Thursday, May 30, 2019

Celebrate National Bathroom Reading Month

June is National Bathroom Reading Month
A marketing gimmick--an amusing one--the month-long celebration declared by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute is worth considering for a couple of minutes. The Institute publishes the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader books, collections of fun facts and trivia. Publications include The Best of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, Uncle John’s UNCANNY Bathroom Reader, Fake Facts and Flush Fiction.

The Bathroom Readers’ Institute proclamation:
Since 1988, the Bathroom Readers’ Institute has led the movement to stand up for those who sit down and read in the bathroom. National Bathroom Reading Month celebrates the 66 percent of Americans who proudly admit to this time-honored pastime.

I’m thinking: What do the other 34% do in lieu of reading in the loo? What do YOU think they do? If a member of the non-reading crowd, what do you do?

I suppose the Institute conducted a poll to arrive at the 66% statistic, but were people honest when asked about such a sensitive topic? I bet people say they read to appear smart and literate. If the answer is no, people might consider these non-reading-bathroom-beings boring.

Bathroom reading is apparently an American pastime, like shopping, eating out, and watching TV. Speaking of an episode of the iconic sit com Seinfeld, “The Bookstore” George Costanza is forced to buy a book he takes into a Brentano’s bathroom to read while doing his business. 
A 4-minute YouTube clip of the Seinfeld bathroom episode.

Reading in the bathroom is not, however, strictly an American pastime. Two thousand years ago Roman baths contained libraries so folks could borrow books to read while doing their bathroom business. With the invention of the printing press (thank you Gutenberg!), reading material proliferated. Folks used the pages of finished items as toilet paper (and thank you Sears for all those catalogues). 

The invention of the smartphone increased the numbers of folks reading on the toilet. Verizon Wireless conducted a study and discovered 90% of people with smartphones used them while on the toilet. That begs the question: how sanitary are our phones? I think we all know the answer...

Why do folks read while pooping on the potty? Probably as a way to pass the time until their bathroom task is flushed finished. Sitting on the toilet can be a wasteful use of precious timeWhat does one do? Look around a (usually) uninspiring space. Most bathrooms are not decorated with interesting artwork, decorative furniture or unique accessories. How often do you see towels that spark your imagination, catch your eye and keep your attention for more than a couple of seconds?

On the potty, immersed in a book, newspaper or magazine--on a favorite electronic device or an old-fashioned paper edition--time passes quickly. For the reader – not necessarily for others waiting their turn. Ever notice some individuals take tomes into the bathroom and do not emerge for...a very long time. 

In summary, do not feel guilty when perusing magazines or books in the bathroom, either at home or away. A good host will supply reading material for guests. 

What’s in your bathroom?
Reading material found in one room of my house.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Old Coots Give Advice

Definition of coot from the Cambridge dictionary:
1.   A small, dark bird that lives near rivers and lakes.
2.   An old man who has an unusual or slightly crazy way of behaving.

I am an old coot. Officially. Not the small, dark bird kind of coot, but the “unusual or slightly crazy” variety. Although strictly speaking a male phenomenon, nowadays a broadened definition includes old people of the feminine gender.

I was recruited for my new part-time volunteer job because I am an old coot. No one calls me that—at least to my face—but I wouldn’t be surprised if unknown persons refer to me as, “you know that old lady, the old coot, who lives in that house with the overgrown bushes...”

Or used to. I trimmed the bushes this week. 

Anyway...our town’s farmers market opened for the season Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The old coot stand is manned (and womanned) by a group of seniors. We sit under a canopy providing much-needed relief from the sun. A sign hangs above that reads, “Old Coots & Company Giving Advice.” 

I arrived early for my 9:00 a.m. shift, intent on making a good first impression, and settled into a metal chair. I observed people walk by accompanied by babies in strollers, older kids tagging along behind, and dogs. Folks wandered from one stand to the next, talking with vendors, buying fresh fruits and veggies, flowers and plants, local honey, breads, pies and muffins, and pasta, sometimes munching fresh-made crepes, breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

My co-workers wandered in and we proceeded to proactively invite folks to ask questions. 

Want advice? Need advice? It’s free and worth the price!

All sorts of questions came our way:

·     How do you cook kale?
·     Where is the nearest bathroom?
·     I’m having my first baby. Advice?
·     My three kids live in three different states. Where should I move?
·     A current town controversy is the distribution of new trashcans, much larger than the old ones. Folks asked about the cans – Do you like them? Do we have to use them? Why the f*** did they change them?
·     Construction crews are working on my street. How early can they start?
·     What are market hours?
·     Which stand sells coffee?
·     A band played music in one corner. Folks complained there was no shaded place to sit and listen.
·     Where can we buy beach badges?
·     How old do you have to be to become an old coot?

My hour and a half shift passed quickly. Replacements drifted in and I surrendered my seat. It was my turn to stroll around market and make my purchases. I filled bags with local products--lettuce, spring onions, tomatoes, asparagus and more, and headed home.

Until my next assignment as an old coot giving advice.

Friday, May 17, 2019

My Here and After

34,000 feet above the East coast of the United States, flying due south (and west), I am crunched into a Spirit Airlines seat. My turf for 2½ hours. And I forgot to pack a book. To make the situation somewhat worse the flight is a bumpy one. Passengers are warned to tighten their seat belts. My mind wanders... 

Hub and I cannot sustain our jet-setting lifestyle (if you call flying a low-budget airline to the same place all the time jet-setting) indefinitely. What happens when our bodies begin to reject us? (Cannot help thinking diSPIRITedly as the plane bounces and jolts.) We cannot continue to fly squashed into a narrow Spirit seat forever. Our bodies are beginning to reject the confinement. We slowly unravel as the plane shuts down at its final destination, our stiff joints protesting every movement.

When hub and I forego frequent air travel, Spirit Air will survive without our presence and our cash (barely). But we will want to continue seeing the family (and hopefully they will want to see us, but we won’t ask). Do we relocate and live near the kids? One family resides in Florida, the other in Vermont. Both interesting alternatives at different times of the year.

There is an intriguing option. I have read about a phenomenon called tiny houses or the small-house movement, loosely defined as homes with no more than 400 square feet of living space. I never needed or wanted a large house. Smallness appeals. 

The dilemma: Where to put a tiny house? Would our tiny house replace the Florida family's backyard pool? Could it be erected on stilts above the water? Or float in the pool like a houseboat? 

Or would our tiny house replace the Vermont family's ice skating rink and sandbox?

Two families to fight over hub and me.

The loser gets us. 

Or...some tiny houses can be equipped with wheels. We can secure the house in Vermont in the summer, Florida during the winter, and live the snowbird lifestyle. At a bargain price.  

Tiny houses cost anywhere from $10,000 to $180,000. And of course they come with associated costs. But one could be cheaper—and probably more fun—than conventional living arrangements. (What about an RV, you might be thinking. Not a viable long-term solution for us. Too big for hub and me to drive, too massive to maneuver into either family’s backyard or fit in one of their yards, and more expensive than a tiny house). 

The plane is about to land. Safely. Tiny house talk can wait for a time far into the future.

Meanwhile we forge ahead and fly budget airlines. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

An Awesome Responsibility

I sat still, rigid actually, not moving. Barely breathing. Perched on my thighs, my two hands caressing the sides, an open box with cargo weighing 20-plus pounds settled. 

The pressure proved almost unbearable.

What if I sneezed? Coughed? Spit while talking? Spit while not talking? Oozed saliva in a fit of panic...the possibilities seemed endless.

Not a speck of foreign matter must settle on the object my hands lovingly embraced.

What if any part of my body itched and the urge to scratch became relentless and intolerable? How could I release a hand to handle the problem? Would the box move, the precious cargo tilt, touch the side of the box and an imperfection appear on the perfect, flawless object secured between the sweaty palms of my hands? (After all I was in Florida, an ancient word meaning fiercely hot and unbearably humid much of the year.) 

The pressure. An awesome responsibility.

The task undertaken: transporting a two-tiered, rectangular black-and-white cake from bakery to its final destination. A half-hour journey.
I sat upright in the passenger seat, the hefty yet elegant delicacy centered on a flat silver base inside the open box. The cake rose high above the sides of the box, each tier composed of two cakes with filling between, coated with a fondant icing. The cake appeared level with the top of the dashboard, the top decorative ribbons curled in the center of the top tier, the cake looking like two large gifts for the birthday girl. 

I kept one eye on the movable, unanchored cake, which I hoped remained immobile, and one eye on the road. No potholes please, no abrupt stops, no precarious turns, simply a slow smooth ride.

The air conditioning blasted per instructions from the pastry chef who placed the object on my lap, breathed a sigh of relief the cake was off his hands and no longer his responsibility and bounded away. It was important to keep the pastry cool he noted before departing, otherwise the beautiful concoction might begin to melt. The air blew my hair around. It wasn’t a bother, but another worry. What if one of my brownish-gray wayward locks escaped and landed atop the spotless white top tier or chocolate bottom layer? An undesirable disaster. 

The minutes ticked away. The car edged closer to our final destination, glided up to the front door and stopped. The car door opened and a set of hands grasped the cake—gasping at the weight—and walked away.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief, the awesome pressure off. 

A few hours later I tasted the source of my short-lived stress. 

It was worth it.
Happy 70 Paula!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

An Island On My Mind

I go to Paris, I go to London, I go to Rome, and I always say, "There's no place like New York. It's the most exciting city in the world now. That's the way it is. That's it."
- Robert De Niro

The history major in me surfaces at times. Names, dates, events conjure memories of hours passed steeped in stories of kings, queens, princes and their murderous end, medieval-era wars, influential artists and scientists, explorers and business titans. Most of the information gathered for essays and exams was soon forgotten, but some of the trivia facts linger.

Like the date May 6, 1626.

Picture this:
A group of Indians, dressed for the warm spring weather in light-weight leather and furs, sit in a semi-circle under a large tree which serves as a meeting place for important tribal assemblies. Across from the chief sit three or four Dutchmen dressed in breeches and long-sleeved shirts and coats, appropriate for the cooler Northern European weather from whence they came, but too warm for the temperate weather prevailing in the mid-Atlantic area of the New World. Indians had been harassing the colonists recently settled on the southern tip of the island. The Dutch West India Company was eager to buy the land, end the troubles and secure the land. The Indians roamed the island and beyond, immense territories available for hunting, fishing, planting vegetables, taking hikes with the kids...So what did the loss of a few acres of forestland matter? 

The Indians sold the land to the settlers; actually, the Dutch West India Company. A Company internal memo at the time summarizes the transaction:

Yesterday the ship the Arms of Amsterdam arrived here. It sailed from New Netherland out of the River Mauritius on the 23rdof September. They report that our people are in good spirit and live in peace. The women also have borne some children there. They have purchased the Island of Manhattes from the savages for the value of 60 guilders. It is 11,000 morgens in size (about 22,000 acres).

Which Indian tribe sold Manhattan? The identity of the tribe remains clouded in history, but probably an Algonquin group. One story says the Indians who sold the land didn’t own it--a reason they accepted the budget price. Or maybe the Indians believed they were renting the land, or offering only trading and fishing one knows for sure.

Who knew what that forested island would morph into centuries later?
I regret profoundly that I was not an American and not born in Greenwich Village. It might be dying, and there might be a lot of dirt in the air you breathe, but this is where it’s happening. 
-                - John Lennon

I learned in school the price of the trade was equivalent to $24, but recently scholars dispute that and came up with a cost of $951.08 (no idea how they can be so precise). I was also taught Peter Minuet traded the Indians beads for the land, but there is no written account verifying that. Again, scholars question the accuracy of the tale, suggesting the Dutch probably traded food, coins, or other goods. The purchase of Staten Island in 1670 involved a trade of clothing, food, cooking utensils, muskets, and other items. 

What is beyond question is that Europeans settled Manhattan and surrounding areas, eventually creating one of the most populous cities on earth--an immigrant gateway, financial and commercial center, tourist destination, culinary and cultural hotbed.

There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die. 
-               -  Walt Whitman
Billy Joel (and Tony Bennett) in a New York State of Mind

I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance. 
– Nora Ephron, Heartburn