One Man’s Trash: Doing My Part to Save the Planet

This week, in addition to trolling The Drudge Report to make sure that the anti-Christ still hasn’t made an appearance, I scored some amazing household items–thanks to one family’s need to purge and move.  Or move and purge.  Kinda like a chicken-egg thing.

Now, some may say that scavenging through another family’s discard pile is tantamount to picking through your neighbor’s garbage, but I disagree.  To me, it’s my way of keeping this planet safe from the rising mounds of trash in our nation’s landfills, albeit in a small way.  It’s also my way of filling my home with things that someone else had taken the time to research, order, purchase, unwrap, read the complicated user manual (in seven distinct languages) in order to assemble, successfully assemble, and install.  Culling through someone else’s leftovers saves me all that heartache.  You see, in this house (unless copious amounts of alcohol are involved), assembling a complicated purchase usually results in those attempting to assemble said purchase to angrily stomp away from the wreckage and to their respective computers to Google ‘divorce attorneys’.

See?  I’m also doing my part to keep the divorce rate down.  I call that a win.

It helps if you know the people from whom you are scavenging.  In my case, I did, so I trusted their combined wisdom to have made thoughtful decisions when purchasing the items they once couldn’t live without that now adorn my own home. The fact that their now empty house was once tastefully appointed is a bonus.

When I go through my house and count the number of items within that have once been owned by other people, I am pleased to note that the number is higher than the number representing items I purchased directly from a vendor, like a furniture store, or Macy’s.  That I may know the original owner makes the counting even more fun, as in, “Those wicker chairs once belonged to Marla,” or “See that end table?  It’s Duncan Phyfe, and it once graced the governors’ mansion.”

Okay, I made up that last one, but you get my point.

However, I maintain that there are some items that I refuse to buy secondhand.  Like shoes.  Ew.  Shoes, over time, conform to the wearer’s feet, and often you can look at a pair of shoes and identify to whom they belong just by the worn out shape of the shoe.  And they’re stinky.  So there’s that.

Have you ever seen underwear at a garage sale?  As in someone else’s underwear for sale?  Are you kidding me?   I don’t know about you, but when I decide to retire an undergarment, it goes in the trash.  I don’t care if that bra and knickers are from Agent Provocateur, uh-huh.

Well, unless the tags are still on them.

My point is this:  None of us should be so proud that we turn up our noses at the thought of procuring household items from a garage sale, an estate sale, a moving sale, or any other kind of sale that isn’t located in a mall or on Amazon.  If you are, but you still like nice things, then don’t tick off the names of the previous owners of your precious plunder when you have guests over.  But be smart about it.

“See my dining room table and chairs?  That’s Duncan Phyfe.  It’s been in my family for generations.”  Fine.  Now you sound like a snob, and it still belonged to someone else.  Or, “Of course, that Aubusson carpet was dreadfully expensive, but we just had to have it,” and you drive a Dodge Neon.

Get my point?

The Contemptible State of the Fourth Estate

I don’t even know where to begin with this because when I try to conjure examples of fair, unbiased, ethical, and relevant media reporting, I’m at a loss.  The past two weeks has seen everything from the anointing of the new Queen of the Big Switch-a-Roo to the lopsided reporting of a pool party gone awry in Texas.  While the world is still sanctimoniously applauding the courage and bravery of a publicity whore who has timed his transformation from a him to a her to coincide with the announcement of his E! Network reality show, police officers—regardless of what actually resides within their individual hearts—have been once again vilified for dirty deeds done to the African-American community.

bjwheaties

So a former Olympian changes his name to Caitlyn—a moniker that didn’t exist in any 1953 book of baby names—and lands on the cover of Vanity Fair looking like a woman.  What were you waiting for, Bruce?  You could have had that thing lopped off years ago, called it a day, and spared all of us this drama.

Don’t get me wrong.  In the big scheme of things (since Bruce is neither my husband, father, brother, nor son), I couldn’t care less what he plans to do with his shriveled junk once he actually does the abracadabra and makes himself into a woman.  It’s his right to do whatever twinkles his toes, so have at it, Bruce.  My objection to his transformation is that it has been shoved down our throats by none other than the liberal media as such a brave, courageous, and progressive move on his part.  To suggest or even think anything to the contrary means that you are no better than a thoughtless Neanderthal, a knuckle-dragging cretin who does not support the LGBT community.

Really?  Thank you, Thought Police for telling me what I think.

Consider this:  Maybe it just means that Bruce’s entré into the world of hot flashes, mammograms, and sagging boobs does not qualify as news, as in, maybe this should be a private affair between him and his family.  Maybe it means that most of us have an entirely different definition for the word ‘courageous’.  Or, maybe it means that I’m jealous because I will never, ever, no matter what I do, get Annie Leibovitz to take my picture and slap my swimsuit clad self on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Then there’s the McKinney, Texas pool party debacle.  Hey, news outlets, here’s a tip:  Get the story straight before you report it, like, maybe rely upon more than the adolescent narrative of the 15 year-old who shot the video clip with his iPhone 4.  Report the story in its entire context, and for once, just try to widen your perspective.  Instead, we’re fed this mudslinging, murky, and misguided medley of news stories that have resulted in a flurry of haters tweeting, posting, and yelling from the rooftops that all police are racist and that those poor children were just trying to have a good time.

Sure, they were trying to have a good time, but did anyone stop to think why the police were called in the first place?  Or did anyone bother to interview any of the neighborhood residents to get their take on the day’s events?  I will concede that a police officer throwing down a 15 year-old girl looks really, really bad–okay, it is bad no matter how you slice it–but until you’re in that particular situation (as I have been as a teacher), you really don’t know the whole story.

Note to the media:  It’s your job to get the whole story in an unbiased, non-prejudicial manner.

I will say this for the progressive media:  They have mad SEO (Search Engine Optimization) skills.  Just for fun google ‘McKinney Pool Party’ and observe the positioning of the anti-police stories versus the page two or page three positions of the “other side of the story” stories.

Meanwhile, in other news:

  • A river cruise boat sailing on the Yangtze River in China carrying 450 passengers capsized and sank, killing at least 97 people.
  • Vice President Joe Biden lost his son Beau, an Iraqi war veteran, to brain cancer. What makes this news particularly heartbreaking is that the vice president also lost his first wife and a daughter in a 1972 car crash.  President Obama delivered an extraordinarily stunning eulogy at Major Biden’s funeral.
  • Chinese hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing the identifying information of at least 4 million current and former federal workers.
  • Ninety-two year-old two-time cancer survivor and classical pianist Harriet Thompson finished the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in seven hours 24 minutes and 36 seconds.
  • Eight of the ten men who attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai were set free–and may never have been convicted in the first place–by a secret Afghani military court that found that some of the evidence against the eight men might not have been solid.

Instead, we get Bruce-Call-Me-Caitlyn Jenner and the progressive media’s cockeyed coverage of a Texas pool party.

I would say that all I want is fair and balanced reporting, but to use Fox News’ tagline is somewhat preposterous given that–though it may be what I’d like to hear–it’s hardly unbiased reporting.  Everyone has an agenda.

All I need are facts.  Just the facts, ma’am.

Why I’m Still Mad for Mad Men

To say that I’m a Mad Men fan is like saying Jake Query is an Indianapolis 500 aficionado or that Dr. Phil has a penchant for saying, “This aint my first rodeo.”  I was and remain obsessed with Mad Men, and for not the reasons you think.

I’m a man, yes I am, and I can’t help but love you so.  Back atcha, Don.  While it’s true that I’m in love with Don Draper, make no mistake, I see nothing to love about his doppelgänger Jon Hamm.  Jon’s okay, but as a real person he just doesn’t do it for me.  What he did do for me, though, was to skillfully and cleverly construct and portray a character who is at once dark, passionate, mysterious, predictable, and, for the love of all that is holy, knows how to light a Lucky Strike.

That he slept with most of the properly appointed women of the eastern seaboard bothers me not.

I could say so much more about Don, but I think you know what I mean.

Ready at the door with slippers and a highball.  I was born in 1963, just as Sally Draper was entering her formative years.  To see set designers’ re-creations of the insides of the characters’ homes brought back memories of what interior decorating was all about in the 60’s.  That Early American look was in my own home, as in chez Draper, and, in fact, the pattern on the fabric of the Draper’s family room loveseat was the same pattern on the sofa in my house.  Except that my grandmother called it a ‘davenport’.

I enjoy being a girl.  Poor Peggy never got a decent hairstyle.  I thought that at least by Season 7 she’d be rocking a bouffant, but, no, she still sported that ugly shade of brown with a ‘do that looked like a football helmet.  Joan, on the other hand, never wore her hair down while at work, and by Season 7, she was still all boobs and red hair, smokin’ hot as always.  Megan’s hair speaks for itself, wigs, falls, and all.  Today, Joan would have taken a medical leave to have breast reduction surgery, and Peggy would have had a boob job and would have reveled in letting everyone in the office touch them.  In a purely informational way.

Lucky Strikes and Canadian Club.  Back then, everybody smoked, and no one gave a crap if you lit up a cancer stick in the office, in someone’s home, or even at the hospital.  My dad was a high school principal and smoked in his office—with students present.  He probably had a bottle of Seagram’s in his desk drawer, too, but I doubt that, like the executives at SCDP, he set up an actual bar in the corner.  Then, surprise!  (Spoiler alert if you haven’t finished Season 7.)  Betty is diagnosed with lung cancer—whether that’s sad or a case of schaedenfreude, I still can’t get over her smoking a ciggy in her very last scene.

Please, please, don’t be a litterbug.  One of my favorite scenes is when, after buying his first Cadillac (the only car for the successful ad man), Don takes his family on a picnic at a local park.  After they’ve finished eating, canoodling, playing checkers, and peeing beside a tree, they all get up from the blanket they’ve been lying on.  Don packs up the picnic basket with the un-consumables, and Betty grabs two corners of the blanket and gives it a good shake, sending all of their garbage hither and yon throughout the park.  The camera remains fixed upon the scene long after the family gets inside of the Caddy and drives away, as if to say, “See?  Littering was okay in the 60’s.”

Sock it to me, baby, let it all hang out.  The amount of sex, love, pot, and overall debauchery in the office was mind-blowing.  Can you imagine working in a business where it was considered a requirement to light up a fat one in order to spark your creative juices?  Or to get so drunk that you peed in your pants in the middle of a meeting?  How about the general practice of shtupping your secretary?  And when she quit, heartbroken because you wouldn’t leave your wife for her, you shtupped the next girl?

Girls, girls, girls.  Yep, that’s what the executives back in the 60’s called their secretaries.  And sometimes they actually called them ‘secretaries’, which today (in addition to all the shtupping) would be grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Remarks about the girls’ collective T’s and A’s were de rigueur.  To not have your boss wax poetic about your ass was, well, it was downright insulting.

It’s a man’s world.  It was bad enough when Peggy was anointed as a girl copywriter, but when Joan tried to dip her toe into the account acquisition pool instead of the secretarial pool, the partners and junior partners were apoplectic.  How dare she?  It was okay for her to sleep with the top guy at Jaguar in order to secure the account, but how dare she try her hand at actually doing business!  Although, to be fair, she did negotiate a partnership in exchange for her Machiavellian willingness to prostitute herself to a fat-assed Jaguar executive.  When that episode aired, you could almost hear the keening and sobbing of sexual harassment attorneys throughout the country.

A woman, a Negro, a Jew, and a homo walk into an ad agency.  If women were treated as sexual objects and the getters of coffee, Jews were treated as objects of suspicion and envy and were expected to work among their own “people”.  Homosexuals—‘gay’ not yet part of the counter culture vernacular—were still in the closet, even going so far as to marry beautiful women in order to secure a beard.  Blacks, in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, just wanted a chance at a fair shake.  Enter Dawn, Don Draper’s spankin’ new (not that kind of spanking), competent, intelligent, and professional all-American “girl”.  Dawn and her fellow colleague of color Shirley had to work ten times harder at their jobs because they were (fortunately) not objectified but were somewhat (unfortunately) looked upon as a novelty, unlike the elevator operator and Carla, Betty Draper’s own around-the-house girl Friday.  As for SCDP, they considered themselves hip for employing “Negroes”; little did they know that behind their WASP-y backs, these “Negroes” rolled their eyes at whitey for their collective stupidity, lack of insight, and overall single-mindedness.  This was a time when ‘politically correct’ meant voting Republican.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

The times of your life.  The deeper love I have for the late series is all tied to nostalgia.  Or it could be that I just wrote a novel about the same time period, so I’m still rooted in and rooting for the 60’s.  Matthew Weiner and his collection of writers, stylists, set designers, and whoever else goes into the making of an amazingly well-crafted period piece could not have done things any better.  The best moment for me was the beginning of the series finale, when, instead of the familiar opening riff and its clever animation, images of Don Draper’s life drifted across the screen to the timeless voice of Paul Anka.  That’s when I lost control of my emotions.  I sat by myself in a hotel room in Aurora, Ohio, and cried for a time of my life when I heard this same song on the car radio, my father’s arm hanging out the open window, a cigarette lazily nestled between his fingers, and my mother in the front seat, all beautiful and smiling and probably laughing at something he had said.  And the three of us happy kids in the backseat thinking we were the best family in the world.

Thank you for a beautiful ending. 

The State of Indiana Needs Olivia Pope

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Recently, I started watching Scandal, that ABC über-slick drama (and I do mean drama) about Washington, D.C. mess cleaner-upper Olivia Pope.  That woman can put a spin on an anvil.

The State of Indiana needs someone like Olivia Pope who can take what appears to be really, really crappy, bigoted, right-wing nut job legislation and put a more realistic spin on it.  Or, maybe everyone just needs to read the actual bill and try to look at it from both sides.  Now.  And up and down.  And in and out.

I really don’t know clouds at all.

But I digress.  For my non-Hoosier friends, our governor, the wooden-headed Mike Pence, is about to sign into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has everyone here in Indiana quite agitated.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a nutshell, the law states, ““Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”  This means a couple of things to those of us who don’t speak legal-ese:  It means that if you own a business or provide a service, it will be more difficult for individuals to take legal action against you if those individuals feel that they have been the target of discrimination.  It means that religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, are not required to provide certain health care services to individuals under their employ if those services — birth control, for example — go against their core beliefs.  It means that if a bakery owner is a devout conservative Christian whose belief in a strict Biblical interpretation of marriage doesn’t include marriage between two people of the same sex, that bakery owner reserves the right to decline to make your wedding cake.

Yep.  That’s the one that has everyone in a tizzy.

The law does not mean that Indiana will revert to “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” entrances to public buildings.  It does not mean that African-Americans will now be relegated to the back of the bus.  It does not mean that LGBT individuals are now considered second class citizens. It does not mean that any one group will become the target of hatred, discrimination, and will have all of their civil rights abandoned because they belong to a protected class.

Historically, the initial bill was introduced into federal legislation by Chuck Shumer (D-NY) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. However, the Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional as it applied to individual states.  Would it make you feel any better if you knew that the law was sparked by a Native American tribe’s desire to continue smoking peyote as part of their religious rituals?

Sparked.  Get it?

Or, would it make you feel any better that the federal law, the one introduced by a Democrat and signed into law by a Democrat, was opposed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?  He stated, with regard to the Native Americans who wanted to continue with their peyote ritual, that the law “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”

For those of you not familiar with Justice Scalia, he’s about as conservative as they come. He’s so far to the right, I’m surprised he doesn’t fall off his bench.

So you see, the outrage over Governor Pence signing the RFRA into law is mostly coming from those who believe that their rights will be violated.  But what about the rights of the other side?  Why should their rights be compromised?

Back to Governor Pence.  Earlier this year, the governor launched what he called a “state-run news service”.  Really? Whose idea was it to call it that?  The Soviet Ministry of Propaganda?  It was a bad idea that was introduced to the public in the worst possible way. Luckily for him, he ditched it after a few days.  “JustIN” became “JustOUT”.

Then there was his run-in with the overwhelmingly elected “little engine that could” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.  Pence had the audacity to sign legislation that stripped Ritz of her role as leader of the State Board of Education.  Then, in a half-baked attempt to soften that blow, he truncated the ISTEP test by a couple of hours so that third graders wouldn’t have to spend 12 1/2 hours on the test–a test that measures the competency of their teachers but doesn’t do a damn thing that’s good for students.  I don’t know a parent alive who gets up the first Monday of March and exclaims, “Yippee!  My child gets to take the ISTEP test this week!”

Let’s not even mention Pence’s ulterior motives, here.

That’s why Pence needs some Olivia Pope.  Whether you agree with him or not, his delivery sucks.  I’m not asking him to be a strictly populist governor, but for crying out loud, can you at least listen to the people who elected you?  And if you feel so strongly about something, would it hurt you to take out an op-ed in the Indianapolis Star that would support your argument?  You have a captive audience; however, these days, most of that audience would like to see you captive somewhere other than the State House.  Like in the zoo.

The takeaway from all of this should be and hopefully will be this:  Hold firm to your beliefs. Be kind to everyone.  God loves all of us, regardless of who we are.  If you own a business or provide a service, examine your conscience very carefully before you deny anyone the fruits of your labor or your particular talents or gifts.  Maybe in the long run this will teach us all to be more tolerant and understand that the greatest gift we as Americans enjoy is the fact that–at least for now–we’re free to hold fast to our beliefs.

And when I say tolerant, I mean tolerant.

Fifty Shades of Yoga Pants

For a work-at-home gal like myself, Facebook often provides that gathering at the water cooler that I miss three weeks out of every month when I’m not in the office.  And these days, what recurring theme is buzzing through my timeline more than any other?

Fifty Shades of Grey (the movie) and yoga pants.

So about the movie.  I never go to the movies because I have Netflix.  Will I see it at home when it comes out on Netflix (which, judging from the early reviews is rather imminent)?  Maybe.  I’m an adult, after all.  I have three almost grown children so I obviously know how babies are made.  So, yeah, I might watch it.  Or not.  My choice.

Do I need to read about the many reasons I shouldn’t see the movie or read the books (oops, already did) because the overt sexual themes and misogynistic messages will alter the way I view myself as a woman?  No, because I’m an adult who read the three books that were—and this is just my opinion—so poorly written (except for the sex parts—she nailed it there) that they serve as a cautionary tale about how not to write.  And because I’m an adult who knows that the kinds of encounters described in Fifty Shades of Grey were fictional, just like the poorly developed characters and the flimsy plot, I also know that no woman in her right mind would ever fall for Christian Grey’s kinky shenanigans.

That is correct–no woman in her right mind would ever fall for those kinds of kinky shenanigans.  One of the best gifts I’ve been given is a strong character.  I come from a long line of women on both sides of my family who were strong, independent, smart, and sassy.  I pray every day that I’ve passed that genetic gift onto my own daughters, and I think I have.  I can only imagine the torrent of bon mots that would fly out of either of my daughters’ mouths were they to be approached by a 27 year-old billionaire with a menu of weirdness and a non-disclosure agreement.  He’d sulk away with more than his tail between his legs.

Enough about that.

But speaking of legs, apparently, my wardrobe of black and grey leggings and yoga pants are apt to render men apoplectic and unable to function in polite society.  Oh well, sucks to be you, I guess.  I live in leggings and yoga pants and I have no plans to stop, so let this be a warning to all of you men out there:  When you see me coming, avert your eyes.  I mean, really, is seeing a woman in yoga pants all it takes for you to become so flustered that you can’t manage your man business?  Maybe you need to work out a little more.  Or go on a date or something.  Geez.

While I don’t agree that women should go about showing off all of their goodies, I also think that women should wear what they feel comfortable wearing.  Right now, it’s leggings and a sweatshirt.  Tomorrow it might be yoga pants and a hoodie.  Next week when I’m in the office, I might wear a skirt and a pair of boots.  Or maybe I’ll wear yoga pants again.  Because guess what?  If done correctly and accessorized accordingly, yoga pants can be just as dressy as a pair of slacks.  So there.  Leggings look great under a long sweater and a pair of riding boots.  So there again.  Let’s face it:  Women have enough to worry about without having to be concerned about your unharnessed junk.

Here’s the thing:  If you want to wear a pair of jeans that sag to your knees, go ahead.  Look like a fool.  If you’re 300 pounds and want to wear a pair of jogging pants with JUICY emblazoned across your ass, go ahead.  Become a fixture on People of Walmart.  Adhere to your workplace dress policies, because often there is a good reason those policies are in place.  Dress the way you’re comfortable within the boundaries of your workplace, wear clothes that fit, and call it a day.

There are too many other things to get your panties in a twist about than movies and clothes.  Instead of worrying about what everyone else is seeing and wearing, spend some time teaching your sons and daughters to be strong, smart, independent men and women.  The rest will take care of itself.

Blowing Out My Candles

Tomorrow marks another year I’ve blessed this planet with my presence—what year, you ask?  Silly you, I’m no good with numbers.  Let’s just say I’m somewhere north of 39.

Satisfied?

So today, I’m taking this opportunity to write down my birthday wishes in no particular order.  Know that, since all but one of these are wishes and not hard and fast goals with a clear purpose and a timeline, I reserve the right to embellish and, well, dream a little.

So here they are, the five things I’d like to do before my next birthday:

  1. Build a time machine. Once I’ve programmed the time machine to transport me back to the mid-1960s, I’ll travel to New York City’s Madison Avenue where I, dressed and coiffed in my best Pucci-designed mini-dress, white go-go boots, and bouffant hairdo—accentuated by aquamarine eye shadow and frosted white lipstick, of course–will walk in front of the building that houses Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and wait for Mad Men’s Don Draper to emerge from its monolithic edifice for no other purpose than to light my cigarette.  I don’t smoke, I am not planning on taking up smoking, but before I die, I want to hold upright between my pink lacquer-nailed fingers an unlit cigarette and watch Don Draper whip out that old school Zippo and light me up.  That’s all.  After a long and thoughtful inhale, I will look up smolderingly through thickly false eyelashes and thank him in my best sultry 60s voice, and without taking my eyes off the candy, be on my way.  Once I’ve turned a corner and know that he is no longer looking back at me, I’ll carelessly toss the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grind it out with the toe of my boot.  It is the mid-1960s after all.
  2. While I’ve got the use of a perfectly good time machine, I want to go back even further to 1924’s Downton Abbey and shake some sense into that Droopy Dog of Downton Edith Crawley. Poor Edith (Do we ever utter Edith’s name without prefacing it with the modifier ‘poor’?) bears a bastard child and has to watch it being raised by the farmer in the dell and his shrill-voiced wife while sister Lady Mary (who really is no lady, let’s be honest) has not only ****** a Turkish diplomat to death (To the death!), but has just recently taken poor Lord Gillingham out for a test drive and found him to be somewhat unsatisfactory. That Lady Mary had enough foresight to protect herself from the fate of her sister (what her Granny calls “an unfortunate epilogue”) doesn’t endear her to me at all.  She practically forced her lady’s maid Anna to go into CVS, embarrassed and shamefaced, and buy the rubbers she used on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (you see now why Julian Fellowes didn’t allow us to be privy to that scene), which further proves that she has no intention of marrying the poor bastard.  Mary wasn’t even woman enough to take a chance on making another baby.  Edith, hold your head up high, girlfriend.  While your less than virtuous sister looks down her nose at you—even without knowing your shame—she herself is busy breaking every rule of Edwardian society.  Be a woman and go get your baby back.
  3. Sit down with Lena Dunham (writer-producer of HBO’s Girls and author of an awful memoir) and tell her the things her mother should have told her years ago, like, “Lena, you’re somewhat on the chub-chub side.  No one wants to see your naked body.”  Or, “Lena, no one cares about your twentysomething angst.  You really don’t know what angst is,” in addition to, “Just because you were drunk and high and he didn’t call you afterwards doesn’t mean that it was rape.”  And most importantly, “Lena, some things are better left unsaid.”  You see, whereas I think Lena Dunham is somewhat intelligent and may have talent as a writer, apparently no one’s loved her enough to tell her that most of the country doesn’t want to see or hear about her weirdness, her “unwanted sexual encounter” at the hands of a made-up boogeyman, her courageous “alternative-ness”, or her dabbling in pedophilia.  Give it a rest.  You don’t seem to realize that the east coast salon society is but a thimble-full sampling of the rest of the country.  This goes for all you other creatives out there who think it’s cool, it’s hip, and it’s a thing to wallow in multiple sex partners and be proud of it, live off your parents, experiment with bisexuality, cry rape when a random hookup doesn’t go your way, and chronicle it all because people will think you’re so “brave”.  It’s not a thing.  It really isn’t.  It’s just disgusting.
  4. Become a software engineer.  I won’t go into too many details, but just understand that if I became a software engineer, my day job would be a whole lot easier.
  5. Now this is a real goal, not a dream or a wish, and the one thing that I want most to actually happen:  Have someone out there in the world of publishing read The Gym Show and see it for what it is—a compellingly good and solidly written story that should be published by a mainstream publisher.  A story that could potentially be made into a movie that people will actually want to see.  Maybe an indie film?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  How do you get the powers that be to read your work—do you have to be a Lena Dunham? Because if that’s the criteria, forget it.  Write a better episode of Downton Abbey than Julian Fellowes?  At this point, it wouldn’t be that hard, let me tell you.  Don Draper is a marketing and advertising genius, maybe after he lights that cigarette for me I can pitch him my novel. Bottom line, it’s going to happen, and I intend to make it happen before my next birthday.

So wish me luck.  And a happy birthday!

Quest for Rhinestones, Part II

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As promised, here is my follow-up piece to the first “Quest for Rhinestones” I published last month where I chronicled the various Misses Crawford County that my mother Susan Abercrombie was privileged to pimp mentor and later chaperone through their various public appearances and during their collective shots at the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant.  I must first, however, correct some inconsistencies that appeared in my earlier post.

Kathy Stevenson, from lil’ ol’ Harmonsburg, PA, was the first Miss CC from our area (and right down the road from chez Abercrombie); however, neither my sister nor I remember if my mother had any responsibility for her crown.  Regardless, she did the area proud.  Additionally, Sandy Steiger was a runner up at Miss Pennsylvania and I know this for a fact because she told me so, and not in a “Did-you-forget-that-I-too-was-also-almost-Miss-Pennsylvania?” way, but more like a “Good-grief-I-was-so-relieved-not-to-win” way.  Apparently the quest for rhinestones carries with it some measure of burdensome responsibilities, because I recall a conversation with my friend Jane who was a First Runner-Up at the Miss Indiana Pageant in 1980-something.  I had asked her what was going through her mind as she stood on that stage after the judges had carved away the Indiana contingent to just two, and one of them was about to become Miss Indiana.  She told me she kept thinking, “Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me” and was hugely relieved to not be the one going to Atlantic City that September.

Her talent?  Jane is a musician.  Not a gymnast.  Hm.

For me, though, growing up inundated with the whole Miss Crawford County Culture was intoxicating.  During our youth, my sister Becky and I were more than just fascinated with the pageant; we, in fact, lived it every Sunday afternoon in our bedroom with our Barbie dolls and one or two of my brother Jamie’s GI Joes that we had lifted from his closet.  First, we had to set the stage for the pageant.  This involved making a mock-up of the real Miss Crawford County stage, which was, in reality, picnic tables lined up in a ‘T’ festooned with linen skirts to hide the fact that they were picnic tables.  This runway was situated adjacent to a flatbed trailer that was also decorated thusly to hide the fact that it, in all likelihood, had served as a conveyance for some manner of farm implement in its off-season life.  The picnic tables and flatbed trailer were placed in the middle of a dirt racetrack that would, in the days after the pageant, host a stock car race and various harness races.

Once Becky and I had constructed our pageant stage, it was time to dress our Barbies in their evening gowns for the Evening Gown Tableau.  This was reminiscent of the first “Tableau” of the actual pageant where each contestant, in her evening gown and white gloves, would be escorted out of the Cadillac convertible that had ferried each prospective queen to the Crawford County Fairgrounds.  Thus the need for the GI Joes.  I only had one Ken doll, and he was too refined to do anything but serve as Master of Ceremonies. The camo-fatigued GI Joes did the heavy lifting.  Among our toys, we didn’t have anything that resembled Cadillac convertibles, so there was much imagination to be rendered during that portion of the bedroom Barbie pageant, though during one make-believe pageant I think I had each girl arriving on horseback, courtesy of our collection of Johnny West horses.

During the actual pageant, which began with the contestants alighting from their vehicles, the Evening Gown Tableau introduced the the waiting crowd to each contestant, and it was at this point that the more savvy and serious-minded audience members could begin their own process of elimination, whittling the contestant number from 20-25 down to the top ten.  Those top ten girls would get to perform their talent.  For Becky and me, this was a waste of time because we already knew who the top ten were going to be because, you see, the Sunday paper the previous week had included an enormous spread featuring all of the contestants, their bios, their talent, and a senior-picture quality portrait of each young lady who was vying for the title.  Becky and I would painstakingly pour over each girl’s CV and make our initial list.  My dad also took this opportunity to weigh in with his pronouncements of who the losers would be by pointing to a picture of an unfortunately un-photogenic or just genetically sorry-looking young girl and call her a “poor soul”.  He also had a knack for picking runners-up and winners by virtue of their last names, which was a puzzlement to me at the time.

But it wasn’t until Mum took us with her to the two pageant rehearsals during “Pageant Week” that we would know exactly who was going to be on that top ten list.

The pageant rehearsals took place at the fairgrounds (which is how I know what the stage and runway really looked like) before everything was decorated for the big night.  Miss Arita Lee Blair, as director of the pageant, was in charge, and with her cat-eye spectacles and skunk-striped hair, she made more than one girl cry during the rehearsal process, so much so, that I’m surprised any of them ever made it to Monday night without peeing in her pants.  Becky and I would watch in rapt fascination as Arita Lee, her wrecking-ball-like demeanor frightening the ugly out of everyone in her midst, would halt the proceedings–usually at the point where the girls would traipse awkwardly down the runway for the fourth or fifth time–and screech into her bullhorn using her best whisky-tenor voice “Do it O-ver!”

Note:  For those of you who are having trouble visualizing what Arita Lee looked like, rent the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  She’s Baby Jane.

Arita Lee even managed to scare the tinkle out of Becky and me.  Late one afternoon during rehearsals and tired of sitting, we stood watching from the first rail of the grandstands whereby Arita Lee loudly and emphatically shrieked into her bullhorn in what I can only imagine was a fit of unbridled frustration at the audacity our failure to promenade properly, “Will the Abercrombie girls please sit down!”

Back in the safety of our bedroom, we acted out the contestants’ talents, all of which were, of course, some type of gymnastic floor exercise, in what was known as the Talent Tableau portion of the pageant. This was followed by the Swimsuit Tableau.  Owing to a lack of proper pageant wear, each Barbie contestant modeled either in her talent togs or bare-naked during the Swimsuit Tableau.  Everyone was a winner here because doesn’t Barbie look good even when she’s naked?

In the actual Swimsuit Tableau, each Miss Crawford County contestant was outfitted with a modest, matronly one-piece solid-color Jantzen swimsuit (most likely purchased in downtown Meadville at Mayfair or The Crawford Store) featuring an armor-like front panel that erased any suggestion of the 1960s-1970s version of a camel toe.  In real life, at that time, girls were wearing bikinis to the beach, but at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, the goodies beneath the swimwear were just as cleverly disguised as Barbie’s were–with or without clothes.

Of course, the highlight of the real-life Miss Crawford County Pageant (as well as in our bedroom Barbie version) was the crowning of the queen.  But first, the previous year’s winner had to take her final walk down the runway as Miss Crawford County to the dulcet tones of K.K. Roberts singing, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”.  K.K. Roberts, whose most indelible feature was his prolifically long and wiry eyebrows, served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, and in my six, seven, and eight year-old mind, I imagined that he was Arita Lee’s boyfriend because he was the only one she was nice to during the whole rehearsal ordeal.  In reality, she was probably nice to him because he was the only one in Meadville who knew the words to any Broadway tunes.

Once the real pageant was over, my dad, usually in a state of inebriation equal to his bagful of sarcastic remarks about what he considered to be the most wasteful hours of his life, would take us home, reveling only in the glory of his innate ability to have, once again, picked the winner and the runners-up.  Too bad he wasn’t a betting man–over the years, he could have changed the fortunes of our family with the over-under.

As for the bedroom pageant, all things came to a screeching halt once Jamie discovered the missing-in-action GI Joes or Becky and I collapsed in a fit of giggles over the pitiful pageant performance of the one Barbie whose hair Becky had cut off the previous summer (in retrospect, I should have dyed a skunk stripe in that doll’s hair and made her pageant director).  Then my dad would come in our room threaten us with an ass-beating for having a giggle-fest when he had to get up and work in the morning.

For us, time seemed to stand still until the next August when we could once again bask in all things Miss Crawford County and dream of the days when we would begin our own quest for the rhinestones.

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Quest for Rhinestones

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I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be Miss Crawford County.

There was a time, oh, about forty or so years ago, when the whole idea of being Miss Crawford County was a mainstay of my childhood fantasies. That and having a horse. And blue hair.

For the uninitiated–those of you who did not grow up in Crawford County Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 70s–the Miss Crawford County Scholarship pageant was held the first Monday of the opening of the Crawford County Fair. Young ladies between the ages of 18 and 23 were eligible to be nominated as a contestant in the scholarship pageant, a precursor to the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, the winner of which would go on to the Super Bowl of beauty pageants, Miss America. You see, to the Abercrombie girls, Miss America was the only legitimate beauty pageant. Forget your Miss Teen Something or other, or Miss USA, or even Miss Universe. For us, the only real pageant was Miss America, and to get to the Miss America pageant, you had to first become Miss Crawford County.

My mother, little go-getter that she was, became involved in Miss Crawford County when she pimped some of her former students as contestants. When I say, ‘pimped’, I don’t mean it in the literal sense (c’mon!), for Mum made absolutely no money for her involvement, but her machinations toward getting her girls to wear the crown were no less committed. She was the original pageant coach before anyone had ever heard of such a thing.

I forgot to mention that other thing that set the whole Miss Crawford County to Miss America Pageant experience apart from the others: The Miss Crawford County contestants had to have a talent. They had to perform. My mum’s girls’ talents? Duh. Gymnastics. And, unless you’re one of the twenty or thirty people on the planet who haven’t read The Gym Show by yours truly, Linesville-Conneaut-Summit High School was the only game in town featuring a gymnastics team.

Her first successful queen was one Sandy Steiger who became Miss Crawford County in 1965. Her talent? Gymnmastics. Then it was the 1969 queen Connie Williams–again, gymnastics. She followed that with the 1970 queen Cindy Styborski. Now, here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. Cindy Styborski was an outlier–she was from Cambridge Springs High School, but her talent was still gymnastics. Don’t ask me how that all came about–I was only seven–but I distinctly remember Mum sitting at our kitchen counter gluing silver glitter onto a pair of canvas gymnastics slippers as part of Cindy’s costume. Who knew that girls from Cambridge Springs could tumble?

Apparently, the Miss Crawford County Scholarship Pageant director Miss Arita Lee Blair, the dance doyenne of Crawford County, felt that Mum’s success at pimping pumping out queens was a talent that would be best served as the Official Chaperone for Miss Crawford County. You see, Miss Crawford County, as ambassador to the entire region, was often called upon to make public appearances. No young lady of such sterling virtue as a Miss Crawford County could be seen out at the Kiwanas or Jaycees without a proper chaperone. Who knew what manner of dirty old Rotary Club men were going to ogle our virtuous Queen? That’s where Mum came in. Arita Lee (who by that time in her life was certifiably batshit crazy) felt that if Mum was good enough to turn out winners, she would be good enough to make sure the winners were properly behaved and the beastly male-dominated environs in which our queen were subjected to were on notice: Don’t mess with Miss Crawford County.

Nineteen seventy-one ushered in the first of Mum’s queens to be chaperoned, Janet Mead from Conneaut Lake. Her talent? She played the piano. While it wasn’t gymnastics, evidently my mother felt she could work with Janet (even though I’m sure she privately felt that piano playing–a lesser talent–was best left to the buck-toothed and the cellulited-thighed, neither of which Janet was). Apparently her chaperoning talents paid off–Janet was second runner-up in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Not bad for the tri-state area.

The 1972 Miss Crawford County was Jan Amboyer. I don’t recall what her talent was, probably because she wasn’t a gymnast (and probably the reason why she didn’t place). The following year, Becky and I were big enough girls to attend the 1973 Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Our girl Lori Doutt from Conneaut Lake didn’t place, but she was cute and perky, and I wanted to wear my hair all the time the same way she wore hers that night–piled on top of her head in big, loopy curls.

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The 1973 pageant experience was Mum’s last, and I don’t know if Miss Crawford County was ever the same after that. Ask Sharon Stone–she was Miss Crawford County 1976. Sharon’s talent? A dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address. I was there and in my naivete I thought she was perfectly awful. Another of my mother’s early protégés Alice Gillette was, in a cruel twist of unfairness, first runner-up and I still to this day think she should have won. Her talent? The perfect trifecta of gifts–she sang, played the flute, and performed a gymnastics routine.

Sharon didn’t need to be Miss Crawford County to go where she was headed.

In Part II of “Quest for Rhinestones”, I’ll outline Becky’s and my humiliatingly hilarious experiences with Miss Arita Lee Blair and the Miss Crawford County Pageant fantasy. Stay tuned.

Have you read THE GYM SHOW?

Sometimes, a girl just has to toot her own horn …

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Have you read this yet?  If you like small-town intrigue, a puzzling mystery, a little bit of humor, lots of gossip, and a great ending, then you need to.

The Gym Show tells the story of a man faced with a seemingly impossible set of circumstances.

The social structure governing America’s youth experienced a stark transformation near the end of the 1960s, but change came late to the small town of Mercyville, Pennsylvania, where the rules had yet to be written. When high school principal Jim Adamson discovers two of his students engaged in an activity that can only be described as taboo, he is at a loss as to how to manage the situation. His efforts to do right by the students involved in the incident begin to uncover a wickedness that threatens the entire community.

Jim’s own demons compel him to re-examine his values and ask himself to what extent he should be protecting his students from the depravity residing within his beloved school. He challenges the powers in Mercyville, who simply want to sweep these troubles under the town’s rug, and with the help of a most uncommon ally, he finds a solution, but in doing so, he risks everything.

Against the backdrop of the high school’s annual crowning event, The Gym Show takes the reader through seven months in the lives of Mercyville High School’s students and teachers, the community and its leaders, and the man who does things his way—thoughtfully, but without regret and without apology.

The Gym Show is 415 pages of fascinating characters, complex relationships, and a tapestry of events that culminate in an ending you’ll never forget.  I am looking to broaden my audience because I know that I have told a good story, and I want the whole world to read it. I have been extraordinarily pleased with the feedback regarding The Gym Show—the majority of the reviews (see The Gym Show Reviews) have been positive.  Several Indianapolis-area book clubs have featured my title and have subsequently invited me into their circles, eager to discover where I found the inspiration to write this compelling tale.

This is my first novel; however, it is a story I have been writing in my mind for the past thirty-five years.  I think …no, I know you’ll enjoy it–just as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Buckle up, because it’s quite a ride!

How to Teach Your Child About American History With One Weird Trick

fences I can’t remember if I loved history before I had Mr. Chesko in eighth grade Pennsylvania history or if it was his unique brand of teaching that made me love history. It doesn’t matter, though. If I had walked into his classroom already loving history, I left it with an absolute passion for it.

I must admit that I was fairly intimidated by Mr. Chesko at first–well, maybe throughout my entire tenure at Linesville High School. You see, he didn’t put up with anybody’s tomfoolery, shenanigans, or monkeyshines, least of all mine. Which was good, because I was not always a very nice little girl at age 14. But I always knew where I stood with Mr. Chesko.

When he first began teaching at Linesville, I used to hear some of the kids call him “Chico”, which I guess was a play off his last name. Whereas I never called our band director anything but “Touch” (even, shamefully, to his face), I could not imagine calling Mr. Chesko anything but ‘Mr. Chesko’, and if he were sitting here beside me right now, I’d still call him ‘Mr. Chesko’. You see, he did not encourage familiarity. He was not the type of teacher you could walk up to and make ridiculous demands of–like Touch. Oh, no. You did not make demands of Mr. Chesko.

And as a veteran eighth grade teacher, I can tell you that this is exactly as it should be.

So what was so special about Mr. Chesko? For one, he didn’t sit behind his desk and assign a chapter in the book to read and the questions at the end to complete and hand in before the end of the period, even if he had a game to coach that night and a series of plays to put together beforehand. In fact, I never remember him sitting behind his desk–he was always moving, even if he was tired because he was up all night with a newborn baby.  Nor did he fling down with a sanctimonious fury that Rand McNally and expect us on the first try to point to Valley Forge, even if we should have known it was somewhere near Philadelphia. Neither did he force us to memorize speeches, dates, or obscure facts about the Revolutionary War and then chide us about our lack of knowledge when we didn’t get it right. Instead, he inspired us to learn about the substance of those speeches, the significance of those dates and timelines, and the interlacing of facts–the causes and effects of history–all by painting pictures with words, maps, and whatever other media he had on hand.  He taught us about the events that shaped our history–our history. He reinforced his stories by asking us questions that had us on the edges of our seats, begging him to call on us, with questions that began with, “How do you think …?” And “What do you suppose it was like …?” Or “I wonder how …”  He compelled us to become curious by default.

At once, learning our history was thrilling.  It was messy, it was gory, and it was fascinating.

Which brings me to the fences.

One of our assignments was to build a series of fences–fences that one would have encountered in pre-Colonial, Colonial, and post-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. Split-railed mortised, split-railed snake, log fences, stone fences–we were to build models of these fences, and we would be graded upon the historical accuracy of our creations.

I heard some kids grumbling about how fences had nothing to do with Pennsylvania history and that this was a dumb assignment. Those were the kids who didn’t have a recently retired father at home itching to build something, one who also had a penchant for cabinet making and a passion for history that surpassed even his daughter’s. But I knew that Mr. Chesko was wily enough to figure out within seconds of seeing me walk into his classroom with my arms full of fences whether or not my dad had a hand in the building, so I told my dad to chill (no, I really didn’t but it was something along those lines), and I made the fences myself. As a consolation prize, however, I let him help my friend Dede with her fences, much to Dede’s delight. My dad and Dede worked all night on her fences while I furiously flipped through encyclopedia pages to find just the right images to replicate in order to make my fences historically perfect. To do anything less would have demonstrated a deep disrespect for the unique nature of the assignment.

So what did all of this fence-making have to do with my passion for history and my reverence for Mr. Chesko? While making those fences (with my dad hovering over my shoulder giving me mortising tips), I thought about how folks during the Colonial period didn’t have power tools and had to split logs into rails with an ax. I wondered about how farmers in the Colonial period knew where their land ended and their neighbor’s began. I thought about how long it must have taken the Colonial surveyor to determine the farmer’s property lines without the benefit of modern maps. I thought about how, while the men in the community were splitting rails to divvy up their properties, their children were kept busy placing the split rails in the snake pattern formation. I wagered that, at the very least, the Colonial wives, with their aproned skirts waving in the wind, were stirring a big iron pot of something stew-like over a huge fire because their men would certainly be hungry after all that rail splitting. That got me wondering what kinds of vittles the Colonial folks ate–was it all rabbit and squirrel with the occasional deer thrown in? And how did they keep all that meat fresh without modern refrigeration? I thought, and I wondered.

And that, my dear friends, is how you teach American history by asking your students to build fences. Weird, huh?

Mr. Chesko, you taught and coached two generations of western Crawford County kids how to win and lose graciously, how to build character through sportsmanship and academics, you helped those two generations grow into productive and active members of the community, you coached a girls’ basketball team that brought home the first-ever state championship to the little town of Linesville, and best of all–for me–you taught me how to make those fences.

You are loved, you will be missed, but know that you are now, without a doubt, a dear and cherished part of Linesville’s history.