Scenes from my life: “So, nothing much has been going on”

Whenever I get a phone call or make one, it often begins with me saying, “Nothing much has been going on.”

I used to have lots to say – especially when I was out there in the world, working for other people – but now that I’m home working for myself and in semi-isolation, to boot, I don’t seem to have much to tell. No tales of delicious adventures, of encounters with mysterious strangers or film biz celebrities who were, despite that on-screen 40-feet-high glow, simply human in real life.

Currently I don’t have much to spill. “Got some good pears yesterday.” That’s about it.

During this pandemic-mandated sheltering in place – the place being my apartment – I’m more likely to talk about the welcome plentitude of toilet paper in most of the neighborhood stores. And how Walgreen/Duane Reade now sells Krispy Kremes.

My friend Andrea and I were on the phone the other day. She said, “We’ve forgotten our social skills.” That sounds right, doesn’t it? We’re getting together for lunch next week, by which time we both felt we might have something to say. Certainly, we will practice being what we used to be: talkers.

But actually I probably do have something to say, at least when I sit down with a genuine human being for the purpose of…joint humanbeingness. Sure, my conversation often begins with, “Nothing much has been going on,” but then comes, “Well, actually, something odd happened.” Or if I ask you, “So tell me what’s been going on,” you’ll start a whole flow of meaningful exchanges.

Call it gossip. Women do it. It should never be denigrated as petty. It’s how we women explore thoughts about life, and truth. We start out on the surface but go on to plumb the depths of experience.

(Men gossip, too. They plumb the depth of sports. And other things.)

A while ago I read a book somewhat outside my general interests. It was, You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen, about the distinctly different ways men and women talk to each other.

I was fascinated. Tannen clarified why I often found talking to men so irritating. It was one of those magic “Ahhhh!” moments.

In fact, I think it was the only significant revelation that worked so fast on my psyche. I mean, having the fine idea of wearing heels and my mother’s devastatingly elegant black coat to see the Beatles land at JFK on their first US trip – so that no one would think I was a crazed Beatles groupie – did not instantly transform me from Teenager to Woman. Especially when an airport security guide asked, quite kindly, “Are you here to see the Beatles?” Splat.

What I learned from Tannen was not complicated, did not require an elegant black coat. Here it is: what men want when they communicate is to report. What women want is rapport.

Run that simple lesson through your memory bank. I bet you’ll remember times when a man yammered on about what he had done that day, making it clear he was not eliciting your response.

On the other hand, when you talk to anyone, you want an ear, empathy. What you don’t want – and what you’ll usually get from a man – is authoritative advice. “You know what you should do,” a man will say. And then will tell you.

So that’s why we women find it so crucial to our well-being to talk with each other. We listen, we empathize, we do not give advice, unless we are asked.

Speaking of advice, I’ve asked for advice a couple of times but not until I reached a level of maturity, when I’d given up believing I had to be perfect at everything. At that point, I compiled a list of my outstanding imperfections, one of which was my general incompetence at housekeeping. In particular, I had trouble scrubbing dishes and pots. I mean, I could wash them. It’s just that after I did, they weren’t entirely clean.

It was confounding. There I was, at the kitchen sink, a dish in one hand, a sponge item in the other. I had soap on the sponge, I had water running, I scrubbed the dish, I paid attention to what I was doing. But, but, but – the dish was not utterly perfectly clean.
Couldn’t figure it out.

So I confessed my sponge sins at the office and asked for advice. Here’s what I was told: get a sponge with a rough surface. Run very hot water. Wear rubber gloves.
I tried. It got better but it never got perfect.

Until I bought a dishwasher. Now, the only items I wash by hand are pots. Which never get absolutely, utterly, perfectly clean.

Damn. I should have told a man about how I couldn’t wash dishes properly.



Posted in COVID-19, Scenes From My Life, The Facts of Life | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Did I ever tell you about the time Facebook censured me?

No? Well…

My relationship with Facebook has always been amiable and simple. I use it primarily to see photos and videos of my brand new great-nephew, Jack, in his very jazzy onesies with matching caps. And then I go on to photos and videos of baby animals.

A few years ago, when on Facebook, I replied briefly to a comment from a pal and then walked away from the computer for a minute. Glass of water, or something.

When I returned, there it was – a tinted box on my screen containing a message from Facebook, couched as a communiqué from a strict schoolmarm. Here’s the gist: FB was not going to publish my comment because it contained derogatory and/or otherwise unacceptable language. FB suggested I consider amending what I’d written.

Into what hellhole of depravity had I sunk to deserve the censure of Facebook?

Well, during the 2018 election campaigns, I read news about Cindy Hyde-Smith, a GOP senatorial candidate in the deep South, a woman who had openly been exhibiting a distinctly antebellum, um, philosophy.

I’d seen some of a news conference she’d given in which she was questioned about her…uh…political philosophy. I have never seen anyone running for office so bad at communicating with the media. That was a nice way of saying Cindy Hyde-Smith appeared to be substantially stupid. A GOP wrangler stood by her side and answered a lot of the questions directed at her. When she answered questions, she’d say, “I refer to my previous statement about that.” Over and over.

It was mind-boggling, back in the days when I still had a mind available to be boggled.

Although I don’t get my news via social media, some of these Hyde-Smith stories had also appeared on my Facebook page and had stimulated my Facebook cohort to offer comments about this candidate. Here are a few: “old bitch;” “bum bitch;” “skeletal thing;” “the C…nt;” “old cow;” “low-lifer;” “danger to society;” “hang her high!” “A germ.”

Two women friends shared remarks about the candidate’s professed Christian faith and questioned how any Christian could be a racist. Or how any racist could call herself Christian. I think hypocrisy was cited; it usually is in such cases.

So there they were, my Facebook friends, laying out the word string, “hypocrite, racist, Christian,” when I helped by adding the supplemental “white trash.”

BAM. Facebook swatted me.

Was I crushed? Hardly.

In fact, since Facebook had been in the news then — and still is — precisely for not doing to malevolent trolls what it did to me, I felt censored right into the zeitgeist.

No longer a fairly obscure writer, I was part of this huge story. (For a few seconds I worked on a proportionately modest swagger.)

But I was also mystified. Because, on the flip side of this new universe, I’ve never been a victim of Facebook’s inadequacy in censoring or tagging fake news and vile propaganda. Indeed, when I first learned about troll farms, I made a valiant effort to find some of their stuff on Facebook. Never could.

As for privacy, if Facebook has been selling my personal traits in the Marketplace, the Marketplace has not gotten what it paid for. I’ve never clicked on an intrusive ad, never once bit on enticing links to, “Guaranteed to get rid of stomach fat!” I’ve never bought anything advertised on Facebook or through any other internet advertising vehicle.

If my identity has been ripped off, why am I still sitting here fully integrated, my financial doings undiminished, my privacy uninvaded?

So good for me, bad for Mississippi, whose junior senator is now Cindy Hyde-Smith.




Posted in How I Learned The Facts of Life, Politics, Racism, The Facts of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scene from my life: the romance of certain old kitchen gadgets

Stuff happens because of kitchen gadgets.

I was prepping carrots for a white bean soup when my vegetable peeler broke.

It would have taken me ten minutes to run out and buy a new peeler. But I, a decent home cook, take pride in paring down my reliance upon gadgets that can be supplanted by gadgets I already own.

I have neither full-size Cuisinart nor microwave. Nor do I have a toaster cluttering up my kitchen surface, accumulating crumbs and mouse incursions (yes, that’s why I tossed the last toaster). Instead, I use a sauté pan from Germany. It replaced my old, intermittently toxic, Teflon pan, makes toast to taste and cleans with a swish of my hand.

Thus, I was fearless as I dumped the broken peeler. Hey, if I was able to toast without a toaster, why couldn’t I peel without a peeler? I grabbed my excellent paring knife and scraped the carrots. A disaster. I threw the carrots into the soup anyway – soups don’t know about ugly – and ran out to pick up a new peeler.

Which went into my essentials drawer with the Zylis cheese grater. But then, like dopey Pandora, I just had to open that other drawer, didn’t I? The drawer containing mysterious implements I thought I’d thrown out years ago.

Gee, this pair of pliers must’ve crept out of my tool box. Except, no, it’s not pliers; it’s a gadget to crack nuts or shellfish. I bought it when a Innocence Project client who’d just gotten out of prison for a crime he hadn’t committed arrived at the law office I then administered, bearing two live lobsters he’d caught and presented them to me as a gift.

They crawled around in my bathtub for three days while I researched the kindest way to boil them alive. I’ll never cook a lobster again. Out goes the lobster claw cracker.

I recently used this funky little pitter on a couple of pounds of cherries, and yes, my thumb was numb and purple for the entire evening. Back in the drawer it will go, however, because in six years I might need it again.

And I’ll keep the diamond file which I will apply, eventually, to the chipped rims of my late mother’s old wine glasses.

Still in its original box is a wicked little gizmo that could get me arrested. Labeled La Culinaire Flavorizer, it’s a…junkie’s syringe. The instructions congratulate me: “You are about to embark upon a truly unique experience in the art of fine cuisine,” an embarkation that somehow I have never launched. I am supposed to fill the syringe with liquid like “beer an [sic] onion juice” and shoot up a roast. I should use it once before throwing it out, right? (How does one juice an onion? Maybe there’s a kitchen gadget for that.)

I can barely glance at the Wüsthof oyster opener without gulping a tranquilizer, because the raw oysters for which I had purchased the opener stubbornly rejected German wizardry, leaving me with a shameful memory of screaming obscenities at them as they lay mute and obdurate in the sink.

Hiding in a far corner are all eighty-nine mucky parts of an electric grinder I used once, to make paté. No matter how much brandy I poured in (a lot), the paté never ascended to gourmet heights. In fact, it kept tasting like…chopped liver. It’s a convenience to blame that particular failure on the grinder, so out it goes.

I dumped a blender which did nothing effectively except clean itself, and a European food mill with insect legs and a medieval grinding arm. Both have been brilliantly taken over by my Cuisinart SmartStik, one of life’s great, multi-purpose kitchen tools, which pureed that aforementioned white bean soup.

But now I’m gazing into the drawer and mourning the empty space where once lay a funny-looking gadget, a simple little citrus juicer. The exterior posed as a plastic egg. Tucked within the egg was a plastic tube about three inches long. One tube end had a teeny flap; the other tube end was serrated. You screwed the serrated tube end into a lemon, turned the lemon upside down, opened the teeny flap and squeezed out only as much lemon juice as needed. (You used the egg-shaped holder to store the remaining lemon.) Oh, and under the teeny flap was a strainer that caught all the pits. A work of genius.
It cost $5.95. Over more than twenty years of constant use, the flap disintegrated and one by one the tube’s serrations broke off. Weeping, I had to put it to sleep as if it were a toothless pet.

Now I wander through the earth’s kitchenware stores but have never found its like. If you know of one, please please tell me. I’ve already made a nest for it in my essentials drawer.

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