Saturday, March 20, 2010
Yesterday afternoon I took the test to become a 2010 U.S. Census taker. I’d love to bullshit you and say that I received a perfect score, but the fact of the matter is that two of my answers were incorrect. This would be a bit embarrassing if the test hadn’t been the most singularly unclear, poorly worded, and sad-ass use of the tax payer money that I ever hope to encounter. This is not just sour grapes. I have a couple Master’s degrees, and I was flummoxed by how over-complicated and obtuse the coding and questions were.
Which made me especially concerned for two members of my test group who could barely speak English. I can only hope they filled in the dots on the test answer form in the shape of a Smiley Face or a skull and crossbones. The odds of this producing as many correct answers would be about equal to what they might have scored anyway, and it would have been much more fun.
But no matter. My 97 points puts me well above the required 70 needed to strap on a bag of materials, grab an I.D., and head out to pester the indolent souls who have deigned not to return their mail-in questionnaires. And though it may be a while before I learn if I’ve been hired as an “enumerator,” I thought, having taken the test, that I was fairly prepared for what might be expected of me should this come to pass.
I THOUGHT I was prepared until I came upon the vintage Tiparillo ad (above), which clearly illustrates that I am grossly off the mark. Apparently I will be required to undergo massive amounts of plastic surgery- face lift, tummy tuck, and most importantly, the insertion of very large breast implants- find an extremely low-cut polyester jumpsuit in a radically offensive shade of green, and learn how to purse my lips suggestively. I think I can muster the last of these, (I WAS young once myself, you know), but I’m seriously wondering if the $18.95 per hour that I might make will cover all of the other steps that are apparently necessary for me to pursue this career choice.
Unfortunately, the Tiparillo ad is unclear as to whether I would have to accept a smoke if a gentleman should offer me one on the job. NOTE TO SELF: Ask FOS, (that’s Field Office Supervisor for you un-census-lingo-initiated), if accepting a cigarillo is mandated census taker behavior…
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
This Friday at 2:00 P.M., I will be taking the test required to become a 2010 U.S. Census taker. You're jealous, I know. But only the creme de la creme of highly trained professionals, (I believe the elite fraternity will be limited to a mere 56,000 of us), will be selected to niggle the details of who's living in your back room out of you. We'll have you revealing the sex, race, age, immigration status and home phone numbers of everyone who's ever spent the night on your Jennifer convertible before you have a chance to say, "Bob's NOT my uncle, and get your foot out of my door!"
Making the decision to try to become a census taker wasn't easy. Even though I've been out of work for nearly two years and hoping that one of the positions for which I've applied at The New York Times, the CIA, or Auto Zone might come through, this opportunity was simply too good to pass up.
So... the test. Believe it or not, (according to the online sample exam), you have to know how to multiply decimals in order to become a census taker. This is not my forte, but I believe I'm capable enough to remember where the decimal point should go. More difficult though, is trying to comprehend why I need this skill to check a box on a form. Now a foot race I could understand. I mean, I don't expect everyone to instantly fall for my census-taking charms. But happily I'll be paired with a similarly well-trained professional who I'm hoping is even slower and fatter than I am. (I know a bit about the use of a decoy from having watched NCIS and from the aforementioned CIA job application). But who am I to question anyone who's willing to pay me $18.95 an hour to get a little exercise and to find out embarrassingly private details about my neighbors?
So wish me luck, and if, in the next few weeks, you hear a knock at the door and see a slightly graying woman with a clipboard in her hand, please remain calm, remember that cats cannot be counted as children, (no matter how much you love them), and let's begin with your name, age, and phone number....
Saturday, March 13, 2010
So I've decided to write a book of "AGING HAIKU"- poems about my advancing age composed in the traditional Japanese, non-rhyming, 3-line format of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.
There's something very Zen about the process, though this may be simply because I've written most of the haiku while wearing a t-shirt, kimono, and pair of socks.
Anyway, here are some of my current favorites:
Low on Lipitor.
Arteries ask, "Is that cheese?"
Fly to CVS.
Do you remember
when you remembered when you
could remember? What?
Listen to The Byrds.
Bless Crosby's strong new liver.
And I turn, turn, turn,
Gray like rain at dusk.
Clairol number 2-1-2.
Six dollars. Sunshine.
Falling now. Sagging.
Like branches in heaviest snow.
Gravity. Damn. Damn.
Run, Lover, run fast.
Hot flash. Mood swing. Un-oh. I
may have to kill you.
I need no tampons.
Midol and Motrin are gone.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
More to come. Until then, arigato, Mr. Roboto.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Yesterday morning I woke with a zit on the side of my nose and it didn’t seem fair. “Why,” I wondered, “can’t we swap the minor annoyances of youth for others that beset us as we age? I mean, it just doesn’t seem right that I should have gray hair AND zits.”
I mentioned this to my friend Kathy during an afternoon chat, and she related that her dermatologist had told her that getting zits at our age is a good sign- it shows that our skin continues to produce the oils that keep us looking younger longer.
I can see the logic in this, and as a Buddhist I suppose I already knew that I should be blessing my blemish instead of wishing it ill. But it had begun to throb and resembled a roseate Mt. Etna on my otherwise un-bumpy visage so accepting its positive message took an especially healthy application of philosophical Clearasil. But I blessed the little sucker and decided to make a list of all of the other non-blessing blessings of middle age that illustrate how truly lucky I am. An alphabetical list seemed the best way to take stock:
A: is for ALZHEIMER’S, my poor mom has got it
B: is for BOOB-DROOPING, Maidenform’s fought it
C: is for CHOLESTEROL, a count I remember
D: is for DOGGY STYLE, I’m no longer that limber
E: is for EXTRA-CRISPY, demon KFC hook
F: is for FAT-FREE unsatisfying gook
G: is for GRAY, charming target of Clairol
H: is for HOT FLASH and wanting to bare all
I: is for INCOME TAX, soon it is due
J: is for JOB, if just one would come through
K: is for KRUSCHEV, old enough to recall him
L: is for LUBRICANT, to need it is galling
M: is for MEMORY, to hell it is going
N: is for NEURON, its function is slowing
O: is for OSTEO- bad, brittle bones
P: is for PORCELANA and bleaching skin tones
Q: is for QUASIMODO and dowager’s hump
R: is for RIPPLED, the state of my rump
S: is for SIZE 8, ne’er again shall it fit
T: is for TOOTH-WHITENING, just bought a new kit
U: is for UMPIRE, my mood swings require one
V: is for VENTRICLES, hope mine won’t retire soon
W: is for WATTLE, below both my chins
X: is for X-RAYS- pray my knees don't need pins
Y: is for YEAST INFECTION, oh please cure mine fast
Z: is for ZITS, wretched blast from the past,
But thank you, dear blemish, for a much-valued life lesson,
Because I'm a Buddhist I'm aware of your blessin's.
I now see your bothersome height and dimensions
As fodder for insights that need my attention.
I’ll no longer bitch when you visit my face,
But welcome your efforts to broaden my grace.
Still, I hope you’ll occasionally cut me a break,
Cause there’s only so much a poor gal can take.
And although I’ll keep open the doors of perception,
I can’t guarantee you a pleasant reception.
And if you expect that you’ll always delight me,
My response, although loving, is: “Go on and BITE ME!”
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I learned on Friday that my mom, (pictured above in her twenties), has Alzheimer's disease. We knew that her mental faculties had taken a huge dive in the past year, but there's something about hearing the "A" word that can shake you harder than you'd ever think it could. Suddenly there's a possibility that my mom- the woman who saw me through a life-threatening bout of spinal meningitis when I was five, who taught me the names of plants, trees, and wildflowers on wooded childhood walks, who went frighteningly off the deep end when my father was killed in 1970, who came close to asphyxiating her progeny with clouds of L'Air du Temps perfume blasted onto her neck and wrists in the car on the way to church on Sundays, who loved to read, who collected antiques, and who lived alone until less than a year ago- will not only lose all memory of those events, places, and attributes, but may forget me, my siblings, and all of us who love her altogether in time.
I have to admit that I'm clinging to denial, avoiding online research about the condition and its genetic attributes, even telling my best friend who called to tell me about an Alzhemier's segment that ran on the CBS Evening News last night, that I don't want to know anything more for a while. Adapting to my sweet little mom's loss of continence, overall awareness, and plain old memory have been challenging enough these past months. Am I selfish for wanting a few days to turn reality into a fuzzy, Doris-Day-close-up version of itself?
Yes. I am selfish, and I want, almost as much as I want to believe it isn't true for my mom, to sublimate the fact that I too may end up with the disease. My prospects for dealing with her challenges are so much less pleasant than hers. I don't have children who'll be there for me, nor the funds that afford my mother an enviable level of care- who knows what may be left of Medicare or Medicaid by the time I'm 86?
I've told my brother that if I come down with the "A" word, he has to promise to give me an overdose of something when I reach the point where I can't answer at least 50% of the questions on "Jeopardy" correctly. He's said that he might wait until he can finally beat me at a game of "Botticelli," (sweet man!), but it's ironic that my brain, the only part of my body that I really like, is at risk.
But for today, I'm fine, and I know that's what I have to focus on. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and a handful of people who love me dearly. Which is why I know that this frightening sadness and almost unbearable emotional fatigue will pass. Yes, necessity is the mother of invention, and I'll do whatever I have to do- for my mom and for myself- because I have no choice, but also because I choose to.
So wish me luck, and feel free to grab me by the literal or figurative hand as we make our way around this snaking mortal coil we share. It's a circuitous, bumpy road, but it always leads forward and ultimately gets us where we're meant to go.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
CHRISTMAS 1951: Lord, how young they were. My mother, Mable, was 28, slim, beautiful, and so proud of my 4-month-old brother, John, as was my father, Louis. The image at left epitomizes the 1950s American Dream that was their life- a remarkable achievement for both sides of my family, but with very different paths leading to it.
My father’s father left Hungary when the borders closed at the onset of World War I. Just 18, he and a friend walked from outside Budapest to Berlin where they caught a steamer for New York. As they disembarked, both were recruited to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, which is where my grandfather met and married my grandmother, Anna. Later the two moved to Cleveland. There my grandfather started what would become a successful business as a builder that included my father as Steve Mihaly and Son Construction.
Much earlier, my mother’s family settled in the hollows of Virginia’s coal country, an area as depressed as it was possible to be by the time the Great Depression hit. But my mother’s mother, Hattie, came from a long line of teachers, and the premium placed on learning resulted in most of her 10 children going to college and even postgraduate school. My mother left the holler for a single year of college before taking a job as secretary to army brass in Newport News, Virginia, a major World War II disembarkation point for GIs headed to Europe.
It was there that my parents met at a party. They wrote sweet, funny letters back and forth during my father’s time in the army, which included taking part in D-Day. After the war, the two were married in Cleveland, and eventually moved into the apartment shown in the picture above. Everything in the photo, from my mother’s poodle skirt to the wallpaper, from the TV to the tinsel on the tree and the abundant presents beneath it, is testimony to the promise of post-war America.
America in 1951 was a place of incomparable promise- at least if you were white- and the idea that you could do almost anything if you set your mind to it and worked hard is as much a part of the zeitgeist that shaped Baby Boomers as anything else. It was a powerful message transmitted via conspicuous effort, lives lost, and a sometimes blind singlemindedness.
I’m enormously grateful to my parents and the others who sacrificed to create that dream for me and my generation, but, and I say this with full awareness of its ungenerous irony, I resent them for it too. I resent the fact that the things that made their dream possible- economic opportunity, unbridled use of resources, rewarded loyalty in the workplace, as well as so many other factors- no longer exist in the ways they did for my parents or even as they did for a younger me. My momentary sadness and moderate sulkiness over these realities always pass, largely because stewing about them doesn’t change them. But sometimes even a necessary shift in expectations is as unsettling as a shift in tectonic plates. Which brings us to
CHRISTMAS 2009: My mother turned 86 this summer shortly after we moved her from her townhouse in Charlottesville, Virginia to an assisted living community here in Yankee territory. In March she underwent triple bypass and heart valve replacement surgery, and has suffered marked losses in short-term memory and cognitive ability ever since. She seems happy enough in her new environs, as illustrated by the above right photo where my nephew, Malcolm, her only grandchild, is giving her a kiss. I think she likes having us around, but I never really know what she’s taking in, what she feels, or what she remembers.
She’s forgotten much, some of which is for the best, including how my father was killed in a freak building accident in 1970, and that all but one of her siblings have died before her. Still, her memory of some things is shockingly acute. She remembers clearly the irises planted around the Virginia farmhouse where she lived for 20 years after my father’s death. She recently mentioned how our cat, Spanky, would reach out a paw when she wanted to be petted, and recalled a Sunday dinner in our leafy suburban backyard with aunts, uncles, and grandparents playing cards. She asked me if I remember how our dog, Charlie, hated the man who delivered eggs to our home, and laughingly spoke of the out-of-tune, pink, upright piano that stood in our garage for years. But she didn’t remember, when we spoke on the phone yesterday afternoon, that I was the one who’d decorated her Christmas tree with all of our traditional ornaments, each held up for her input and approval, two days earlier.
I worry about her, and selfishly, I worry about the me that may become her. I wonder how I will fare if I live to be 86, knowing that even Mable wouldn’t be enjoying the same comforts now if her brother, Bo, who lived like a pauper himself while saving every penny, hadn’t left her the money to pay for her current care. My friends and I joke about the fact that by the time we’re old enough to be put out on an ice floe in vintage Eskimo fashion, there will be no more ice caps or polar bears on them to eat us. But the truth is that I have no children to call on for help. I have only the smallest of savings after years of work as a freelancer, and I wonder how much of what I’ve paid into Social Security will be there when I turn 65.
Still, I’m hopeful. It’s impossible not to cup my spiritual hands around a flicker of optimism in the midst of these troubling, windy times. And that, I believe, might be the most precious gift that my parents gave me. 1951 is not 2009, but there’s a spark of it still in this girl. Merry Christmas all.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Take a look at these photos. Consider them visual hors d’oeuvres for the funky smorgasbord that is a Baby Boomer life.
LEFT: The wonderfully frilly dress, white anklets, and Mary Janes that were my mom’s wardrobe of choice for me as a 5-yr-old indicate a comfortable suburban childhood that, from the look on my face, was not nearly as appreciated at the time as it should have been. That life of relative comfort was cherished by my mother, who grew up deeply poor in Depression-Era Appalachia, and was generated by my dad, a mason contractor who survived Omaha Beach on D-Day. Please note: two huge influences on my generation combined in the description of and context for one frilly little outfit. WWII and the Depression shaped my parents into hardworking, nation-loving, fight-for-right, and give-your-kids-what-you-didn’t-have members of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation”. Which brings us to the next image…
CENTER: I believe that during my high school years I must have worn more pairs of painter’s overalls than a convention’s worth of Sherman Williams brush wielders. This fashion statement broke my stylish mother’s heart, raised my Bible-thumping Baptist dad’s blood pressure, and made it possible for me to carry house keys and a hair brush to anti-war protests. Overalls also proved wonderfully easy to shed in the back seat as Jim Mooney and I steamed up the family LeSabre. Note again: another outfit as illustration of even more influences on my peers and myself. Religion: Suddenly not the unshakable set of tenets Ma and Pa knew when even the cover of Time’s April 8, 1966 issue queried “Is God Dead?” War: The battle against absolute evil that fighting Hitler and Hirohito had been for my father supplanted by a Southeast Asian conflict whose causes, worthiness, and effects are questioned to this day. And S-E-X: Possibly only surpassed by drugs as the major paving stone in the road to hell.
RIGHT: Yes, my hair is still straight. A frightening and almost-psychotic-break-inducing perm in the late 70s resigned me to the fact that I will never possess a mane of come-hither curls. But the color of my unbendable locks is now enhanced with the assistance of the very kind folks at Clairol. The wrinkles in my neck and the accompanying wattle throw me off a bit every time I look in the mirror, but the point of the picture is that even though the reflection that greets me changes more and more every day, the girl inside, in so many ways, is still intact. And that, I believe, is a hallmark of my generation. Some may say that this indicates an unwillingness to grow up, others maintain that it keeps us young and engaged. I’m not sure who’s right, but this is where I plan to start figuring things out: BoomUnderground.com
My world, and welcome to it….