Monday, November 29, 2010

Elbow Grease

My Grandma Finnegan swore that her wringer washer got clothes cleaner than agitator washing machines. In 1986 the one she'd bought in the sixties died, and she went to the trouble of special ordering one from Sears. I'd have liked to have been a fly on the wall when that transaction took place. The sales clerk likely showed her the latest models, and I'm sure she politely looked. But in the end the wringer washer was the only machine for her.

Grandma was a great believer in the power of elbow grease. The wringer washer experience epitomizes this ethic. When my parents used to take my sisters and me to Montana every July, I spent many happy hours helping Grandma send all our clothing from the washing tub through the wringer into the rinse tub, and through the wringer again. Did the clothes really get cleaner this way? Maybe it was one of Grandma's illusions. At least every article of clothing was touched four times in the process.

Anyone who uses a wringer washer is going to forgo the dryer and use a clothesline. That's fine in July, when the daytime temperature is in the eighties. Fast forward to when I lived with Grandma in the 1980s. She wasn't going to let a little thing like minus 20 degree January temperatures stop her from hanging out our clothes to dry. Freeze dry. The wind could be blowing like crazy, and our clothes would not flap. They waved. And they took three or more days to fully dry. After that first experience hanging clothes in  bone-numbing cold, I was a lot more careful to wear my clothing as many times as I could get away with. I was just learning to drive in the snow, for Pete's sake. My thin Californian's blood was no match. Grandma would be out there before dawn shoveling snow, wearing nothing more than a windbreaker over her pajamas.

I'm not suggesting that we go back to the days of using wringer washing machines. I am thinking we could all stand to use a little more elbow grease in our daily living. A little inconvenience is good for a person. If it doesn't build character, it might just build some patience, a virtue all Americans are going to need in abundance in the coming years.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pat THIS Down

Tuesday night I went to the salon, and we were talking about Thanksgiving plans. What we were all most thankful for was that none of us were flying anywhere for the holiday.

"What do you think of the body scanners?" my stylist Teryl asked me.

"TSA can kiss my ass," I said over the drone of the hair dryer. "If I thought body scanners were making us safe from terrorists, then it would be different."

"Then you'll have to go for a pat down," she pointed out.

True enough. But after a lifetime of conditioning about not allowing any stranger to touch my privates, any pat down is going to be on MY terms. Especially state-sanctioned fondling that offers only a vague promise of safety from terrorism. Like I said in the salon, TSA can kiss my ass. My dimpled ass, that is. Though I'm a reasonably fit 49-year-old woman, my weight has fluctuated over the years, not just due to two pregnancies, but mainly because I like to eat and drink. It'll be just like my high school job at Winchell's Donuts in Hermosa Beach--I used to wear my bathing suit underneath my uniform so I could to the beach after work. Now I'll wear it underneath my street clothes. I'm all about making life easier for the people around me.

I've been thinking about something Mr. Walter Douthwright frequently talked about in government class my senior year. He spoke of how the politics in this country are driven by crisis. As in no decisions are made until the big one strikes.

And strike it did, several times in this decade, beginning with 9/11. Our government's response--two wars that still don't have a clear outcome. Many Americans are more patient with the lack of well-defined outcomes on two wars that have spanned the decade than they are with a recession that has lasted three years. Doesn't taking your shoes off at the airport make you feel safer already?

The same people who have linked shoe removal and color alerts with national security have now brought us virtual strip searches and patdowns, as if everyone boarding a plane is a potential underwear bomber.

My friends tell me I have a knack for stating the obvious, so here I go again. What's next? Everybody has at least one body cavity. The next terrorist wannabe is going to tuck explosives where the sun don't shine. Where the hell is that going to leave airline travelers? Are we going to be treated to strip searches? I pay Lynn Walker, M.D. good money to examine me once a year. No amateurs allowed.

When my mom was out to lunch with her singing group last week, body scanners were a main topic of conversation. A middle-aged guy sitting at the table next to them interrupted.

"I couldn't help but overhear your conversation," he said. "I'm here to tell you, if I'm going through a scanner, I plan on being at full attention." Lucky for him this is a salty bunch of septugenarians.

My neighbor's father is Israeli. I asked her what the Israelis do int heir airports.

"Profiling. And it works. Oh, yeah, Israel's a smaller country with fewer airports. But it works well enough. The problem is, it will never happen in this country."

It's enough to make a girl go all Forrest Gump. Hello, running shoes. The next time I go to California to visit my parents, I'm seriously considering running there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Race Day

On Saturday my family and I ran in our local Turkey Trot. Yes, folks, even Don, who hasn't willingly run, well, ever, ran the two-mile course. One of his Facebook friends quipped, "Was the liquor store closing soon and the car wouldn't start?" Our 12-year-old Patrick and I ran the 10K. I ran mine in 1:01.13, and Patrick ran his in 45 minutes. Patrick's ass-whooping of me is only going to get worse, as his legs and his cardiovascular system grow. That's OK. I'm happy for him. As long as I'm still running races at age 79, like someone I met on the course, I figure I'm doing well.

As I was running toward the three-mile marker, I saw a thin elderly man running along. As I passed him, I asked how long he'd been running.

"Thirty-five years."

"Hope I'm still running in thirty-five years."

For the next mile and a half, we took turns passing each other. I was doing what I call my inchworm intervals, running as hard as I can for a minute, then pacing myself for another two minutes. Damned if he didn't pass me for good right before the five-mile marker. I saw him at the finish line, where we shook hands. I congratulated him for his strong finish.

"You helped me out there," he said.

I couldn't imagine how. By encouraging him? By providing a target for him? I was too high on endorphins to care one way or t'other. "Thank you" seemed the best thing to say.

Anyone who knows me well knows I'm a big-time eavesdropper, and that usually leads to some butt-inskey comment. I usually can't resist the temptation to comment on what I've just so audaciously overheard. Here's the best one of the day: "Did you hear about that guy with one leg who ran a marathon in like, two hours?"

"Hell," I offered, "I can't run that on two legs. Not even on three."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let Them Eat Negative Ads

I don't know any voters, Republican, Democrat or Independent, who thinks the harvest of negative campaign advertising was worth the estimated $4 billion spent. Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, we don't even know who funded many of the ads. This is a travesty. I frequently write letters to the editor, and I am required to sign my name to them. Signing your name is part of the deal in free speech. Apparently it's OK with a majority of Supreme Court justices to allow corporations and labor unions, in the name of free speech, to anonymously donate to national and local political campaigns.

When Don and I lived in Vermont, we went to a candidates' night where then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (now a senator) said something I'll never forget. In terms of the federal budget, expenditures in the millions of dollars are chump change. It's only when they cross over into the billions that it matters.

All righty, then. So much for investors not having major money to spend on investing in businesses. The 2008 campaigns, which included the costliest presidential campaign in history, cost around $2 billion. Four billion dollars could have gone a long way toward investing in new and established businesses and industries in every congressional district. I'm sure there are rules about how campaign funds can be spent, and they surely don't include investing in businesses (unless you're in the advertising biz). Governor-elect John Hickenlooper is a notable exception of a candidate who didn't go negative in his ads. Then again, when you have Larry and Curly as your opponents, who needs advertising at all?

This is a great country. I'm sure there are ways for candidates, whether incumbent or challenger, to show  voters what they can do to create jobs in their districts. In my congressional district, there are worthwhile alternative energy concerns that could have used the more than $32 million that was spent statewide on campaigning. Whatever's left over could be used to pay for ads explaining to voters what candidates have done to strengthen the job base in their districts.

Karl Rove has famously said that negative ads work. For whom? Voters can't drink enough Pepto-Bismol to make it through the next round of toxic waste he and his cronies are already planning. 

In the meantime, this voter would love to see an ad from any candidate that talks specifically how they worked with industry to create jobs.