The Needlework Gene

My mother used to make me dresses out of flour sacks. No, we weren’t sharecroppers, although one of my great-uncles was. Back in the day, flour sacks were printed with calico patterns just so people could use them for clothing. It may have started back in the Depression, but it lasted well into my childhood. Later in life, when I was a teen, my mother found a bolt of cloth in the fabric store that was printed with a design that looked exactly like a feed sack. Of course, I insisted that she make me a tunic with the company logo featured prominently as a call-back to my childhood garb.

The gene for needlework may have been passed down through my family. My maternal grandmother was a knitter. She made sweaters for everyone in the family and sewed a little tag into each of them saying “Made Especially for You by Grandma Rose.” She could even knit a sweater from a crochet pattern, which if you know anything about needlework, is quite a feat.

My mother, of course, was a seamstress. She made a lot of clothes for me and my sister, including lots of calico shirts when the cosmic cowboy craze was on in the ’70s. She was prone to whimsy, as you probably guessed from the flour sack story. Once when she found some camouflage-print flannel, she made me my favorite floor-length nightgown (I had ones in yellow and blue) from it. One year at Halloween she even made me a nightcap to go with it. I powdered my hair and went to the party as “Rambo’s Granny,” a joke that no one seemed to get. Another time she made me a forest green wool cape and matching Robin Hood hat, which I wore to my college archery class. (The teacher just rolled her eyes and said nothing.) But most of the time she stuck to doll clothes and dresses and the like.

Later in life, my mother took up crocheting. She collected crochet pattern magazines and even acquired some foreign crocheting pen pals from the classified page. They exchanged handmade Christmas ornaments (crocheted snowflakes “starched” with Elmer’s glue were a favorite) and my mother sent needlecraft supplies that her correspondents couldn’t find in India or the Dominican Republic. Of course, we all got homemade Christmas sweaters that I would never dare call ugly, though my husband got one with a large moose on it.

I thought that perhaps the needlepoint gene had skipped a generation. I sewed a skirt and vest when I was forced to in junior high home ec, but my crafty efforts were more usually paint-by-numbers or wood-burning or ceramics. Then I discovered latch-hooked rugs, which involves short strands of yarn and a device that looks like it was designed to be used on high-button shoes. I still have on the sofa a small pillow that I latch-hooked and somewhere there’s a planet-scape rug that I hooked. This may have been a different manifestation of the needlework gene, as my maternal grandfather braided rugs in his time.

Hooked rugs quickly became passé. I’ve noticed that needlework crafts tend to come in waves like that. So next I took up needlepoint, then bargello, and eventually found my métier in counted cross-stitch. This provided the illusion of sewing without the need to actually sew anything. Instead one followed a pattern of wee Xs in different-colored thread (called floss) to make a picture. The cloth was full of tiny, regularly spaced holes to make the Xs in. It took less skill than embroidery and produced works that were easier to give away than hooked rugs. My mother-in-law still has a set of red-and-blue quilt-patterned pillows that I made for her.

Now, however, my eyesight continues to grow poorer and my hands to shake more with each passing year, so I’ve had to give up cross-stitch. Despite the fact that my mother continued to crochet dolls and stuffed animals for her church’s Christmas bazaar while her eyes were failing, I still don’t crochet. I can never get the tension right although there’s lots of it my life. And since I don’t have kids, the needlework gene ends here.

Still, I haven’t lost my interest in the needle arts. Just start doing petit-point or quilting near me and I’ll be looking over your shoulder.

 

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Long-Distance Love Can Work

We met under the most unlikely of circumstances: in front of the food tent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, introduced by mutual friends. Dan was from the Philly area, but I was living in Ithaca, NY, and scheduled to relocate to Ohio within two weeks. Unlikely as it may seem, we fell in love.

Not right away, you understand. It took us at least the two weeks that intervened before I moved. I invited Dan to a house party in Ithaca. He drove all the way there to see me despite having spent only the long weekend of the Festival with me. At the party we were inseparable. By the time I left for Ohio, we were in love.

No one figured that we had a chance to make it work. Long-distance relationships never succeed, especially those that start with such a brief acquaintance. But no one had considered the stubbornness of either him or me.

At first, things went about as you’d expect. I rented a four-room apartment in a small house in Ohio and Dan continued to live with his parents and work at a nearby hospital. We resolved to keep in touch.

This was in the days before texting, IMs, and the Internet existed, so we kept in touch via actual physical letters. In those letters we opened up to each other, getting to know each other’s most personal feelings the way we never could have just by dating. I typed my letters on my brand-new portable electric typewriter. Dan wrote his longhand in the breakroom at his job. Since he worked third shift, his letters often became long, funny, surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness rambles created in the wee hours of the morning. There’s nothing like stream-of-consciousness for getting inside someone’s head and learning all about him.

Neither one of us had much money for phone calls or visits, but we managed to work in some of each. And in the February after our August meeting, I was startled to receive flowers, the first Valentine’s Day bouquet that anyone had ever sent me. I took a Polaroid picture of them, which I still have.

As the months went on and our letters became more infused with growing love, we began to talk about the possibility of actually living in the same state. I went back to college and settled in to wait. I figured Dan would eventually get tired of living with his parents and make the move.

And so he did, arriving in an orange Pontiac Ventura with a U-Haul trailer of his belongings. He found a small apartment just down the street and around the corner from mine, and we began getting to know each other in person and seriously planning our lives together. At last he proposed and I said yes.

It wasn’t all smooth and steady, of course. We were both young and had problems we hadn’t worked out. Some of mine involved the bad relationship I was in when we met. Some of his involved his family, who didn’t want to see their son settle so far from the family home as his brother had. Both of us had emotional baggage that seemed as though it might drive us apart.

That’s where the stubbornness came in. After all the time apart, the soul-baring letters, and then the luxury of living within walking distance of each other, we were determined to make this relationship work. We worked on our problems, separately and together, until we achieved liveable compromises with our pasts.

Now, 35+ years later, we are still together. Not that we have been solidly joined and happy the entire time. I remember at least once when I called around looking for an apartment that would take a woman with two cats. He once worked on a budget to see if he could live on just his own salary. We fought. We sought counseling. We made it through.

I can’t advise that anyone begin a long-distance relationship. More often than not, they don’t work. But when they do, it’s magical.

New Year’s: A Kiss, a Clink, and a Shaky Wallet

There are plenty of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day customs out there. A lot of the traditions don’t work for us. Over the years, we’ve kept a few but mostly arrived at our own.

One superstition says not to let anything leave the house on New Year’s Day, except for people. Evidently, this means one should take one’s garbage out on New Year’s Eve.  Now, I don’t know about you, but we can’t leave our trash just sitting out. We live in a wooded area and the possums and raccoons are more than capable of ripping open the bags and festively decorating the cul-de-sac with the contents. On the other hand, there’s also a superstition about avoiding paying bills on the holiday, which would be much easier and more pleasant for us to carry out but would mightily piss off our mortgage company.

And forget football and parades. We spend the entire football season as well as the parade season avoiding them religiously. I don’t really mind the giant balloons and the floats made of flowers, but if I hear one more pop song played on tubas, my head will explode. Forget Polar Bear Plunges too. All my Christmas gifts this year were things designed to keep every part of my body warm.

As far as celebrating New Year’s Eve goes, one of our celebrations has been to have a celebration at all. When my friends and I were all 18, my family invited one particularly close friend over to spend the evening with us for pink champagne, snacks, music, and general frivolity. She enjoyed herself so much that she gave up her previous New Year’s Eve ritual, which was babysitting for more fun-loving couples.

The same friend also gave us another memorable New Year’s Eve when she acquired a boyfriend. None of us had ever met him and we didn’t know how serious it was. Midnight at the party was an exercise in yoga. My husband and I had to kiss and clink our glasses at midnight while craning our necks trying to locate the new couple in the crowd and peek to see if they shared a kiss and if so, what kind. (Happy ending alert: After a few years they married.)

Another of our friends liked to share her own personal tradition with us. A small group gathered at her house to polish off her leftover Christmas cookies. Then we adjourned to her porch at midnight, where we serenaded the neighborhood with “Oh, Danny Boy.” I never did figure out what she had against “Auld Lang Syne.” Most likely, neither did the neighbors.

In the years that have gone by, my New Year’s Eves have gotten less and less festive. I just can’t stay awake that long. And my husband works third shift, so he’s not home at midnight. I generally sit at home, New Year’s Eve Grinch-like (or whatever the equivalent is), drinking champagne by myself and clinking the bottle with my glass, maybe listening to a little music, and going to bed at nine or ten. If that sounds pathetic, maybe it is. But it’s my tradition and I’m sticking to it.

My husband’s family has a New Year’s Eve tradition that to my knowledge he’s never missed. Every year he calls his mother at midnight (after sneaking away to the break room) and the two of them shake their wallets (or purses). This is meant to ensure prosperity in the coming year. Spoiler alert: It has never been known to work. Yet they persist. Since I don’t generally take my purse to bed with me, I miss out on the shake-your-money-maker fun.

The next day Dan insists we have pork and cabbage, but I participate only if there’s cole slaw involved.

I loathe even the smell of sauerkraut. I don’t care how traditional it is.

 

Kiffles and Kugel, Facebook and Google

Dan was trying to remember the name of the holiday cookies he and his mother liked so much, but neither of them could recall it. “We used to have them at Uncle Rudy’s house,” Dan said. But no bells rang. Uncle Rudy was no longer available to provide any suggestions.

“What were they like?” I asked.

“They were rolled up and had walnuts in them.”

“Sounds a lot like rugelach,” I said. Strictly speaking, rugelach don’t have to be made with walnuts. They can have jam or other fillings inside. Along with hamentaschen, they’re a staple of Jewish baked goods. Dan had some Jewish relatives, so it seemed a good place to start the search.

“I think it began with a ‘k,'” he said.  “Maybe kugels?”

“No,” I said. “Kugel is a baked noodle dish. It’s not remotely like a cookie.”

So, as with most modern problems, we turned to Google. (At least it rhymes with kugel.) In fairly short order we found that the cookies in question were kiffles, and their origin was Hungarian. We found a recipe that sounded reasonably simple on Allrecipes.com.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/235921/hungarian-kiffles/

I decided to check it out with a Hungarian friend to see if the recipe was authentic.  He said he didn’t remember them from childhood, but he added, “You had me at ‘a pound of butter.'” (Actually, they had me at “a pound of cream cheese.” The recipe made 36 cookies. It was clear that this was not a heart-healthy recipe, but what holiday baked goods are, really?)

Well, I suppose you can write the ending to this one. There is now half a batch of kiffle dough resting overnight in our fridge. Tomorrow we bake! And evaluate. And tweak if necessary for a second batch.

But the kiffle saga had me thinking. What other cookies or treats did people have in their childhood or from their heritage that they could no longer get or could barely remember? Naturally, this time I turned to Facebook. A quick post brought some interesting answers. And a lot of warm memories.

Jean remembered a cookie called Springerlies and thought they were Italian. “Mom’s friend made them. They were a real treat when we got them.”  Gwen replied that Springerlies are German, though most likely multicultural. “A friend spends days making them and other German cookies every year,” she said. “Awesome cookies!”

So here for you, Jean and Gwen, is a recipe:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/9922/springerle-i/

Trish voted for Spritz cookies. “My mom used to make them, I think my Nana did too. I don’t have a recipe….” Well Trish, now you do! The recipe comes straight from Gold Medal Flour, so it ought to be authentic.

http://www.goldmedalflour.com/recipes/classic-spritz-cookies/ccd9d7f3-6075-4593-be61-7b0aeb02bc88

Lisa remembered, “My mom used to make these cookies called Spice of Life. They were a soft, dark molasses cookie, rolled in sugar. She’s lost the recipe, unfortunately, and I haven’t been able to recreate it.” Here you go, Lisa. This recipe actually appeared in a murder mystery by Diane Mott Davidson. It sounds fantastic! You had me at molasses and spices.

http://recipecircus.com/recipes/Stella/COOKIES/Spice-of-Life_Cookies.html

Jane’s favorite was date nut cookies.  They involved sweet dough, covered with dates and nuts, rolled like a jelly roll, sliced, and baked. “People are not into dates anymore, although about five years ago I saw the very same recipe in a magazine, and couldn’t believe it.” She also mentioned pizelles, very thin butter cookies, covered in powdered sugar. “They sell them in fancy shops, but you can make them pretty easily,” she added. They do require a special machine to make, which I’m guessing costs a packet at Williams Sonoma.

Melissa, whose background is Swiss-German, mentioned Mailänderli, Spitzbuebe, Basler Läckerli, and Züri Tirggel. “No one is ever going to make them like my grandmother did, and no place is ever going to be as comfortable as the chair in the tiny spot between the radiator and the kitchen table.” She’s been experimenting with recreating two of the cookies, but says she hasn’t got the texture quite right yet. Here’s a recipe for the Basler Läckerli:

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/basler-leckerli-566387f7424bb12207dbef07

Gwen also told about a holiday cake – makowiac, or poppyseed roll, with filling 1/2″ thick. She says she has her grandmom’s recipe, but that it’s labor intensive. (I looked at a recipe and is she ever right!) Gwen ordered one from a specialty bakery and is hoping it lives up to the legendary dessert of memory.

Peggy said that her mom didn’t make cookies, instead making fudge and peanut butter balls for teacher gifts. Robbin makes rum balls that can knock you on your ass.

Other friends fondly remembered treats that are not uncommon nowadays but don’t always live up to memories. Michael mentioned Toll House cookies – the chewy kind. (I’m with him on that.) And Wendy was fond of Scooter Pies – Moon Pies, readily available, just aren’t the same, she says.

It was fun hearing the stories and chasing down recipes. To all my friends I wish fond memories and a lovely, treat-filled holiday! You’ve made mine a little bit sweeter.

What I Learned in Ballet Class

Back in the days before self-esteem was a Thing, my childhood nickname was “SuperKlutz.” I came by this honestly, I must admit. One of my more notable achievements was falling out of the car, sideways, landing on the pavement – with both feet still in the car.

Another was the time when I was hanging upside down on the monkey bars by my feet (I know, bad idea). My weak little ankles let go and I fell to the pavement (this was when playgrounds were still built over asphalt) and landed on my head, which some people say explains lots. I still remember the feeling of falling and the fleeting thought, “This isn’t so bad.” Then I hit the ground and changed my mind.

After a number of years of such escapades, my parents thought a ballet class might be good for me. After all, ballerinas developed swan-like grace and poise, another quality I was severely lacking. Mom and Dad thought that the terpsichorean art might be an antidote to my rampant accident-prone-ness. So I was enrolled in Norma Noble’s School of Dance. It sounded classy and was within a mile of our house.

It turned out that I loved ballet. Although tots nowadays wear tutus with any outfit including wee motorcycle jackets, our spangled costumes were reserved for actual recitals, which took place at a local grade school auditorium. My mother lovingly sewed my costumes from satiny synthetics and scratchy netting, with judicious accents of sequins and spangles and sweetheart necklines intended to simulate nonexistent physical attributes.

I remember the years by the costumes – the blue year, the lilac year, and most thrillingly the yellow year when we had the long sweeping net skirts of yellow and green that billowed past our knobby knees and seemed more grown-up and elegant than the frilly puffs that usually graced our nonexistent hips. (My sister took hula and was forever doomed to wear unnaturally colored plastic grass skirts and tropical flowers covering her nonexistent bosom.)

I also remember the first year we were allowed to have toe shoes, though my weak ankles did not thank me for them, nor did my toes which, despite wads of lamb’s wool, really took a beating. Criss-crossing those satin straps was a mesmerizing ritual, though. This was the stuff of real ballerinas.

As the time for the annual recital rolled around, we young divas got more and more excited. There were fittings for the costumes.  There was extra practice. There were posed pictures like the one above, awkward yet endearing souvenirs of a more hopeful time. (That’s me in the above picture, back row, second from the left, in the year of the blue costume. You’ll have to trust me on that, but I recognize the pattern of sequins.)

Perhaps most exciting of all, for our debut – and only – performance, we were to wear makeup. Bright red lipstick, which could be seen from the cheap seats. Never mind that it clashed horribly with the blue, lilac, and yellow costumes. Red it would be.

The only thing was, the day before the recital, I was cutting climbing roses from a very tall bush, standing on a chair. And naturally, that being the way of things, as I was carrying the chair and the flowers back into the house, I bumped the chair on the door frame. Bam! I hit myself in the face with the back of the chair.

My lip swelled up and bruised, but what could I do? Red lipstick was mandated. Hence the audience saw at the recital one ballerina, decades ahead of her time, apparently wearing purple lipstick.

Evidently, ballet did not improve my grace or erase my clumsiness. I went through the rest of childhood with an assortment of bruises, scrapes, scratches, fat lips, and scars. I gave up on ever shaking the nickname.

It’s still appropriate, even today.  Just the other night I was opening a bottle of wine and managed to pull too hard on the corkscrew. Needless to say, it hit me right in the face. But I had learned at least one lesson from my ballet experience.

I no longer wear red lipstick.

 

 

Staying Away From Facebook

I’ve been on Facebook for nearly a decade now and despite all the bitching people are doing about it lately, I still love it. I wrote about that a while back (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-hE). I’ve also written about the things I don’t like about Facebook (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-hA), so I’m not an uncritical fan or supporter. Overall, though, Facebook adds something positive to my life.

My husband, however, is Facebook-shy. Although he sometimes talks about joining Facebook, he never does. Some of his excuses have merit, but others are just silly.

He wants to join when he learns that more than 50 people wished me Happy Birthday. He wants to join when I tell him about interesting news articles I’ve read, cute cat pictures I’ve seen, and meaningful conversations I’ve had with friends and relatives (including some of his). He even wants me to send him funny pass-alongs I see. (I download them, then email them to him.) He comes down to my study most mornings as I scroll through my timeline and reads over my shoulder.

But when it comes to actually dipping his toe in the water, he shies away. He has his reasons, but I try to convince him they make little sense. Here’s what he says:

I don’t want anyone to find me. And its corollary, “I don’t want anyone showing up on my doorstep.” This paranoia used to make some sense, as he once worked at a correctional facility and didn’t want to – in fact wasn’t allowed to – pursue relationships with any of the former residents. But that was a decade ago.

I’ve tried to reassure him that he doesn’t have to give his address or other personal information when he joins. That he can even use a photograph he’s taken of a flower or our cats as his profile pic. And I have the ultimate rejoinder: “Has anyone showed up on our doorstep because I friended them on Facebook?” The answer is no. No, they haven’t. Not one. Not once.

I don’t have any friends. It is true, if slightly pathetic, that he has few friends since his best friend (who was on Facebook) died a few years ago. But he has a number of relatives on Facebook, from his mother to his nephew who posts adorable photos of his two sets of twins. And there’s a friend from his hometown who regularly sends me messages for him that I pass along.

Besides, I tell him, he can borrow some of mine. He has met a number of them in real life and even spent time with them. I’m sure they’d be happy to accept his friend requests. Then there are always Facebook groups for things he likes, like Dr. Who or wildflowers or news about science, astronomy, and archaeology. And new people he meets like co-workers and the others at his cardiac rehab.

I don’t have anything to say. Well, that simply isn’t true. I’ve found him to be quite an interesting conversationalist, with opinions on political and social issues, information to share on a number of environmental topics, and a keen interest in matters that my friends discuss all the time.

Besides, he could always share jokes, cartoons, and puns, not to mention the wonderful nature photos he takes.

Most of all, though, I think Dan doesn’t join Facebook because he tends to isolate, especially when he’s depressed. I happen to think that a virtual social life is better than no social life at all. That’s certainly true for me. I’m not saying he has to spend hours a day on Facebook as some of my friends seem to. Or that he has to respond to political trolls or even read political posts, especially around election time.

I just think that Facebook could give him an outlet for his interests and creativity, help him stay in touch with old friends and make new ones, and explore the virtual world in a new and different way.

The way I have.

Off-Duty Santa

My husband looks a lot like Jerry Garcia, at least in his “Touch of Grey” phase. Someone once said that if he were darker, he would look like Frederick Douglass. But most of the time, he gets mistaken for Santa Claus – even if it’s summer and he’s wearing his tie-dye shirt. Kids these days don’t know from Jerry Garcia.

Even without the red suit, Dan is perfectly Claus-esque. He has the white hair and beard, the red cheeks, the girth. I won’t compare it to a bowl of jelly, but it would shake when he laughs if he weren’t holding in his stomach.

Children recognize him everywhere he goes and react accordingly. Just yesterday we were sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and were facing the glass-paneled door to the hallway. Suddenly a little boy’s face with saucer-sized eyes appeared in one of the panes. He darted away and came back with his older brother. While they were staring and ducking, a younger sister appeared. Brave and uninhibited, she waved and blew kisses and tried to work the latch that opened the door. She banged on the glass panel and waved for all she was worth, while her brothers were content to play peek-and-hide. Everyone in the waiting room was enchanted, including us.

However, with great power comes great responsibility and Dan always uses his Santa powers for good. Once at a highway rest stop, he saw – and heard – a toddler screaming incessantly at the top of his small but surprisingly energetic lungs. He walked over to the child and said, “If you don’t calm down, I’ll have to put you on the naughty list.” The screaming stopped immediately and the mother silently mouthed “Thank you.” A job well done.

Although when it first happened Dan was annoyed, he has since become used to and often enjoys his year-round Christmas magic. Upon meeting two young boys in a restaurant (their mother asked permission first) the kids came up to him to verify that he was, indeed, Mr. Claus, who was apparently slumming at a diner during his off hours.

The boys asserted that they had been very good all year. Dan turned a stern if twinkling eye on them. “You could be a bit nicer to your little brother,” he told the elder. “And you could try a little harder in school,” he advised the younger. “We will, Santa! We will,” they promised. “Okay,” he said. “Now both of you do what your mother says!” as he strolled out of sight.

Being a random Santa actually suits Dan better than being a professional Santa. I understand that the gig pays well, but you can’t get one at a large store or mall without the proper credentials. Those red velvet suits are expensive. And so is professional Santa school, if you can find one in your area. Besides, all the fun might be taken out of it if it were a regular though seasonal job. There would be tragic kids – bring my father back, make my mother well. Dan’s an old softie, but there isn’t much to say to that. And there’d still be the everyday difficulties of dealing with terrified children, peeing children, and children who ask for a Lamborghini. A real one, not a model.

Besides, I’d make a terrible Mrs. Claus. I look ghastly in red.

 

Lies, Damn Lies, and Advertising

I think by now most of us view TV commercials with a certain degree of skepticism. Does anyone still actually believe that wearing a certain cologne will make us irresistible to the opposite sex? That drinking a certain beer will make us young, fit, and surrounded by responsibly drinking yet hard-partying friends?

And we all know that the fine print at the bottom of the ads is essentially meaningless. Is “Please drink responsibly” really likely to increase the number of designated drivers at bars and nonalcoholic beverages at holiday parties? We can hope so, and a fraction of drinkers may practice these sensible precautions.

But do we really believe that beer and liquor ads contribute to that? Or is social responsibility more likely the result of campaigns by M.A.D.D. and the tightening of drunk driving laws and limits?

Then there are the ads for products. I don’t have the best eyesight but I’ve made a habit of trying to read the tiny disclosures. I think we all know that “Dramatization” and “Professional driver on closed course” and “Do not attempt” actually indicate that whatever is being portrayed in the car and trucks commercials should not be taken seriously. They either defy the laws of physics or fall into the “Here, hold my beer” category.

But lately the ad agencies have gotten even sneakier, if slightly more truthful in their disclaimers. Mascara commercials now often include tiny type that says that the results pictured were produced not by the make-up alone, but by the cosmetic being used at the same time as “lash inserts,” (aka fake lashes) which are not mentioned by the voice-over that promises long, lush lashes. In other words, the commercial is essentially a lie.

(I understand that in England advertisers are not permitted to do this, with or without disclaimers. I wonder if they sell less mascara as a result.)

But lately, commercials are starting to let us know who the people in the commercials really are. I think most of us know that “paid endorsement” means that Alex Trebek doesn’t really buy the brand of insurance that he hawks.

And I applaud ads for drugs that tell us that the person is a real patient, if for nothing else (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-Ev). But now they’re telling us when the “patient” isn’t a real one. “Actor portrayal” it says in the fine print. Don’t we assume that the people in all commercials are actors? Why do they feel compelled to tell us something we already know?

There are even sneakier versions of this particular kind of bait-and-switch. Lately I’ve noticed ads that say, in essence, “We took a letter from a real customer and turned it into a commercial with a better-looking, professional actor.” It’s a bizarre blending of the real and the fake.

Yet more puzzling are ads that I’ve seen lately for a certain brand of candy. The ads look typical. A person faces the camera, dressed like a firefighter or a farmer, and says, “I’m Misha and I like this candy because it satisfies my cravings” (or whatever). So far so normal.

But once again there’s the fine print. In the commercial I’m talking about, the little tiny letters don’t just say “Actor portrayal.” They say that the person doesn’t exist, the name is made up, and it’s just an actor claiming to like the product. In other words, the entire advertisement is a lie.

I don’t read Advertising Week anymore, as I no longer work for an advertising agency. (The fact that I once did is one of my deep, dark secrets.) So I don’t know for certain that some regulatory agency isn’t cracking down on what fine print is required to say. Maybe the “Do not attempt” and “Paid endorsement” announcements are legally mandated. Maybe even “actor portrayal” when it comes to pharmaceuticals.

But I have the sneaking suspicion that some of these exercises in unreadable typography have been put there by the ad agencies just to see if we’re paying attention and what they can get away with.

How stupid do they think we really are? (Don’t answer that.) Or are they just counting on the poor eyesight of the aging population?

Personally, I assume that every advertisement I see is a lie of one sort or another. It’s just disconcerting as well as depressing when they make it so blatant.

 

 

The Grinch-Hating Grinch

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dr. Seuss. But I think the latest adaptation of the Grinch makes two too many.

I used to check out his works from the Bookmobile until my mother insisted that I get at least one book by another author at every visit. Although my all-time favorite was Green Eggs and Ham, I had a soft spot in my heart for How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

I was young enough to be thrilled when the book was made into a cartoon that was shown every Christmas from 1966 on. Who could possibly be better than Boris Karloff to narrate and voice the Grinch? And the uncredited Thurl Ravenscroft to sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” (Trivia note: You may know Ravenscroft as the voice of Tony the Tiger in all those cereal commercials.) It was perfect just the way it was.

Since then there have been two other versions, both big-screen adaptations, a live-action version in 2000 starring Jim Carrey, and the other this year, a CGI animated movie with the main character voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. I have not been to see either one and have no intention of seeing them when they are shown on TV. I am a total Grinch about any version except the real Grinch.

There were difficulties in making the 1966 version. The original Grinch was a poem of only 32 lines. To make it into a cartoon that would run 30 minutes (or however long it was without commercials) required some creative stretches. The Ravenscroft song was added, of course, plus a lot of comic bits featuring the dog Max, the Whos singing around the tree, and extended visualizations of the Grinch preparing his Santa suit and maneuvering down Mt. Crumpet. They all fit neatly into the narrative. Not one moment seemed out of place.

The Jim Carrey live-action version ran 105 minutes and Benedict Cumberbatch’s, 86 minutes. No matter how clever their additions to the basic plot, they could only serve to clutter Seuss’s simple plot and spot-on characterizations. At over an hour each, that’s a lot of stretching.

That’s the problem with remakes or reboots or reloads or whatever they want to call them. They almost never live up to the original. Bedazzled, for example, was a perfect little gem starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. I didn’t mind the gender-swapping of having Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil (with Brendan Fraser as her hapless foil), but the broader style of humor, including throwing away one of the best gags in the original, was in no way better.

There are other examples. Think of The Thomas Crown Affair, The War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still, or any of the Inspector Clouseau movies. None of those were necessary. The movies were just fine the way they were. (The only really good update – and it was an adaptation, not a straight remake – was when the ultra-serious Zero Hour was morphed into the uber-comic classic Airplane!)

I do understand the motivations behind these remakes, primarily money. Proven classics should be proven box office hits the second or third or fourth time around, and the producers, directors, and writers don’t even have to think up new plots and characters.

Then there’s the excuse of “introducing a new generation of young people to a classic film using stars they’re familiar with.” Jimmy Stewart and Gene Tierney stand the test of time and so do many others. It’s too bad that most people only see their work if they take a film class in college.

At any rate, I boycotted the Jim Carrey Grinch and will do the same for Benedict Cumberbatch’s. If that makes me a Grinch, so be it. I realize that my singular protest will affect them and their box office prospects not in the slightest. I shall do it anyway.

For the memory of Dr. Seuss, if nothing else.

The Tender-Hearted Carnivore

gray steel cooking pan near orange lobster
Photo by Toa Heftiba Şinca on Pexels.com

My husband is a carnivore, or actually an omnivore, like the bear that he resembles. But if he tried to live like a bear, he would never survive. He’s just too sensitive about what he eats.

He’s not a member of PETA, but he has certain qualities in common with them. He won’t eat veal or goose liver because he objects to the conditions in which the animals are raised – closely confined and force-fed. It’s no life for an animal, he says. Neither is being slaughtered, sauteed, and served for supper, for that matter, but let’s leave that aside for the moment. I can sympathize with his position.

When he’s forced to participate in said slaughter, he’s even more uncomfortable. My mother was raised in the country and delighted in fishing. She also delighted in frying and eating her catch. Dan can tolerate fishing if it’s catch-and-release (though just barely). And he would refrain from commenting when my mother served up her self-caught delights. But on the way home, he would look positively morose.

He had an even more extreme reaction when we were on a sailing vacation off the coast of Maine. We anchored at a tiny, uninhabited island and the ship’s cook started a fire.  A huge pot of seawater and seaweed sat ominously nearby. So did a container of live lobsters.

Now, Dan doesn’t even like to watch live lobsters being prepared on television. He began referring to Emeril Lagasse as “the Evil Cook” when he saw the TV chef throw live crayfish into a hot skillet and laugh about it.  If I’m watching a cooking show, I have to tell him to cover his eyes whenever a live crustacean is going to be sacrificed.

Anyway, when the cook in Maine got ready to drop the lobsters in the pot, Dan took a melancholy walk around the island. Mind you, when he returned and found the lobsters bright red and safely dead, he devoured three of them, banging their bodies against rocks to get them open, proper lobster-cracking tools not having been provided. Lobster juice ran down his face into his beard. He wasn’t squeamish about that.

I began to think he was carrying his sensitivity too far, however, when he started objecting to barbecue restaurants whose signs featured happy pigs serving up platters of ribs. “They’re showing smiling pigs serving themselves up to be devoured,” he asserted. No amount of reassurance that the signs were merely illustrations could suppress his uneasiness. It was the principle of the thing.

When I totally lost sympathy for his obsession, though, was when he started objecting to TV commercials that showed cereal squares eating other cereal squares (and licking their nonexistent lips). He objected to the cannibalistic element, which he found offensive.

“They’re cereal,” I pointed out. “And they’re animated. No grain suffered in the production of the cereal. Nothing alive was harmed in the production of the commercial.” It didn’t matter.

“They’re presented as sentient,” he said, “and they’re eating their own kind.”

Well, there’s really no way to argue with that, so I just roll my eyes and don’t even try.

Oddly, Dan loves movies and shows about mountain men who hunt and forage for their food under harsh, primitive conditions. He doesn’t like it when the animals get their paws caught in traps and suffer because of it, but he suddenly doesn’t object to the killing of a sentient being and the subsequent devouring of it.

Despite his affinity with mountain men, I try to point out that he would be lousy at it. “Not if I was hungry enough,” he replies. “Then I could do it.” He’s eaten venison, but personally, I can’t picture him shooting, skinning, and butchering a deer. He might have to become a vegetarian at that point and his career as a mountain man would be over.

Until a moose was magically transformed into moose steaks and presented to him wrapped in styrofoam and plastic at the local grocery, I doubt he’d survive.