Saturday, January 30, 2010


As I was making a quick pass through the house, tidying it up before leaving to run some errands, I came across a big book on the floor in my husband’s “office.” Its title alarmed me: “1001 Buildings To See Before You Die.” I wasn’t aware of this goal of Charlie’s, and I had to sit down for a minute to process what this might mean for the remainder of MY life. Honestly, I had thought Charlie was finished with traveling. But this opened up some scenarios in my imagination that gave me the willies.

Let’s start with the United States. Evidently, there is a Medical-Dental office in San Francisco that is a must see. It seems that it is modeled after a Mayan pyramid. Inside, the ceilings have Mayan glyphs. There are bronze chandeliers. I wonder if the exam tables look like the altars for human sacrifice? Do the spit sinks have little waterfalls? Do you have to make a doctor’s appointment in order to get the tour?

Then there is Hangar One, at Moffett Federal Airfield in California. Ok, it IS one of the largest unsupported structures in the United States. But my God, IT IS AN AIRPLANE HANGAR. And by the way, in 2003, it was discovered that the entire structure was leaching toxic lead and PCB’s into the surrounding soil. NOW THAT IS SOMETHING YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS ON YOUR NEXT TRIP!

Charlie has always had a thing for industrial parks. Often, when I request that we “go for a ride,” instead of gliding through sylvan glens, or looking at the latest in McMansions, I find myself looking out of the windows at gravel pits and concrete facilities, sewage processing plants, or Charlie’s favorite: the abandoned General Motors factory (of which we have PLENTY in the Dayton area). So I am sure that on his list of places to go and see is the Magnitogorsk Metal Kombinat, or “Stalin’s Pittsburgh,” in Chelyabinsk Oblast, in Russia. This place was created as a model industrial town for making steel, and it was home to a few thousand industrial workers living in tents. Wow, to be a housewife in THAT town! Even the BOOK says that in this place, living standards and quality of life were “very low.” Obviously, a must see for American tourists!

I don’t know about you, but visiting places where they butcher things has never been high on my list of places to go before I die, but apparently the “Stalls and Abattoir” in Vrin, Switzerland, are a real tourist Mecca. The buildings’ sloping roofs and wooden construction owe much to the Swiss chalet design. But this would be my first question: WHY DON’T WE JUST GO AND SEE SOME SWISS CHALETS?

This book has A THOUSAND AND ONE of these places! Granted, it does include the Arc de Triomphe, the Alhambra, and the Parthenon. Ok. But my husband has been to all those places. I have even been to some of those places. Knowing my husband, those places on the beaten track would have no real appeal, because ALL THE TOURISTS go there. Oh, no! For us, the Pentonville Prison in London would be on the itinerary, along with the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast, the Tampere Fire Station in Finland, and by nature of its name, the Dick House in France.

Living with a man like my husband, who has his peculiarities, such as keeping track of the pollen count each year since 1990, or maintaining a spread sheet that records the amount of watts of electricity that we use yearly, should have prepared me for this. I wonder: are there travel agents who sell these tours? How would one advertise them? “Boring and Obscure Landmarks the World Over?” “Architecture for Geeks?”

I have never been one of those retired people who yearns to take a cruise every year. Or one of those women who likes to travel with packs of other women to see art museums, opera houses, or cathedrals. I don’t really want to snorkel or scuba on the Great Barrier Reef.

But any of those things sounds very appetizing when compared to the Hermann and Steinberg Hat Factory

Sunday, January 24, 2010


My husband has always had a unique and interesting turn of phrase. For instance, he has labeled that time in late afternoon when hunger and sleepiness take over as “having a sinker.” He calls coffee either “Java,” or a “cup of Joe.” Where he grew up, a milkshake is called a “cabinet.” I had gotten used to his phraseology. Then, ten years ago, he suffered a massive stroke that mostly affected the speech and language area of his brain. Suddenly, it was a whole new ball game. What were eccentric and regional linguistic applications became just a bit dicey. Charlie has always been one to massacre the English language, and since the stroke, his conversations have become a bit more dangerous. Always one to come VERY close to what he wants to say without always saying it correctly, he has become locally famous for his colorful communications. I had no idea that being the wife of a linguistically challenged individual would bring such notoriety. Yet there is a real charm to Charlie, and his errors just seem to add to his charm and increase his celebrity.

What is your name? If it is Lauren, Charlie will call you Lola. If you take pride in your German heritage, Charlie will add a “schnitzen” or a “schnecken” to the conversation at every possible opportunity. At Ikea, he will loudly announce the names of each furniture item, thoughtfully provided by store management: “Hey, Molly, do you need a DIMPA? What about some BLABAR?”

One evening, sitting around the fire with our children, somehow the subject of palindromes came up. Charlie’s eyes lit up, and he stood up and recited: “I CAN ROLL A BEESE, PANANAMA?” Without skipping a beat, the three of us replied, “Uh, huh—A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL—PANAMA. I CAN ROW A BOAT, CANOE?” You see, after awhile, it gets easier and easier to translate. Annie did point out, though, that the rowing a boat portion of the exhortation was NOT a palindrome.

Charlie also has created some expressions that as a family, we use often. One term, “al dente,” is not what the rest of the world thinks it is. “Al dente” in the Campbell lexicon has two meanings. One: two people who eat in a restaurant and choose to sit adjacent to each other are sitting “al dente.” Sitting “al dente” is totally nerdy, we think. It precludes conversation without putting a crick in one’s neck, and it is NOT romantic! Second definition: “Al dente” is anything that is free of ornamentation, frippery, or extra accoutrements, as in “Do you want your steak with all the ‘fixins,’ or ‘al dente?’" Or, “I am not wearing any jewelry with my ball gown. I think it looks better ‘al dente.’” This term has been used with such frequency in our family through the years, that both of our children went out into the world USING THE TERM IN CAMPBELL FASHION. They have suffered great embarrassment as a result, and blame us for their public humiliation.

The apex (or should I say nadir?) of Charlie’s linguistic escapades occurred the other evening. Following a lovely Bach concert, there was a champagne reception honoring the performers. As we stood, flutes of the bubbly in hand, Charlie noticed a man that he knows. Gesticulating wildly, he beckoned the man over, and excitedly and loudly exclaimed, “MOLLY, THIS IS ED! YOU AND HE HAD YOUR BI-RECTUMS AT THE SAME TIME!” Ed looked confused and somewhat nonplussed. I, however, knew immediately that Charlie must be referring to the colonoscopy that I had recently. Ed looked to his wife for edification, and she also seemed a bit lost. I did manage to utter the word “colonoscopy” before the champagne shot out of my nose. At that point, it seemed wisest just to leave the reception.

This is the same husband who gave a toast at a wedding to “David and Lorraine.” The couple was in actuality named Dennis and Lauren. This is also the man who informed me that there was a new Mexican restaurant in town called “Abdul’s” (Abuelos). His favorite movie lately was “Sid is on the Roof” (A Serious Man). But through it all, he remains the most enthusiastic, in his own words: “bon vacant” around. I remain by his side, as translator, censor, and yes, cheerleader.

You only go around once. I want to go around with Charlie: the man of many words, many of which are bogus. He has wit. He has charm. He has a lot of fans. He has a certain, in his own words, JE NE C’EST PAS.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I am reading a book about Emily Dickinson. I love her poems, but I am more fascinated with her life. She became a recluse in her family mansion in early adulthood. She loved to bake; evidently she walked about the house covered in flour. She wrote beautiful and pithy poetry that speaks to all of us.

I have often thought that it would be very romantic to become a recluse myself. Of course, in order to be a happy recluse, you must have a beautiful place to hide in. I think I have finally achieved that. My house is now, after we have lived here for twenty years, nicely decorated, and every room is beautiful. It also seems to me that there is an irony involved. Recluses need nice surroundings, but the recluses I am familiar with were INDIFFERENT to those surroundings most of the time.

This is because a recluse must have a life’s work. Otherwise, staying home twenty four/seven would get very boring. So I would need a beautiful room to work in. I would require a desk placed in front of a window, so that I could watch the world go by and ruminate about the neighbors, the surroundings, and nature. There would have to be inspiring art on the walls. Granted, as a successful recluse I would become inured to all the beauty of my study, but rules are rules!

This brings me to the life’s work. Problematic, because I can’t think of a subject large enough to consume me every day. Recluses are devoted single-mindedly to a life passion. My only real passion is pets. Could I spend every day in my workroom thinking about cats, writing about dogs, or researching animal diseases? Could I become a crusader for animal rights right there in my little room? Not likely. In the midst of a treatise on dog fighting, I would need a snack. While researching Von Willenbrand’s Syndrome, I would look out the window and realize the bird feeder was empty. Are recluses allowed out in the yard with sunflower seed?

Successful recluses have doting families who do their shopping, invite guests over in order to freshen the outlook of the shut-in, and accomplish all the tasks that the recluse simply can’t do, by virtue of the fact of being a recluse. I don’t have that kind of family. My husband is always gone. He is the opposite of reclusive. My kids aren’t around, either. I don’t have any loyal retainers to do my bidding. I think servants are a prerequisite for recluses. HERMITS, on the other hand, live completely alone, don’t want any family ties, and shun the concept of servitude for anyone. By that definition, being a hermit is totally OUT, as far as I am concerned.

Back to the reclusive life. I think a successful recluse must also have a highly developed sense of the SMALL. Spending all day at home, every day, would require an appreciation of life’s little details. For instance, I am sure that Emily Dickinson reveled in the dust motes in the air around her, watching as they swirled and caught the sun. She probably counted the pleats in her peplum. I feel confident that looking out the window at the garden was tantamount to meditation for her. I am not good at this. I have no idea how many buttons are on my favorite cardigan. I have noticed that there is dust on tops of all the picture frames, but that is about it.

Recluses often carry on long conversations with friends by exchanging letters. Emily Dickinson maintained lifelong relationships with a number of people, some of whom published her letters to them. Thus, she was able to make HER FRIENDS somewhat famous, just because they knew her. Today’s recluse would have access to Facebook and Twitter. I can just IMAGINE what fine tweets Emily could churn out.

I did actually try out the reclusive lifestyle last winter, when I had a skin cancer on my face that required surgery of Frankensteinian proportions. I was on a recliner in my TV room for two weeks. It was hell. Without Netflix, a cell phone, and Facebook as lifelines, I would have descended into sheer madness. It is because of this experience that I have such admiration for Emily and her ilk.

If Emily were around today, would she restyle her life? Would she at least talk with her friends using Skype? Would she still bake gingerbread from scratch, or would she use a mix? Would she have a cell phone and carry on conversations with fellow intellectuals from the safety of her room? Is it possible to be a productive recluse in today’s world without the use of technology? I couldn’t do it. My hat is off to Emily.

The Soul selects her own Society—
Then--shuts the Door—
To her divine Majority
Present no more

Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing
At her low Gate—
Unmoved--an Emperor be kneeling

Upon her Mat
I’ve known her—from an ample Nation—
Choose one—
Then—close the Valves of her attention—
Like Stone—

Friday, January 8, 2010


My sixtieth birthday is this weekend. If I were a native American, I would just now be starting to get a little respect. If I were in China, I would be revered for my knowledge and sought out for my sage advice. If I were in ancient Greece, I might be an oracle. But in my neighborhood, I am just the slightly saggy lady who is married to the accordion man. I have acquired wisdom along the way, however. And now that I am in my seventh decade, I am qualified to give advice and make shrewd observations.

PEOPLE ARE MEANT TO EAT CARBOHYDRATES. I know that fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and fiber. Lean meat has proteins. Whole grains help lower cholesterol. But a nice pile of mashed potatoes can soothe the soul. Toast with honey gives one the energy to fight traffic, run all those errands, rise above office politics, and discipline unruly siblings. Mocha lattes can banish minor depression.

THERE ARE TOO MANY BEAUTY PRODUCTS TO CHOOSE FROM. I have dedicated some of my waning energy to keeping up appearances. But looking in the beauty aisle or scanning Vogue magazine can produce anxiety attacks, which do nothing to allay the effects of aging! And dermatologists are getting into the act, which further confuses the issue. If Dr. So and So says that this cream will banish eye bags, and Dr. Whatsis says that this masque will plump up naso-labial folds, and then other medical experts tout cleansers, toners, and brighteners, what is one aging woman on a budget to do? My mother, who some say was quite glamorous until her late eighties, used COLD CREAM. PERIOD.

REALITY TELEVISION IS LIKE HEROIN. Nobody likes to admit this. But there wouldn’t BE all those shows about multiple births, little people, Dr. Drew, bariatric surgery, coroners, and survivors if we didn’t watch them. I keep discovering new ones to watch: like the one about hoarders, or people who save pit bulls, or parolees who become florists…

BEING RETIRED IS VERY FUN. PEOPLE SHOULD TRY TO RETIRE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I used to have to leave for work at seven each morning, drive a half hour, and then work until 6:30. I liked the job, and loved the people. Then I retired. My God, what a revelation! Retired people can GO TO THE STORE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AFTERNOON. They can go on vacation at a moment’s notice! If you don’t work, you can wake up and decide to turn over and go back to sleep! Retired people don’t have to juggle any schedules, call in sick, or worry about rush hour traffic. They go to the movies on Wednesday evenings, spend entire afternoons at the library, and take yoga lessons and cooking classes. It sucks to work.

RAISING CHILDREN IS IMPORTANT WORK. BUT IT TAKES A BIG CHUNK OUT OF A WOMAN’S IDENTITY. I spent my childhood waiting to grow up. Then I became an adult, and spent twenty-odd years as a working mother. It wasn’t until those girls left home that I discovered that I AM A WRITER! Evidently, I have been one my whole life, but I had to get all that maturing, child raising, wage earning and homemaking out of the way in order to be the real me!

AS LONG AS YOU HAVE PROBLEMS TO SOLVE, YOU ARE YOUNG. Challenges engage the mind, and keep those synapses firing. All of us need something to charge at. And while I am on the subject of staying young, it is youthful people who always have something to look forward to. Old people think that all the important milestones, such as marriage, children, and grandchildren, are finished. Vital people always have something cooking: a trip, a dinner party, seeing the bulbs bloom in the spring, or having a facial. I, personally, look forward to checking my email every day, seeing how many coupons I can use at the store, and finding new things to top with Cool Whip.

Now that I am filled with the wisdom of the ages, I will sign off with perhaps the most valuable advice that I could give anyone:

Life is not worth living without at least one cat, preferably Siamese.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


A friend sent me an email asking all respondents to list ten things that no one knew about them. I didn’t answer. I have, however, been thinking about it ever since. It seems as if my life is an open book, even more since I have started blogging, but underneath it all are some things lurking. These are scattered, some silly and some very serious to me. No one knows them. Maybe it is time to put them out to air. I am certain that the emailer who sent me the question did not have this level of self disclosure in mind, but I am going for it:

I have always felt that my husband and children are my spiritual guides. They seem to be on this earth to teach me things. This became very apparent to me after Charlie suffered his stroke. Suddenly, my children were spouting wisdom, and I was leaning on them. Calls in the middle of the night were made from ME to THEM, not vice versa. At the very beginning of the saga, my older daughter told me that the event was most certainly a gift and not a tragedy. That one sentence was my lifeline. Then, suddenly, Charlie began his trip back into the world, and every day was a revelation about how one small man could turn the tide against a seemingly insurmountable disability. And these days, my “baby,” who lives nearby, amazes me with her sensibility, self awareness, and stolid devotedness to her life’s passions. Her groundedness is an example for me every day.

I have recurring dreams. My favorite one features me tap dancing with much talent and gusto. Another one has me discovering two extra bedrooms and a bathroom that I had no idea were in my house! The one I dread having, though, is the one in which I am at a fancy dress ball in a strapless gown, and I look terrific! But then I discover that I have forgotten to shave my underarm area. Shattering. A variation of this one concerns the beach, a bathing suit, and you guessed it!

I worry about being alone some day. After having nearly lost my husband, the thought of widowhood is always lurking somewhere in my subconscious. I try to think about how I will live in the house, solve problems alone, and if I will talk out loud to him. Will I meet the challenge bravely? Soldier on? Or wither? I have promised myself that I will be a “good” widow. What that means will only be revealed to me if and when it happens. Meanwhile, I brood a little bit.

I think I am stylish. Really. I realize that if I showed up at a toddler’s birthday party uninvited, that every child there would just assume that I was an attendee’s Grandma. However, I would NOT be the grandma wearing anything supportive, orthopedic, or in any way necessitated by arthritis. At my age, I still wear the same Katherine Hepburn inspired slacks and shirts that have always looked good on me. Everyone with any style sense knows that turned up shirt collars are simply stunning on the right woman.

I am proud of my grammatical prowess. I can proofread with the best of them. This isn’t always apparent in the blog, but that has to do with the fact that I sometimes toss them off and publish them with slapdash speed and enthusiasm. But I feel that I might do very well in some sort of proofreading Olympic.

I could eat every single night in a restaurant. I could even go to the SAME one every night, if the menu was extensive enough. The whole ritual of shopping, preparing, and presenting food to a loving family is not one that has ever impressed me with deeper meaning, the way it has for many people. For them, food preparation is almost like yoga in its relaxing and meaningful aspects. For me, it just seems like working on a giant nutritional assembly line: pop the potatoes on the plate, slide on the chicken, spoon on the peas, and do it all over again. Like Lucy at the chocolate factory! But restaurants offer solitude, mood lighting, opportunities for romantic conversation, and waiters. Bliss, in other words.

But there is a thing about me that I have kept to myself since childhood, and it is a true indicator of my core personality. It is embarrassing. I think it reveals that perhaps I am either obsessive, or is it compulsive? Maybe I am just a little pent up. But when I can’t sleep, I ROLL MY HEAD BACK AND FORTH ON THE PILLOW. I also do this on the sofa sometimes. My husband is used to this. My kids see it as a sign that “Mom is tired, and if somebody doesn’t stop her, she will fall asleep IN THE LIVING ROOM.” I tend to head-roll also when bored or nervous. The temptation to do it in Doctor’s waiting rooms is almost irresistible. So far, I have controlled myself. But as I age, will I become the crazy head-rolling woman in the beauty salon? Will patrons at the library notice me head-rolling in the stacks? Will I start doing it during traffic jams?

And there is a woman whom I see regularly at the grocery store. I run into her about once a month, and have been doing so for years. I like the look of her, and I wish she and I were friends. I don’t know anything about her except that when she was a young mother, she always looked fresh and athletic—just the opposite of me. Now that we have both aged, she looks wistful and slightly faded, but still extremely interesting. I smile at her when I see her. That’s all. And I regret that.

There you have it. Pieces of the real me. From behind the screen...

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