Sticking it to the car inspector

Got the car inspected today. Thankfully, it passed. As well it should, given we recently pumped over $1,200 worth of repairs into it. Still, its odometer reads 146,902 miles and a car can’t last forever, as people don’t. The anxiety of sitting there waiting for the judgment to come down — the judgment of one man with bad teeth, neglected skin and a dorky hat — can seem unbearable. And not so good for one’s own health.

IMG_1210[1]Ours is probably not the safest car in the world, just as I’m not the fittest person in the world. Given the precisely wrong alignment of circumstances, This 2005 Honda Element (they don’t make ’em like they used to? They don’t even make ’em anymore) could prove a death trap like any car on the block.

Yet it got its sticker, a free pass for another year to terrorize the streets, like a gold star from a fussy piano teacher for having mastered this week’s etude.

In another state, under a different set of measures, it might not have qualified as “safe.” Even at another garage, a different greasy guy who might have been grouchier that day or more nitpicky or didn’t like the way I looked might have slapped on the blanched circle with a spike through it, that symbol of shame with which I would have paraded around marked as if with a scarlet “A” for 15 days and eventually pay through the teeth to spare society, those other drivers I share the road with, to get whatever it was “fixed” — or merely passable — up to the standards of some random guy’s random judgment.

It’s like going to get your bloodwork done or getting a physical and waiting anxiously for results. As if these gauges will finally tell me what I’m about, as if any of it would come as a surprise. At some point the numbers dictate how many pills I have to take, how big a dent in my disposable income I suffer, how great a percentage of my toiling at work gets rechanneled back into merely extending my days at my desk.

This is him, ladies. The man who make our live a living hell every time we step on the Wii Fit and the little animated scale on the screen wiggles its carthodes at you: shame, shame, shame.

This is him, ladies. Adolphe Quételet, the man who makes our lives a living hell every time we step on the Wii Fit and the little animated scale on the screen wiggles its cathode rays for shame, shame, shame. See the evil in his eyes.

Is my BMI within the arbitrary scale for what’s “normal” as decided by some mid-19th-century Belgian statistician, Adolphe Quételet, whom no one has ever heard of and was probably a freakishly built endomorph who suffered from apoplexy (which he did), massive internal bleeding, ensuring he weighed significantly less than your typical red-blooded, prepping-for-a-doomsday-famine American?

No. Yeah, I’m not normal. Once again, I’m off the charts. An alien who cannot pack herself into the confines of what it means to be safely human and live an expected average life span of 81.2 years because I behave beyond the limits of what’s needed to merely survive. I miscalculate every day the amount of stored energy I need vs. what I expend, writing instead of running, reading instead of reaching for it, getting inspired instead of physical. I don’t need any bad-girl sticker, people can just look and see the internal imbalance.

But the car passed the test. I might have a heart attack or stroke behind the wheel, but the vehicle is A-OK, my ticket to tool around among unwitting mortals another year. Don’t have to sweat this again until March 2014.

Whee.

Lincoln’s LinkedIn profile

Abraham Lincoln

lincolnChief executive @ US of A, March 1861-April 1865

Current: Living statue in downtown D.C., 1914-present (sits for portraits, photos, calendars; works for pennies)

Visit my interactive, here. Follow me on Twitter @Pres_Lincoln or @AbeTheHunter. Find me on Facebook or on a fiver via WheresAbe.com (not to be confused by WheresGeorge.com).

Previous: Splitting fence rails; clerking @ general store; country lawyer; legislator, Illinois General Assembly; U.S. House of Representatives, one term (1847-49)

Education: Reading borrowed books; home-schooled by stepmother; no formal education or higher education

Skills: Telling the truth; living a lie; oration; stand-up; diplomacy; emancipation; proclamations

Connections:

thCarl Sandburg, biographer

dorisDoris Kearns Goodwin, biographer

thJames M. McPherson, biographer

thBill O’Reilly

thDavid Herbert Donald, biographer

thTimur Bekmambetov, director

thCAB37FEGTim Burton, writer/filmmaker

thCAG3FE6XSteven Spielberg, director

thCACO9BS5E.T., confidant, fellow spa regular (for facials)

thCATC098PKristen Stewart

thCAMKMLLD

Oscar?

Activities: Coin collector; bill collector (during government tenure); lobbyist for Americans for Common Cents: www.pennies.org; leads protests against Citizens to Retire the U.S. Penny.

Retired activities: Attending the theater

Groups: Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; PFLAG; National Alliance on Mental Illness; Rainbows International; investor and on board at Lincoln Logs™

Personal quotes: “Four score and seven years ago … etc.”; “Bad promises are better broken than kept”; “Marriage is neither heaven nor hell; it is simply purgatory”; “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

OTHER CONNECTIONS LIKE THIS. DO YOU KNOW …?

thCAA5AAPQDaniel Day-Lewis

thCAV12UJQBenjamin Walker

thCAVTHAOUDennis Weaver

thCAIULDF2Gregory Peck

thCAIQ19KPHenry Fonda

Light reading: Why my new Kindle lights my fire

The first time I fell in love with technology was that last Christmas I pretended to believe in Santa Claus. I had confided in brother Andy, two years my wiser, that I knew it was our parents doling out the year-end bonuses. He persuaded me to keep quiet about it as they’d probably already sewn up that season’s shopping; we could always break it to them gently later.

I later calculated it wasn’t fair that we both “came out” as non-believers at the same time, as he had accumulated two extra years of goodies. But what I found gleaming under the tree that year made up for any petty score-keeping: a Japanese-made, sleek Craig tape recorder model No. 2603, with “Solid State Automatic Level Recording.” This was my version of the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, aka coveted BB gun, from the now-storied A Christmas Story.

craig2603My Craig tape recorder and I were inseparable. I taped everything in sight.* (*Awk. construction.) Dinner conversations, birds out back. I would position it by the radio with a mini-mic and fresh cassette, typically TDK brand, and trigger the play lever while holding down the red record button at the start of every song, preferably after the disc jockey had stopped jabbering. If I didn’t like that song, I’d navigate to “stop” and engage the rewind toggle to cue it up again. Eventually, I’d acquired an entire 30 minutes of my favorite 1972 chart-toppers. Included on that first mix tape, I recall, were such gems as Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.

Ever since, mix tapes have been my calling card. They are audio journals, spanning every technological platform that followed, from the Sony reel-to-reel to the LightScribe CD burner, whose products I dub “Byrnished Memories.” These mini-soundtracks plot the high, low and medium points of my life. Still, I wasted a lot of dollar-a-dozen CDs getting the song order and transitions just right.

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RIP my engraved “TEB tunes” iPod 20GB Click Wheel, December 2004-January 2011.

That’s why my second love affair with technology came in 2004, with my late-to-the-party adoption of the Apple iPod 20GB Click Wheel. I could rearrange songs to my heart’s content and even stretch the playlists beyond the 1.2 hours that fit on a typical 700MB CD. That iPod, outdated as it quickly became, lasted me until last year, when it suffered the click of death. I have not had the courage to fall in love again.

Until now.

I had been bedeviled by technological flings. My reluctance to spend money on the next big thing had kept me sorely behind on cool gadgets. My husband tried to keep me in the game by gifting me an iPad 2. But something about the iPad only fed my discontent. The glare and eye strain irritated my dry-eye condition. There’s no curling up with an iPad, unless you count bicep curls, which is what it took to read in bed. As much as such Apple products resemble the universal device presaged in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn’t feel the love, and just couldn’t fake it.

The problem with today’s Apple products — yeah, problem, you got a problem with that? — is they aim to be the end-all be-all solution. If technology is dominating your life, distracting and detracting from the act of living, then you’re doing it wrong. The best of technology comes in the form of the right tool for the job, like a corkscrew or an apple corer.

In terms of reading, I have found one good purpose for the iPad. It is the perfect paperweight to hold open your place in an actual book.

IMG_1089[1]Yesterday, I fell in love at first sight with a Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader that showed up, surprisingly, at my door in a smiling box. This device took my breath away. In its unassuming simplicity, it fills a technological void.

Compared with the iPad, it is not a burden but featherweight, even next to such actual tomes as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its pages look like a book’s. It reads like a book. Doesn’t hurt my eyes with piercing light rays nor does it overstimulate my brain. Doesn’t beckon to me to check my e-mail or Facebook notifs or to play another round of Angry Birds. It lets me escape and focus on an actual book.

Of all the e-books I had downloaded onto my iPad in nearly two years, I managed to finish only one. For me, the famous “i” prefix stands for “incomplete.” But taking my night-light Kindle Paperwhite to bed last night gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I’m no Luddite, but this device combines the best of both worlds — the old and brave-new.

IMG_1092[2]

IMG_1097[1]

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Thanks, Santa Andy. iOU. i♥U.

Takes me back to those good ol’ days of Christmas past, when FaceTime (TM) meant something else entirely.

There is an afterlife, after all

In college, my medical-student boyfriend’s idea of a good time was to get me liquored up and sneak into the dissection laboratory. Not where they kept the frogs, cats or pigs — where they kept human shells.

I remember ogling one cadaver, an elderly man, somebody’s dearly departed grandfather who was completely naked. His spotted skin — age spots — had a faint yellow-blue haze, likely from chemicals replacing his bodily fluids. His mouth was propped open, possibly wired. I half-expected to hear him snore or cough up phlegm, he seemed that real. That is, “recent.” His hair was stubble — maybe former military, because other than being dead he looked in decent shape — and age spots showed through on his scalp, too. His toes were bulbous. His wrinkles stood starched, like peaks of bakery meringue.

The shock came when I walked around the table and saw he was sawed in half. Everything from his brain to his penis was bisected like a magician’s trick turned sour. I peered through a diorama of tissue that brought back the cellophane leaflets of childhood encyclopedias. Dead nerves, numbed senses — the halved eyeball a particular eye-opener.

University-affiliated programs supply an estimated 10,000-15,000 cadavers a year to nearly 140 medical schools in the USA. Of those, a portion are rejected because of weight and height limits. Embalming adds at least 40% of deader weight to what the scale read for the animated organism, making an obese person all the more difficult for morticians or technicians to manipulate. Cutting through so much fat would likely frustrate students who are going after just the basics of anatomy, the rationale goes. Grim fact: If we don’t take care of our bodies while alive, we make disgusting death specimens, facing eternal rejection.

That old man on the lab table made an everlasting impression on me. I didn’t know his name or handshake, his laugh or hobbies, but I might carry our encounter, now three decades old, to my own grave. His family couldn’t know him as I did. I saw his core and admired him for working the afterlife so hard — unwittingly teaching those whose business would be saving and prolonging lives of others.

So when my father recently circulated an e-mail to me and my siblings announcing his decision, along with my mom’s, to donate their bodies to science, I felt no squeamishness. I was proud and comforted that their end — not if but whenever those horrible days would come — could be extended, like an extended warranty on their service to the world.

“We can see no advantage of our bodies decomposing in a casket,” Dad bluntly wrote. “What is your opinion of this? Does it give you a problem or does it distress you?” And he provided this link to answer any questions we had about the process in our state.

Burying a body, by comparison, seems a stingy way to go. Even the worms have their work cut out for them, forced to drill through shellacked cherrywood, then layers of satin bunting to get the goods. While taking my aerobics through a nearby cemetery, I’ve often wondered where we get all the space to bury people. Certainly, if we all ended up with headstones marking off forever turf we’d run out of room on this planet — saving any macabre form of timeshare/rotation on plots performed centuries after generations have turned over.

A Tibetan sky burial site

Good thing then that some people choose cremation, burial at sea and other forms of disposal that seem, on the surface, less space-hogging. My Buddhist daughter no doubt wants the greenest burial she can conjure, and her bird-loving sister has toyed with the notion of a Tibetan sky burial — in which a body is stripped, filleted and placed on a mountaintop to “feed the birds.” An attractive, if unattractive, way to quickly return some of the Earth’s supply of nutrients while lifting one’s essence closer to the purported heavens.

In the end, humans’ melancholic nature may demand a mourning site. There’s nothing quite as poignant as an empty chair at the holiday table, whether Tiny Tim’s or Uncle Jim’s. Since Neanderthal days, beings like us have set up monuments to missing relatives — rows of voided lives, buried artifacts, out of sight but not out of mind.

Our collective minds are what make the deceased larger than life.

Meanwhile, my dad, of sound mind, already has expressed his dying wish to me: “I just want to discover all that there is to know, like a cognitive blinding light.”

FOREVER AT OUR FINGERTIPS

In the ethereal online world, we also reserve empty spaces for pouring out our souls over the loss of a loved one. Rather than pull the plug, Facebook enshrines profiles long after statuses stop updating; a bereaved community can continue posting live thoughts to the wall, like a virtual Wailing Wall or granite “Wall” on the Mall, breaking down the wall between now and then, here and thereafter.

Facebook even asked me recently if I wanted to friend someone who died three years ago. That gave me pause.

Bob Twigg was a colleague at USA TODAY who won the lottery two decades ago and quit. He died in 2009. Was the Facebook friendship suggestion really him reaching out from beyond the grave to give me good lottery numbers?

Yet so many — from Abe Lincoln, now enjoying box-office success and possible Oscar buzz with Lincoln, to Freddie Mercury of Queen, who still gets air time at countless sporting events — never witnessed their full impact on the world. Here’s a short list of creative souls who had more success posthumously than while breathing:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — He composed over 600 timeless works, ever struggling for a stable income or a court appointment, and famously died a pauper. Cause of death remains circumspect. Even after rave reviews for The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, according to Bio, the range of his full genius was lost on his contemporaries — he was more like a “child star.”

In [Mozart’s later years in] December 1787, Emperor Joseph II appointed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as his “chamber composer,” a post that had opened up with the death of Gluck. … It was a part-time appointment with low pay, but it required Mozart only to compose dances for the annual balls. The modest income was a welcome windfall for Mozart, who was struggling with debt.”

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers”

Vincent Van Gogh — His art career lasted only 10 years and coincided with frequent bouts of depression and what others termed madness. He sold only one painting in his lifetime. Meanwhile, in 1987, his Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers introduced a new era of stellar art trades when it sold for $81 million, tripling the previous auction record. His most fetching work to date: Portrait of Dr. Gachet, valued in today’s dollars at $147.8 million, marks the fifth-most expensive painting ever purchased at auction. His death was called a suicide, but reports have surfaced indicating he took responsibility for the fatal gunshot to cover up the role of some neighborhood bullies he considered among his few friends.

John Kennedy Toole — Eleven years after the author committed suicide, his A Confederacy of Dunces, considered a canonical work of Southern literature, was published, winning him the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, posthumously.

Stieg Larsson — The Swedish journalist behind The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was the second-best-selling author in the world for 2008 (behind Khaled Hosseini), four years after he had died suddenly of a heart attack. His novels were published posthumously, which is why, I’m thinking, they’re so poorly written. By December 2011, his “Millennium series” had sold 65 million copies. Once you factor in the film adaptations, there was untapped fame and fortune the creator never knew.

A PUZZLE FOR POSTERITY

Just over a month ago, after a “missing” poster circulated on Facebook of a young man whom I did not know but who was enrolled at my children’s former high school, I joined a community of thousands, mostly strangers, in an offline search.

It was announced there would be a vigil after the homecoming game: Bryan Glenn was a football player who was supposed to be playing that day, maybe going to the dance that night. What better homecoming than to get this boy home to his parents, and soon. I went, camera in hand, in case the family wanted it recorded for Bryan to see later. He’d be overwhelmed to see how many people, mostly strangers, cared.

The fence beyond the football field was decorated with soda cups spelling out a directive, a prayer.

I arrived at the field at the tail end of the game (we won) and recognized virtually no one among those gathered. Several women got busy setting up for the vigil. One came over to the fence near me who didn’t seem as occupied, so I asked her whether she thought the family might want me to videotape. There were two local news crews, but I figured they wouldn’t capture every moment.

The woman, holding a small box of Kleenex, bubbled, “Oh, yes! I think that would be wonderful. Especially for his grandparents, and other friends and family overseas. Thank you!” I went on to explain I had only seen the flier on Facebook and felt compelled to come out and help if I could, because it affects us all, aren’t we all family? Plus, it was almost exactly a year ago that a dear friend’s son had gone missing.

“Oh?” she asked. “Was he found?”

I regaled her with the miraculous story of how that young man, about the same age as Bryan, left a note and was gone a few nights just before Halloween, that a cold spell had blown in — like the one forecast that weekend — but enough fliers had been circulated and a stranger in the next town over had recognized him from his photo, somehow persuaded him to get into her car and drove him back home. He had walked in the house when I was on the phone with his mother, and I overheard her heart skip a beat before her cries of relief and jubilation.

The woman loved the story, and we chatted about three minutes about heartbreak and frustration, until she said, “Yeah, but we don’t know anything, we have not a single clue.

“I am his mother, by the way.”

There would be no miraculous ending for her, her husband and Bryan’s little brother, who had been the last one to see him that balmy fall day, when Bryan dropped him off at school.

Searchers check a drain near Thaiss Park in Fairfax on Oct. 8, a few hours before Bryan Glenn’s body was found.

Or was there? More than 100 neighbors turned out the next Monday, a week after he’d gone missing, at the park where Bryan’s car had been found. Perhaps that in itself was a miracle — that determined volunteers, covering the same ground that police had in vain the week before, discovered his body, slumped against a tree, still standing, head bowed, looking like just another figure searching in the woods.

I considered taking down the YouTube videos afterward, thinking it in bad taste to retain public images of a family filled with such hope — a family that had grown into a countless crowd of well-wishers tossing wishes down a dark, cavernous well whose pingbacks rang hollow. Yet the video views literally doubled the next day. I realized those clips offered some comfort to mourners — something material to grab hold of when the immaterial overwhelms us.

A missing poster remained on the window of the Dunkin’ Donuts at Fairfax Circle where Bryan Glenn was last seen alive, on surveillance camera.

His “missing” posters also stayed up awhile — because missing him was the message, after all.

The mystery of what happened to Bryan may never be solved, no matter what toxicology and autopsy reports eventually reveal. UPDATE ON FEB. 25, 2013: Bryan’s death has been ruled a suicide by the medical examiner. See The Washington Post’s coverage, here.

Maybe something he scribbled somewhere or posted on the Internet may shed some light someday on what sent him into the woods, alone, lost. Maybe not a great work of art but something we can all relate to, something universal that will make us love him more. But his memory — a memory of someone I never knew — has become part of my daily life. Whenever I pass that park, so close to my home it’s hard to avoid, I think of him. I thought of him on Thanksgiving, and of his empty chair at the table, though I’ve never shadowed the threshold of the Glenn home, nor do I even know their real-world address.

Bryan still exists for each of us, for the hundreds of students and faculty at W.T. Woodson High School who didn’t have a chance to meet the new kid or who might have passed him in the hall or spoken words now elevated to epitaph — for the 3,443 people in his group on Facebook, who check frequently for news that doesn’t come.

Whether Bryan was out there under his own power or someone else’s, did he give any thought as he faded as to how he might be found? When he might be found, or by whom? Did he wonder about the reaction of friends or strangers — those three people who came face to face with his remains and could be haunted for life by the frightful sight. The searchers who needed grief counseling for weeks afterward.

Lucy, Turkana Boy or any of the fascinating paleontological discoveries made in our lifetimes have helped fill in missing puzzle pieces of human history. No matter their features or insights, one thing they had in common: They managed to die in a fortuitious, happenstance way as to become historic and represent an entire race or era of people. We speculate what they were doing on those fateful days of their deaths. What their lives were like. So, too, Bryan Glenn might have become a fossil and spoken volumes in some impossibly distant future, far more than our myopic tear-filled vision could ever realize. A truly teachable moment.

“Legacy” is a hard concept to live down. The jury remains out, uncontested. Any summary of our individual lives is beyond our control; it lies in the joined hands of the grief-stricken or historians or the otherwise insatiably curious.

The way society comes together when someone dies, though, is as natural and as strong a force as any dissected by physics. It is like filling in the displacement of water disturbed by a pebble. Water ripples outward and molecules immediately try to restore equilibrium, just as the inconsolable seek their uneasy peace — way different than before, with a new arrangement, new permanent and permeable connections made along the way.

It reminds us we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves, whether Internet or safety net. It’s a web with a backbone that carries on long after we’ve departed.

Bryan’s dad shared this photo on Facebook and wrote: “At Bryan’s graveside service yesterday a gathering of family and friends were blessed with this amazing sight…a visual message from Bryan telling us he is OK and with our Father. — at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 64.”

(After I posted this, I drove off to do some errands, and as I approached the park where Bryan died, there was this formation in the sky overhead — a doughnut, with the hole encircling the search area.)

A ‘salute’ to women’s power over men?

The secret’s out, ladies.

A barrage of “Betrayus” news has blown our cover. Now everyone will know that if you want to bring even a good, powerful man down, just show him a little whoopee-ass.

It’s an age-old ploy. You see it in every spy movie. Only a sexy Russian agent can get the goods on the hunky, slippery, non-communicative leading man.

Women know deep-down that every man has his weakness, deep down. And the armor always comes off by wielding that same weapon: sex.

Indeed, it is a sad state of affairs.

I was an “other woman.” Never intended to be, but I was. I was raised better, but I did that, overstepped boundaries of decency. It was a time in my life when I felt powerless, rejected by a man I loved, so I transformed into a cha-chink-whirrrr-beep-beep-hacha-mama with one secret mission (secret even to myself): to exact revenge upon the male race.

It seems there are basically two seriously damaging sexual scenarios. The first, which I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about, is rape — in which one twisted, sadistic monster abuses someone perceived as less powerful. A survivor of rape can spend a lifetime recovering, reclaiming lost power.

A goliath goddess slew the mighty David Petraeus.

But here’s this other scenario, the flip side of toxic sex, in which someone perceived as an underling sidles up to a powerful figure and, with one glimpse of her underthings, ratchets him down a notch, adding notches in her headboard. The victims are usually the target’s spouse, family … in Gen. Petraeus’ case, generally anyone who trusted him to serve in a classified-level, clear-headed capacity. Sometimes, even the perp becomes a victim — it’s a slow boil, though.

I liked David Petraeus. Considered him basically a good man, also handsome. Good men are hard to come by; some women on the prowl justify taking “someone else’s” man based on that theory. OR on the premise that the liberties they take (on another’s premises) are actually gifts to the warrior with a sad chink in his armor.

Why is it we find being defenseless so sexy?

It’s complicated. And a damned shame.

Decoding the political color scheme (or conspiracy?!!)

New Yorkers watch the election returns via color-coding. Simple enough for a kindergartner. On election night, the Empire State Building served as a gauge, taking the nation’s pulse, er, temperature in surreal time.

My grandmother, who was born in 1896 and is now deceased, once told me and my sister that the baby-boy blue and the baby-girl pink we associate with stork gender, right down to their distinguishing bow ties and bonnets, was reversed “when she was a girl.”

Not that “she was ever a boy” and had a sex change. I mean that the pastel palette you expectant parents are using to decorate your nursery is nothing but a fickle form of color brainwashing.

Before the Internet, I could never confirm Grandmommy’s little color yarn, but now:

From The New York Times in a 2006 article titled “Gender Troubles,” Daphne Merkin writes as a parenthetical:

(Although until the ’40s, blue was deemed the more “delicate” and hence more feminine color, while pink was seen as more “decided” and more suitable for boys.)

Then from The New York Times Magazine, also in 2006, an article titled “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” by Peggy Ornstein states:

“When colors were first introduced to the nursery in the early part of the 20th century, pink was considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness, was thought to be dainty. Why or when that switched is not clear, but as late as the 1930s a significant percentage of adults in one national survey held to that split.”

There’s also this from 2009 and the U.K. The Guardian, in an article about growing pink fatigue among foot soldiers in the fight against breast cancer, reports:

Towards the end of the great war, in June 1918, America’s most authoritative women’s magazine, the Ladies’ Home Journal (it still exists), had a few wise words of advice for fretting mothers. “There has been a great diversity of debate on the subject,” it wrote, “but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
A few years earlier, the Sunday Sentinel had been of the same opinion: “use pink for the boy and blue for the girl,” it said in March 1914, “if you are a follower of convention.” So accepted, in fact, was this convention that as late as 1927 Time magazine was observing, on the obviously disappointing birth to Princess Astrid of Belgium of a daughter rather than the infinitely preferable son, that the cradle had been “optimistically decorated in pink, the colour for boys.”

A 1901 rendering of Little Boy Blue, before his naptime.

What a relief that my grandmother was neither lying nor suffering from early-onset dementia.

But if pink was in fashion for boys in the 1930s and 1940s, why did things change? It couldn’t have had anything to do with the nursery rhyme “Little Boy Blue,” because, according to my RE-search (Google) that ditty dates to 1744. (I’ve often wondered about that little boy’s emotional range. Is  he supposed to be boo-hoo blue? Because he seems rather jubilant, with the horn and all.)

Barack Obama is definitely a triumphant “Blue” herald today, embarking on a hopeful second term. As arbitrary as the pink-blue booties scheme has proven, though, there’s equally little rhyme or reason to the political color key — why blue designates a Democratic-leaning state and red, Republican-ish.

We musn’t forget that the party labels themselves once got switched around. (It was the partisan Federalists and Republicans in1796, and I think the Republicans turned into Democrats —hoping my seventh-grade civics teacher isn’t reading.)

As a journalist, I find it hard in the days after a general election to stop seeing conservative and liberal in everything red and blue. They’re primary colors, after all —geddit? (aka political primaries) Oh, you got it. We were missing the primary color yellow until Big Bird got into the mix this year.

Back to sorting out the political color scheme. (Or is it a conspiracy?!) Red = Republican is alliterative. But blue = Democrats … no poetry there. Unless it’s the hue and cry of the Blue Dog Democrats. Definitely artistic symbolism in Blue Dog.  But is that fiscally conservative caucus bluer than regular Dems? No. Redder. Dead endsville.

Obviously, red and blue stand for U.S. flag colors. (It would feel racist to paint any swath of voters “white” — but, gee, maybe red’s a tinge racist, too.) The terms “red-blooded” and “true blue” are loaded with patriotism, yet they’re pretty parallel — not enough distinction across the aisle. Shades of meaning erupt when one considers a “red-blooded male” — randiness is implied — while the faithfulness of someone “true blue” hints of a reserved manner … are these conservative-liberal stereotypes somehow backwards? OK, NOW I’m overthinking it. (Only now?)

Rednecks and blue hairs also pop to mind … but I daren’t go there.

Meanwhile, Florida is still counting: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, absentee fish, provisional fish …

One could see blues clues in the polar-opposite notion of temperature — red for hot and blue for cold. Most of the states in the Deep South, where it’s balmy, do lean conservative, and the Northeast area of the Electoral College map is awash in blue and gets more snow. But the changeable USA TODAY weather map is proof that theory can’t hold water.

Ideology-wise, it seems silly, as red tends to be associated with Communism/socialism worldwide — why not give the leftists that color? Same is true for fascists, or police states — our police are the men in blue, so shouldn’t conservatives be navy hued?

A red tie with tiny blue stripes … did Tim Russert lean Republican?

Another quick Googling turns up that our red-blue colors came into use not very long ago (ugh, seems forever), during the tense 2000 presidential election. According to AlterNet and The Washington Post, the color key was devised by journalist Tim “Gotcha” Russert, R.I.P. Before his commanding, calming influence (how I miss him), blue and red were used by media types to broad-swipe the Electoral College map, but they were applied randomly, often reversed. After a particular appearance on the Today show, his red-blue voting scheme proved color-fast.

I guess Russert took the reason why to his grave in 2008; it makes me blue he missed out on the whole breaking-the-color-barrier-in-the-White-House part.

Convenient, though, that blue and red make purple. As the color commentary of politics evolves and the markers of American attitudes blur, we’ll have the positive “rainbow” color, purple — signifying tolerance — to color outside the lines with.

The future of politics

Unsure what is happening here.

Divided nation? I’ve got this.

I’m thinking Mitt Romney could use a drink about now.

And if only we the people could yank back the $1.6 billion the two campaigns spent on their drawn-out duel and use it for something a bit more pressing. Not to mention the $556.5 billion spent by super PACs to needle and wheedle.

Wait. I am gonna mention that. That’s a freakin’ lot of dough. Together, it’s about $558 billion.

Ways I could spend it:

  1. Sewing up last year’s U.S. trade deficit. The tab for 2011 was exactly $558 billion.*
    (*My husband clarifies this is not something you can throw money at, rather you need to increase exports/labor. Couldn’t resist the $558 billion symmetry. But yeah, it could make a dent in any of our debts or deficits. Thanks, Mr. Know-It-All, Dear.)
  2. Caring for the needs of the nation’s preemies for 21 years. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “prematurity rates have increased by almost 35 percent since 1981, and cost the United States $26 billion annually, $51,600 for every infant born preterm. Additional research can help drive down these rates, saving dollars and lives.”
  3. Reducing incarceration rates while increasing public safety. The Justice Policy Institute notes that a broken criminal justice system costs federal, state and local governments $68 billion a year, but there’s not enough available to fulfill each American’s Sixth Amendment right to a public defender or to thoroughly investigate crimes or to properly police streets. It also suggests that more money spent in impoverished areas to thwart young people from crime in the first place would be, in a word, amazing.
  4. Adding something useful to each of the 98,817 public schools in the U.S.
    I dunno, be creative. That’s about $5.6 million per school. Get tons more teachers? Pay the teachers tons more? Hire some therapists, sex-education/sexuality counselors? Anti-bullying coaches? Upgrade technology? Fund more arts programs?

A peace offering: Cup of Joe (not Biden)

If you break down $558 billion and spread it out evenly among the 313,232,044 people living in this country, it comes to, approximately, cancel the 9 and carry the 2 … $1,781 a person. Some stimulus. That could buy a lot coffee.

Maybe, today, those who feel like winners should buy lattes — or something stronger — for those who feel they lost ground in last night’s election results. Have a friendly chat, get to know each other. Let’s patch up our country’s divisiveness person to person, one on one. No disrespect to Mormons: Make it any drink you allow yourself.

Better yet, travel. $1,781 would pay for every American to take a little trip to an opposite-color state … or county … or neighborhood, seeing as how we’re splitting hairs.

Examining the Electoral College red-blue map, it seems our political persuasions are all so bunched up. (I’d be curious to see a map also showing the non-voters, the black holes of engagement.)

In short: We need to SPREAD OUT. Mingle a little.

Better yet: Move. The answer here? Leave your comfort zone. Or expand it.

That’s how we can finally break down our divisions, among urban-suburban-rural peoples. Location, location, location. It’s outlandishly simple. Stop being so provincial and suspicious of the other side, peoples.

We’re all in this together. Happy Interdependence Day!

Only in America: You can order coffee tables in whatever color. Imagine, a red California! This is from the latest Uncommon Goods catalog, uncommongoods.com

Sticker shock: Block the vote vs. rock the vote

So here’s a political stumper. I’m driving behind this guy, befuddled by his bumper sticker. It’s in Romney blue, using the serif font I associate with the GOP presidential ticket, only it says “Obama for CHANGE.” I get a little closer to examine. Whoa, too close, sorry. … Yep. That’s exactly what it says. But it’s creating some left-lobe dissonance. There’s something not quite right about the “C” and the “G.”

Not quite right because it’s left, As in Communist left. The “G” is a hammer and sickle and the “C” has a menacing star tucked in.

Ah, I get what’s happening, a little reverse psychology attempt. Clever.

More and more I’m seeing bumper stickers with blurry messages, and I doubt it’s just my vision.

Not sure I totally get the thinking behind co-opting an opponent’s slogan and twisting it — aside from the pure capitalist gain of selling more bumper stickers. We Americans definitely do buy into a joke like nobody’s business. Exhibit A: the T-shirt industry. We will pay $22.95 to rent a jokey T-shirt that we can, basically, wear once, because after that, everyone’s heard that one.

What was in this particular motorist’s mind? Maybe he’s not a committed voter, still making up his mind, and wants to engage in some dialectics, have it both ways. Doubtful. No undecideds buy bumper stickers. Bumper stickers take commitment, because they don’t always scrub off.

It could be an attempt to cut down on road rage while getting one’s point across in election season. The blood pressure doesn’t go up as high when you see a “friend” vs. “foe” jettisoning past illegally on the right.

Supposing it’s just the old bait-and-switch game: You lure people in, then spring a trap, like a jack-in-the-box – gotcha! A little political playfulness, no harm, no foul.

’Cept sometimes the messages are definitely out of line. A few that stopped me:

 It seems to be saying: “We’re all Americans first.” A nice positive message. Yet I dunno, somehow seems racist. Are the “birthers” putting this one out?

That one is DEFINITELY the birthers, but who’s the idiot? The bumper sticker writer. At least they got the “its” correct.

Does this mean Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are a couple of squares? Or mathematicians?

Again, I can’t tell if that’s a positive or negative thing, like “He’s bad, unh, so bad, unh, you know it.”

Along the same lines, I’m fairly certain this is an anti-Obama sticker, but it could also mean, yay, stimulus, job creation! 

This is old, but nonetheless confusing. Is Obama supposed to be God? The was a campaign button, so it’s not as if someone could be mad he won and wear this, after the fact. The “GD” could be used in the sense of, “Wow! You go girl, America.” That would require a comma, though, so beats me.

You get the drift. No doubt you’re familiar with the hope-change/forward-backward stuff. Not gonna post that because I don’t want to come down on either side. And there’s SO much of it being shoveled.

Increasingly, only tricky, defensive politics is at play, and not just among politicians and their clever messengers. How long have you been hearing neighbors say, “I’m just gonna pick the lesser [or better] of two evils” or “Well, I don’t like my guy, but I gotta vote against the other guy.” Forever, right? When’s the last time you felt honestly good about voting?

Everyone says do your duty, vote, vote your conscience. But I get why people sit it out: A negative vote, intended just to cancel out someone else’s, nurses negative feelings. Doesn’t feel so good. Hurts your pride.

People say: “We need a third party. They’re both corrupt.” Yet voting your conscience to boost a third-party candidate or even just to mix it up a little for the majors can be a losing strategy if you later feel your vote was wasted, or you helped the team you didn’t want to win.

Then, if the game goes into overtime, as it did in 2000, you are less likely to vote your conscience next time up. It happened to my husband; he writes about his Nader eclipse here. (Views expressed in his blog are not necessarily views shared by me. He just really needs the page views.)

So, non-voters: I hear ya. Still, you oughta rally. This here is your locker-room pep talk. The guilt of gumming things up because you voted your conscience can’t be any worse than the guilt you feel sitting on the bench all season and still collecting a “participant” trophy. You gotta play to win.

The gummed-up bumper stickers, though, just add to the confusion. They may score points for cleverness, but not votes; no one following you in traffic is gonna follow your lead at the polls.

They’re only gonna laugh.

THE BEST STICKER OF ALL. I WIN.

Fellow women, represent: Make the pro-voting choice

Photo courtesy of Kentuckians Against the War on Women

We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats

Dauntless crusaders for women’s votes

Though we adore men individually

We agree that as a group, they’re rather stupid …

Cast off the shackles of yesterday

Shoulder to shoulder into the fray

Our daughters’ daughters will adore us

And they’ll sing in grateful chorus

Well done, Sister Suffragettes!”

With Election Day nearly upon us — the ninth presidential election of my adult life — I woke with those lyrics from Mary Poppins’ Sister Suffragette ringing like the Liberty Bell in my head.

Hard to imagine a world where I might have been barred from the polls, in which I might have been allowed only to pass out leaflets or make bake-sale goods while being denied that manly work of pulling the lever connected to my brain.

Who were these suffragettes who suffered heroically to win our right not only to vote but to have a strong voice in the democratic process? It’s because they trod the rough, subversive path that women a century later matter more than ever to today’s pollsters. In the women’s movement, we have moved from politically fallow to fearsomely powerful. Talking heads say the onus is on women to choose the nation’s course Tuesday. And many consider our choice clear: forward or backward.

Back in 1964, most kids my age – or older, ’cause I was 3-ish — got all caught up in the whimsy, magic and razzmatazz of the Mary Poppins movie – the diving into 3-D chalk paintings, the dirty, dancing chimney sweeps, the word starting with an “S” no one could spell and fewer could define: suffragette.

OK, maybe that wasn’t the word. Yet, without benefit of YouTube or metrolyrics.com or even a VCR, yet, I memorized Sister Suffragette and was known to march around the house imagining myself in a sash and carrying signs.

Blissfully unaware I was, at the time, that the sashes popularized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by militant feminists had morphed into the burdensome mantles of beauty pageant queens — women not parading but being paraded and adored for their surface assets and not their mettle.

Some of the 2012 Miss America contestants

Another accidental feminist

I was cluelessly indoctrinated by what another blogger has labeled “accidental feminism.” Sister Suffragette, while certainly not the most ubiquitous of Disney songs by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman — It’s a Small World (After All) seems a more likely candidate — is a front-runner as the most educational. What did its lyrics mean to an impressionable young girl of the Sixties?

From Kensington to Billingsgate,

One hears the restless cries

From every corner of the land:

“Womankind, arise!”

Political equality

And equal rights with men

Take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again …”

Even if I didn’t know where “Billingsgate” was or who “Mrs. Pankhurst” was then — stuffy Britishisms that nursed a budding inner Anglophile — that ball-busting Glynis Johns got my attention as Mrs. Banks, an uppity wife who wasn’t paying enough attention to the children or household because she was out rabble-rousing. I didn’t know any women like that. Or even that that was a thing to do.

Emmeline Pankhurst. She liked books.

Emmeline Pankhurst, it turns out, also was schooled early in feminism, at the tender age of 8, but it wasn’t until after she bore and raised five children and her husband died that she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. Remember: Lives were much shorter back then, but she lived to the ripe age of 69.

Her group dedicated itself to “deeds, not words” — if women didn’t have a voice, what good were words? They resorted to vandalism, smashing windows, and minor assault, attacking police officers, making jail cells their cozy homes away from home. They staged hunger strikes to protest cruel conditions in Manchester, England, workhouses. They not only fought for a woman’s right to vote, but a woman’s right to work — OUTSIDE the home — and work hard for the money, even to join men on the battlefield, in combat.

Not mentioned in the song was another suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison, who famously stepped onto the Epsom Derby track and died after a collision with the king’s racehorse. People at the time mused she must have been suicidal, because what woman in her right mind would stand up thus for a cause? Herbert Jones, the jockey on that horse, was said to be “haunted by that woman’s face” and, in 1928, at the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst, he laid a wreath “to do honour to the memory of Mrs Pankhurst and Miss Emily Davison.” In 1951, Jones’ son found him dead in a gas-filled kitchen. The horse, Anmer, by the way, got up and finished the race, rider-less.

Which all sounds like a pretty good Disney story, after all (from the horse’s perspective).

Emily Davison lies fatally injured next to the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. Hmm, epsom salts. Gotta look that up.

Those suffering fools

That sly fox Walt Disney. Disney didn’t write the Mary Poppins script. It was based on a 1930s series of novels by P.L. Travers — she the J.K. Rowling of her time. (So, what’s the deal with successful female authors disguising their gender using initials?) She didn’t want to sell him the rights, but he bulldozed over her and started producing the film before she grudgingly agreed.

Would you like some sugar with that political prescription, or maybe just some red meat?

Disney’s bully-pulpit politics aside (he was a founding member of the anti-communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals who in 1947 testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, ratting out fellow animators and labor union organizers — no Mickey Mouse stuff), the message of sugar-coating one’s medicine is not lost on Hollywood types. Dosing the public with propaganda masked as entertainment is an old trick; this season’s political ads have borrowed from Hollywood and proven as fictional and visceral as any Disney fable.

Just as in Mary Poppins, this election seems to be coming down to women’s rights vs. Wall Street, Mrs. Banks vs. Mr. Banks, participants in an unhappy marriage, heads of an unhappy, dysfunctional family.

Call in the Supernanny — like the reality TV show. The woman as superhero, who, by the way, was way, way ahead of her time. But always on schedule and looking smart and so put together.

Mary Poppins was everything I wanted to be. Dripping in wit, she had all the answers. She could communicate with the animals, the birds, especially. She handled the housework with a snap of her fingers and had plenty of time left over for fun — and not just ordinary fun, but surreal fun, with a boyfriend who would dote on her, declare any day a national “jolly” holiday in her honor and serve her tea and crumpets with dancing penguins as waiters. OMG fun. Men in service to women. What a concept. And still, Poppins is 110% woman, practically perfect in every way.

No more the meek and mild subservients we

We’re fighting for our rights militantly

Never you fear!”

This is the “accidental feminism” part, when you learn the song was added to the movie only to appease an actress’ ego. As Gregg Sherman, son of Richard, revealed recently on the “Disney Insider” blog:

“Walt and the boys were having lunch in the commissary with actress Glynis Johns, venerable star of stage and screen. Midway through the meal, Glynis was suddenly confused and a tad hurt, as she believed she was up for the lead role. Walt, always thinking on his feet, assured Glynis that she’d be ideal as Mrs. Banks. ‘And just wait ’til you hear the big number the boys wrote for you,’ Walt boasted. There was no number. The boys quickly excused themselves and scrambled back to their office to create a cause for Mrs. Banks’s character by researching women’s movements in 1900’s England. They fashioned new lyrics into a tune they were writing called, ‘Practically Perfect.’ The result was Glynis’ (cast as Mrs. Banks) big number, ‘Sister Suffragette.’ “

[The astute theatergoer will notice a song called “Practically Perfect,” penned by George Stiles and Anthony Drew, was added to the 2004 stage production, and “Sister Suffragette” was cut.]

Even without Mrs. Banks’ cause tossed in, though, Mary Poppins had the feminist drill down-pat. And talk about diplomacy. She could heal the rift in any household, and still make its inhabitants think it was their idea when truth finally dawned, regaining control of their senses and getting their houses in order, or going off their rockers to just go fly a kite.

Vote Mary Poppins in 2016

2016? Not happening!

The other night I was out drinking with a couple of gal pals, talking men and politics. Of course, the election and their husbands’, er, positions came up. One despaired to me: “What we need in there is a woman. Someone who knows how to compromise and get things done. [Someone like Mary Poppins, perhaps?] Will Hillary ever run again?”

I told her I would take Hillary at her word. She says she’s done, she’s probably done. Unlike the Chris Christies of the world who tease and train for 2016.

Then I start thinking: Who else, if not Hillary, to take one for the team? The nation seems ready for a female politician to go all the way. But political leading ladies tend to be Annie Oakley types, on both sides, oddball characters — whether no-nonsense Kay Bailey Hutchison or maverick loony Sarah Palin; lightning rod Nancy Pelosi or brassy Louise Slaughter.

Is there really a war on women? If so, where are the front lines, exactly? There could be arguments either for the male-dominated legislative chambers or the male-dominated media, obstructing their path.

Anyone knows political tides are strongest at the poles: the polar opposites of wealthy vs. welfare classes. I know “extremists” in both parties, and each argues that the other is brainwashed, or focusing on just one issue, not educating themselves holistically. “The dumb voters — maybe we shouldn’t encourage them to vote, if they vote the wrong way, anyway.”

Ann Romney passes out whoopie pies to the press corps.

The way I see it: One issue that you care about deeply is enough. Just vote. If you’re rich, maybe that issue is taxes, and you want to preserve your wealth. If you’re a woman, maybe that issue is reproductive rights, to preserve how far we’ve come. But vote. Maybe you don’t like or trust either guy, so the power behind the man — the woman — is swaying you. Is it a choice between whoopie pies or vegetable gardens? Macy’s vs. Ross Dress for Less? I’m not judging anyone’s fashion tastes, values or lifestyles.

Simply: Vote. With your gut. With your noodle. Because you can.

Has Michelle Obama’s time come — again?

Stand up for something, as Emily Davison did. Just steer clear of all the horse stuff.

Even if you feel choosing one of the guys at the top makes no difference because it’s the meddling of the middle-man Congress that muddies our system, then especially vote. Forget the top-down, down-ballot party platform approach. Maybe it’s time for women to go bottom-up. Examine the local races, vote closer to home.

Man up, women

According to the Women in Congress website, since 1917, when Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first elected U.S. lawmaker, a total 277 women have served in either the House or Senate.

Currently, of the 17 female senators in office (17%), five are Republicans and 12 Democrats, representing 13 different states. Only four states have more than one female senator (two each): California, Maine, New Hampshire and Washington. Offhand, I know at least one, Maine’s Olympia Snowe, is not seeking a fourth term. And in the three-way race to fill her seat, the only woman, Democrat Cynthia Dill, has not received even an endorsement from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. And Texas’ legendary Kay Bailey Hutchison is also retiring. Note to swing voters: Connie Mack in the Florida race is NOT a girl’s name.

In the House, 73 of the 435 seats are occupied by women from 27 states: 24 Republicans and 49 Democrats. That’s also about 17% of the House. California has the most with 19, followed by New York with nine; Florida with six; Ohio with four; North Carolina and Texas with three each; two each in Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin; and lone she-wolves representing the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. I haven’t had time to sort out where else the female representation is bound to slip in Congress, but I’m sure someone must be monitoring it.

Of governorships, there are six sitting women (12% of the whole, four Republicans and two Democrats) but, according to the National Organization for Women, when you include all statewide leadership (lieutenant governors, attorneys general, secretaries of State and legislators) the percentage is more like 23%. Better than Congress but sad when you consider women are the U.S. majority.

We women suffer from representation without representation.

And the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 6,030 of a total 7,383 legislative seats in 44 states are on the line Tuesday. (It’s an off-cycle election for Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.)

In short — not — we haven’t come such a long way, baby. We still have far to go.

The best thing any woman can do for the woman’s movement, no matter where she stands, is to move herself to the polls tomorrow. Maybe even stop by a nursing home, where women far outnumber men, and help mobilize a few elderly ladies there, too. Some of them may remember what it was like to feel voiceless and powerless.

Let them have their say. Say, say, say, 90 million says — the estimated number of Americans who will sit out Tuesday.

I’m just saying. Don’t get discouraged because you feel the choices aren’t good enough. Did the suffragettes get discouraged, when they had a right to be discouraged?

Make a choice, sister. Represent, and be represented.

Our daughters’ daughters will adore us and sing in grateful chorus: Well done!

A ‘Sandy’ foot in my mouth

I used to groom myself this way when I was young. Disgusting, I know, but what I’d give to have that flexibility back.

So maybe I spoke too soon there (in my previous post) sneering at the severity of “Frankenstorm” and my neighbors’ panic in hoarding survival kits and caboodle.

As the alerts intensity, my skepticism dissipates. And now, gah, there’s no water or “D” batteries to be had anywhere within 50 miles of my home.

Lucky for you, my power will soon go out, and you won’t have to read any more of my reckless posts. I’ll be reduced to eating peanut butter, wilted lettuce … what else do we have here? Oh, nuts.

Hunker down, everyone, and stay safe.

Below, a snapshot of my TV, tuned relentlessly to The Weather Channel … the last thing I’ll see when the power goes out.

For those of you who no longer read the paper (a once-a-day updating of the news, like taking your vitamins).

On fear of ‘Frankenstorm’ and water pressure

Draining supply of water at my local Safeway. By Sunday, no bottled water or “D” batteries could be found anywhere in town.

Someone ‘splain me this: Why the mad rush on water in advance of the monster hurricane, cleverly dubbed “Frankenstorm,” which promises water, water everywhere?*

The toilet paper I can understand. It is, after all, days before Halloween and its companion Mischief Night — lots of TP’ing and mummifying ahead.

The water I don’t get.

At first I thought people were confused by the National Weather Center’s official moniker for the beast: “Sandy.” Is it a sandstorm?

(Aside: Has NOAA ever named a hurricane Noah? Might set off even more panic, even induce ark-building.)

I asked someone in line at my Safeway just now, who had her cart loaded down with jugs and bottles: Isn’t it more likely we’ll just lose power … not sewage services? Our taps should still work. Right? She shrugged.

She may have been on auto-pilot, as so many Snowmageddon survivors are.

The way I see it:  The only thing you should really be stocking up on right now is candy. Either Halloween goes off as scheduled, and you’re prepared and won’t get your house TP’ed, or you can’t cook and will still have plenty of survival calories on hand.

Otherwise, my short list for Frankenstorm preparation:

1. Flashlights/batteries

2. Candles/matches

3. Board games, for if you get bored.

4. Condoms, for if you don’t. (See No. 2)

I just can’t fathom the water thing. Unless hydropower is further along than I thought and people are practicing the dam thing at home.

(*Note: I mean no disrespect to serious victims of hurricanes in places where disaster truly strikes, such as my beloved New Orleans, tsunami-stricken Japan, the Caribbean, where people have already lost their lives from this beastly storm. But this is Northern Virginia. That’s all I’m sayin’. Yeah, famous last words.)

‘Women and children first’ is so 1912

A nice guy holds the door for me at work … for the sake of the picture. This generation is big into taking pictures.

A stunning event at work today: Outside the elevator, a young man stepped aside and motioned for me to go first.

I could scarcely move. I strained to recall the last time I’d witnessed an under-28-something cisgender male behave thusly.

Since our media megalopolis declared itself “digital first,” bands of coding whipper-snappers who run laps with laptops tucked into the crook of their arms somehow decoded that guiding principle as: They get to go first.

I’d grown used to yielding to packs of geeks in every corridor. They depress me because they utter things like: “Print is dead” (no lie, I heard this in the elevator yesterday from a pair of them, and they were chortling about it). I’ve come to expect that sort of thing from them.

But this? Deference to me, a vestige of the green-visor age? Totally out of character.

Simply put: Chivalry is dead to this generation.

The flip side: Do women even want this kind of treatment?

How many of you have had a door held open by an older gentleman … except the door proves 30 yards away and you feel obligated to scamper in heels, heart-racing, everything jostling, while he holds, watches, just to accept his lame help despite being perfectly capable and strong enough to open a freaking door, for goodness sake … then wonder whether your frazzled display was how he regularly gets his jollies?

Happens to me a lot.

Some women take offense to door-holdings and after-yous. What about that double-door set-up at malls and office buildings? You murmur, “Thank you” once … then a beat later, “Thank you, again” giggle-giggle, gaze at floor.

Or, you take turns: I’ll hold once for you, you hold once for me.

It’s not just older men doing this for hot young women, it’s women doing this for men, women doing it for women … unsure I’ve ever seen men-on-men door-holding. Come to think of it, what IS the proper distance to hold a door for someone? Is it when they’re 10 feet away? 15? I hate making them run. Why run? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of easing things for the other person? Here, I’ll hold the door and spare you the 2-pound pull, if you’ll just run sprint drills for my amusement.

Are these spaces sponsored by businesses, like highway cleanup signs? Is it just another form of cheap advertising? So many things in modern life confuse me.

One thing that does shock me in this day and age are parking spaces reserved for “expectant mothers” or those with young children. Shocks me because NO ONE EVER USES THEM.

They remind me of those vintage “Baby on Board” rear window suction signs announcing the presence of an innocent in tow, ss if someone would ram the rear-end of your vehicle so long as no one under 5 were inside. After the wreck, the driver whimpers, “B-b-b-but I had a yellow diamond sign on there, din’tcha see? You were supposed to steer clear of me!”

Here in Northern Virginia, almost everyone violates traditional handicapped spots, despite hefty fines attached. Entire crime rings get built around fake handicapped placards you can pull out of your glove box to hang from your rear-view mirror when convenient. Yet I never see anyone violating these “expectant mother” spaces … let alone using them.

Would an actual pregnant woman feel obligated to prove she’s pregnant, especially if she weren’t showing, if she parked there … is that why they don’t bother? I wonder about fat women. Could they get away with parking there, in a pinch? Who would dare challenge a fattie or even someone post-menopausal? Beware the hot flashes.

I watched this prime piece of real estate at Pan Am Shopping Center in Fairfax, Va., for about two hours one day. No one ever parked there. Does the mere having to read a sign scare people off?

Maybe no one violates these spaces because they circumscribe law.  Where would be the fun in crossing a blurred line?

Or maybe … just maybe … these spaces indicate a resurgence in societal values regarding “women and children first,” hearkening back to the noble men on the Titanic who gave their lives so that the delicate innocents might flourish.

Anyway. I just wanted to thank that elevator guy. It was nice.