re always on the prowl for money.  It’s what you do.  It’s what you have to do if you and your organization are going to survive.  That money’s not gonna raise itself.

Or will it?

That depends on the organization, of course.  What if it’s a little one, just trying to stay afloat from year to year?  No one’s going to write a check without being asked. Cajoled.  Begged.

But. 

If you’re a big deal museum, elite college, renowned center of excellence?  That’s a whole different ball of wax.  Donors line up, wanting to make contributions, getting their names on buildings, scholarships, hospital wings.   It’s an ego thing for the donor.  And a big catch for the recipient.

Or is it?

What happens when that money turns out to be tainted?  Ill-gotten? You accepted it. You agreed to it. Now, you’ve got egg on your face and your organization by association.  And everyone’s wringing their hands.  The gift you thought you’d never see turns out to be the one you wish you’d never seen.

So what to do?

Well, it seems that Harvard, that bastion of higher education esteemed by so many, took big bucks from Jeffrey Epstein.   Oops.

Harvard spent most of Epstein’s “gifts” before all the bad stuff  about him hit the fan.  The good news is that they have a good sized chunk of change left over and they are going to designate every penny of it to organizations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.

Go Harvard.  Rah rah, Crimson. They did the right thing and plan to work with peer institutions on similar concerns.

They turned lemons into lemonade.  That’s what they did.

Image thanks to AmericanBanker.com

Aw, shucks.

Just when you think you’ve found common ground with new friends, it all falls apart.

We do, sadly, live in a divisive country.

We can talk around the elephant in the room, pretend it doesn’t exist, act like it doesn’t matter and then someone, innocently, serves up a tomato sandwich and all hell breaks loose.

With that simple act, the beast is unleashed.  

It immediately becomes clear that stark lines have been drawn.  Other opinions don’t matter.  Compromise is out of the question.  Change is NOT the order of the day.

Will the die-hard Ohio tomato-lover concede that the New Jersey tomato may have some redeeming values?  Probably not.

How about the North Carolina tomato versus the Maryland tomato?  Don’t go there.  It’ll get ugly.

The South Carolina tomato really doesn’t have skin in the game unless it’s a Dempsey tomato.  We can all agree on that.

At some point, the prickly issue of corn will inevitably enter the conversation.  When that happens, more wine should be poured or people should simply go home.

We are each firm in our beliefs that the produce of our past is still the best produce on earth.  Our mothers and fathers would have served us nothing less than the juiciest, tastiest, and closest-to-home grown fruits and vegetables.  Best not to question our heritage.

But with understanding and appreciation for those differences, we can all take a stroll down memory lane and friendships can move forward.

Writer’s last word:  Ohio tomatoes are, without a doubt, the best!

Image of vegetables thanks to WebMD.com

I wish I’d gone to jail.

Not because I’d committed a crime.  That’s not something I’d do.  Or ever wish I had.

I do, however, wish I had been arrested and sent to jail because I felt strongly enough about something to get in the way.  To protest.  To sit-in.  To stand-up.  To understand the power of one.  To be fiercely out-spoken in favor of, or against, something that was, at least in my mind, an injustice to others.  Or to the land.  Or to the air.

A small article in a college alumni magazine recently caught my attention.  The writer’s daughter had a serious accident many years ago, leaving her a paraplegic for life.  Not one to let that stand in her way, her daughter became an activist with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Her mother boasts that she went to jail 30 times.

Just once would be good in my mind.  But thirty times???  What a woman.  Imagine the differences she made.

I regret, and have for many years, that as I watched bulldozers raze the land across the street from our house, I didn’t just walk over there and get in their way.  I found out later, much too late, that they didn’t even have a permit for what they did.  I could have made a difference.  Just me.  Just one person.

And maybe, just maybe, if I had gotten lucky, really, really, lucky, I would have been hauled off to jail.

But hold on. As we know, it’s never too late and there’s certainly much to care deeply and passionately about these days. Maybe I’ll get a second chance after all.

Image by John Overmyer/Startribune.com

Boy, Did I Ever Get Lucky

See, I knew them……

Before they were elected “Best Documentary Directors” by the Sundance Film Festival in 2019.

Before MOMA put together a retrospective of their work.

Before Rotten Tomatoes gave them a 98% rating for their newest documentary.

Before they were both elected to the prestigious Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

They are Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar and their film American Factory premiered on Netflix on August 21, 2019.

Once upon a time, many years ago, they invited me into their world of independent filmmaking. Oh, the things I learned. The fun I had.

They introduced me to some of the most creative, dedicated and hardest working people one ever could imagine.

Most importantly, they became my good friends. And in spite of all these accolades, they are still the people they were before. They still live in the same house in the same small town in Ohio and they still leave their egos in the cutting room. Just like they did before.

I urge you and yours to watch this film. It’s an important piece of work.  But don’t take my word for it.  Go to Rotten Tomatoes and see what the experts think.

As an aside.  When you watch American Factory, and I hope you do, ask yourselves how in the world Julia and Steve, with their cameras in hand, were afforded access to so many important, personal and revealing stories.  It’s extraordinary.

Check in, check up, check out

We are incredibly fortunate to have good health care.  And we’re even luckier to have good health care providers.  Most of them have been part of our lives for 20 years or more.  We’re not just on a first name basis; we exchange hugs and family stories.  That easy manner is a balm for a hypochondriac like me.

Same with nurses and receptionists. Good to have them on your side. Anything to get the frayed nerves settled down.

But now we have robotic, computerized check-in machines.  By the time the machine has electronically recognized me, agreed that I have a proper driver’s license, am sufficiently insured to cover the high cost of medicine, has accepted the fact that I have moved, have a new address and telephone number and am still the person I say I am, I am wrecked.   Demoralized.  Nauseated.  Woozy.  I have heart palpitations and sweaty palms.  My toes and fingers tingle and I feel faint.

In other words, I need a doctor.  And not just the one I had an appointment with.

Actually, I just need a person.  Someone to smile at me when I walk in the door, say my name, welcome me, check me in and say those lovely (if not always truthful) words: “Doctor will be with you shortly.”

Image thanks to the Reliant Medical Group

I Play Bridge

Yes, I do and have done so longer than nearly anyone I know.  I learned at my parents’ table.  At a very early age.  Long before I could even hold 13 cards in one hand.  And I’ve enjoyed the game for all these years.

The fact that I play bridge doesn’t make me a bridge player.  That title is reserved for those who take the game seriously.   Actually, I also take the game seriously.  I’m seriously committed to it as just that:  a game. To be played.

My favorite bridge table includes the sounds of ice cubes over a gin and tonic or two, the crunch of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and and much, much laughter.

It’s just not in me to deny the fun, the randomness of the cards.  In my mind, every deal is a present, a gift to open and enjoy.   A bit like a basket of fancifully dyed Easter eggs or a double-layered box of Whitman Sampler chocolates.

Cards are a great excuse to spend time together, share stories between deals and let the world pass us by. We like to say that bridge sharpens our minds. It also deepens friendships, if given a chance.

If you agree, then come on over, put a quarter in the pot, throw out the rule book, cut for deal and we’ll have fun.  I promise.