Survival Tips for Deadly Boring Meetings

Deadly boring meetings are one of the hazards of office life. They don’t actually take your life (most of the time), but they can make you wish they would. (There have been stories about office workers who died in their cubicles and went undiscovered for days, but these are largely untrue. No matter how rancid the office refrigerator smells, a decomposing body surely out-ranks it. Though too-energetic air conditioning can delay the process. But I digress.)

One meeting that I was in was so memorably boring that I became fascinated with the ear hair of the man sitting next to me. I couldn’t imagine how the individual fibers got so long while escaping his notice as well as his ears. They weren’t just protruding from inside his ears; they had migrated to his earlobes and whatever the technical term is for those folds and channels of the ear. I thought that he might be turning into a werewolf and that, being within chomping range, I would be his first victim. Needless to say, I didn’t pay much attention to the agenda.

Aside from werewolf-watching, though, there are plenty of activities to keep you alert – or, more importantly – looking alert during those agenda-setting meetings, pre-meeting meetings, meetings, and post-mortem meetings (especially appropriate if someone actually has died of boredom), not to mention stand-up meetings, which will be mercifully short if there is a quorum of women wearing high heels. (I mistakenly typed “high hells” there, which is a slip you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out.)

So what can I recommend to keep you breathing in and out while that guy from IT rattles on about bandwidth and the CEO decides bandwidth actually means how much work she can get out of each of you? Take up a new career. Here are some suggestions.

Take up poetry. This has the added advantage that you look like you are actually taking notes. Of course, you can always draw boxes and weapons on your legal pad or play Candy Crush with the sound off on your tablet, but your arm and hand motions will give you away. No, you should be writing down actual words. Pay attention to the office smarty-pants and write down words he uses like “deleterious” (and other words of three or more syllables). By the end of the meeting, you’ll have some serious free verse. Maybe you can even get it published!

Take up sculpture. There are usually paper clips and coffee stirrers available at every meeting. If not, BYO. Then twist and sculpt away. This has the advantage of keeping your hands busy so you don’t strangle anyone. After a bit of practice, one man I know was able to make a recognizable figure of Don Quixote and a windmill. (OK, we were in a bar and they were margarita stirrers, but the idea is the important thing.) As the meeting ends, subtly slide your sculpture in front of someone else’s chair. If you’re caught, claim that you have a more appalling nervous habit (I recommend rhinotillexomania) and your therapist suggested you try this instead.

Take up musical theater. This is one of my favorites, and can also be made to look like you’re taking notes. Take any musical you’re particularly fond of (I like The Mikado), and recast it using only the people sitting at the table. Would the CFO make a good Pooh-Bah? Would the comptroller do well as Katisha? Then imagine them playing the roles. Afterward, you can recast it with the worst possible employee playing each role. (A variant of this is to recast an old musical with current actors – Kevin Kline and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Man of La Mancha, for example.)

Take up psy ops. This is just plain fun, although it doesn’t result in any notes on your pad or tablet, so perhaps you might combine it with one of the other techniques. Stare attentively at whoever’s speaking, but focus your gaze not on her eyes, but slightly above her left ear (aim for the tip). Or at the knot on the marketing manager’s tie. This can cause distraction – even actual twitching – and no one can tell that you are doing anything. (I understand this is an actual interrogation technique meant to throw the subject off balance.)

You could, I guess, go back to Office Bingo and mark off squares when anyone says “synergistic” or “incentivized” or “skate to where the puck will be,” but when you all yell “Bingo!,” at the same time, the game is over.

Coloring: Inside or Outside the Lines?

The other day, my husband gave me a little gift with which to amuse myself while he was out of town – a paint-n-bake coffee mug with an intricate mandala sort of design on both sides and a set of four special markers. The idea is that when you finish coloring it, you bake it for 45 minutes and the color becomes permanent. (More or less. You are advised to hand-wash the mug.)cup3

A while back, Dan had given me several coloring books and assorted colored pencils, the latest fad in relaxation techniques. Presumably, focusing on the coloring keeps your mind off your troubles. One of the coloring books I later obtained let you color a bunch of swear words, which are very satisfying to contemplate. (I think the book is English, because it contains epithets like “wank stain,” which I guess is equivalent to American “jerkwad.”)

Anyway, I wrote about the coloring craze some time ago in a blog post (“Color My World” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-jP), in which I said,

I don’t know anyone who admits to coloring within the lines when they were kids. Coloring outside the lines … was a badge of freedom and creativity and, for some, poor fine motor skills. It was how the more inhibited of us let our freak flags fly.

The coffee mug, however, was clearly intended to be colored within the lines, unless done as an art project by a five-year-old for Father’s Day.

This presented a little problem for me. I have “essential tremor,” which is doctor-speak for “We don’t know why your hands shake; they just do.” With coloring books, this wasn’t much of an issue, because the pages never even made it as far as the refrigerator door. A coffee mug, however, is meant to be used, though, so conceivably other people might see it. (Not that I’m a great one for having koffee klatches, except by phone with my mother-in-law.)

As I started coloring the first side of the mug, I discovered something useful – until baked, the colors were far from permanent. They could be rubbed away easily with a fingertip or a Kleenex. Or the heel of your hand as you rested it on the mug, trying to get the top half colored. Finally, I decided that the teensy white spaces within the itty-bitty black lines were just suggestions, and colored the larger shapes, staying vaguely between the lines and leaving those little accents of white, just for contrast.

By the time I had accomplished that, my hands were well and truly shaking. I could have stopped there and finished the mug later, on a day when my tremor was less troublesome. (It comes and goes, aggravated by fatigue or stress.) But I wanted to get the damned thing over and done with.cup1

I decided that I would purposely let my freak flag fly on the other side. I would not even try to stay within the lines. Instead I took the markers and colored in bright diagonal streaks of different lengths and widths, with reckless disregard for any and all black lines. It was, in its own way, very satisfying, even if it did resemble the aforementioned Father’s Day gift. It was bright and cheery, and it looked absolutely nothing like the mandala pattern or the other side’s more constrained coloring.

I had warned Dan that I didn’t intend both sides of the mug to look the same, but I think he just supposed I would use different colors for the different parts of the identical design. We’ll see what he says when he gets home. As a child of the sixties, he should appreciate my rebelliousness, and as a fan of the Impressionists, he ought to admire my emotionally free style.

And if he doesn’t, I’ll just use the mug myself. It’s quite a large one, big enough to contain both my outer adult and my inner child. And lots of coffee.

 

P.S. Thanks to Ellen Kollie, friend and former coworker, for suggesting I turn this Facebook post into a blog post. If it doesn’t work, it’s all your fault.

Why Does Everything Have to Be Fun?

My husband used to accuse me of not knowing how to have fun. And he was right, sort of, in the sense that his ways of having fun and mine were (and are) very different. Now, as I stumble toward the age when the only fun consists of waving my cane at children and telling them to stay off my lawn, I have begun to rethink the whole concept of fun.

And I think fun is overrated. Or at least what is passed off as fun in popular culture.

Brushing your teeth is brushing your teeth. There’s nothing inherently fun about it. It’s just necessary, boring, and repetitive. But apparently we think that if we put Star Wars characters on the toothbrush handles, toothbrushing becomes FUN (how, I don’t know) and kids “may be brushing longer,” a claim that is never backed up by statistics.

Fun flavors like bubble gum also seem to be preferable to good old mint. I enjoy the flavor of mint, but I don’t think it’s fun. And I suspect that associating the act of brushing one’s teeth with the flavor of bubble gum is counterproductive. Just sayin’.

Likewise, there is nothing intrinsically fun about eating a salad, especially if you’re a female and alone. Yet there is a whole meme dedicated to “woman laughing alone with salad,” and now even a play based on the concept. Eating a salad by oneself can be tasty, pleasant, unpleasant, boring, or any number of other feelings. Why then are there so many photos of women laughing (or at least grinning idiotically) while eating salad?

And why are there so few photos of men doing the same thing? Do men not eat salads? Only in the company of others? Only stoically? It seems eating a salad alone is FUN only for solitary females. Poor, poor men, who must find their fun elsewhere.

Men having FUN get to drive cars, not eat salad. Cars provide particular enjoyment when the driver is breaking traffic laws or driving on a closed course where he can’t hit anything no matter how he speeds. This one I get a little bit. Fun is equated with breaking the rules, and without consequences. Fun is being sexy and dangerous. It’s hard to make toothbrushing or salads sexy and dangerous, so we’re left with men risking life and limb, while women and children guffaw and grin, browse and brush.

I know, I know. These are tricks of the advertising trade. FUN equals more sales, If ordinary activities are lifted above the ordinary, they will have more appeal to consumers. This is especially true of children who influence purchase decision-making – which is basically all of them. And fun is apparently the only value that kids value. What other satisfactions are there? Except companionship, warmth, friendship, accomplishment, health, adventure, and satisfaction itself, I mean. But all of those have more than three letters.

But FUN rules not just in advertising. Education is another field rife with fun. Multiplication tables aren’t much fun by themselves, so let’s add clowns and elephants. Then students can put their final reports into their Ninja Turtle backpacks and take them home.

I’m not advocating going back to the days of skill, drill, and kill, but I am of the opinion that genuinely engaging activities such as project-based learning will teach students skills in a manner that is genuinely satisfying, memorable, and indeed fun, without the need for stickers, banners, and class parties.

Preparing students, young adults, and even older adults for constant FUN is unrealistic. Taking out the trash isn’t fun. Polishing the floors isn’t fun (unless you’ve got a roomba and a cat). Creating spreadsheets isn’t fun. Taking out appendices isn’t fun (I assume).

Much of adult life and work will turn out to be not-fun. Especially for those women, eating salads alone. And for those of us who don’t care to wear bright yellow, and sing and dance while taking our vitamins. For us, it’s just a gulp, a swallow, and gone.

 

A Marriage Made in the Kitchen

I think it all started with the naked Julia Child impressions. We were newly married and everything was fun. We weren’t entirely naked while cooking, of course – aprons were a requirement and oven mitts (worn wherever) were allowed. There were other rules, too – no deep-frying, for example, for obvious reasons. Using plummy, authoritative voices we would do a fictitious play-by-play of dinner preparation: “Place the turkey in the oven for 350 minutes at 120 degrees. Oopsie! [take slug of wine].”

Flour, eggs and Love

Of course, at that stage it wasn’t really a turkey. We were the newly married poor and subsisted on mac-n-cheese, frozen burritos, and anything else that cost $.27 or less. Cooking was simple, fun, and entertaining. Not that we could afford to entertain. All of our friends should be grateful for that.

We didn’t get serious about cooking until years later, when friends of ours came up with a recipe they called “Experimental Chicken.” It was wonderful, and was wonderfully different every time they cooked it. “By God,” I said, “if Tom and Leslie can cook, so can we!”

At the time, we weren’t foodies. Either they didn’t exist yet, or hadn’t made their presence known to the likes of us. Our early attempts at cooking were really “modifying” existing products. We’d take Hamburger Helper “Beef Stroganoff,” substitute stew meat for hamburger, and use real sour cream instead of the packaged powder that was supposed to morph somehow into a sauce. It may not have been actual cooking, but it was an improvement over the boxed version. We also improved mac-n-cheese by adding tuna and peas to it. Protein and veggies! What a great idea!

Then we branched out into original one-pot meals. (We still prefer one-pot meals. Both of us hate to do dishes.) “Cowboy beans” was one of our specialties: ground beef, pork-n-beans, and cheese. Call it minimalist cooking if you want to be kind. As we became more adventurous we began to add ingredients like refried beans, tomatoes, chiles, green peppers, onions, and assorted spices, then serve them with tortillas and salsa for do-it-yourself burritos. We never went back to the $.27 frozen ones.

At last the Food Network came into our lives. Stuck at the time in severe depression, I watched the shows endlessly for the calm voices and helpful tips. I finally learned the term “flavor profiles.” Our cooking life was revitalized. I became the chef and my husband was the sous-chef.

We seldom used recipes. The experimental nature of the original chicken inspiration had stuck with us. We belonged to the look-in-the-fridge-and-pantry-and-go from-there school. “Cut that chicken into bite-sized pieces,” I would say. “No, my bite-sized, not yours. Now pass me the paprika, please. The smoky paprika. Now, everyone into the pool! Mixy-mixy!” We developed our food repertoire to include a killer ratatouille (see wp.me/p4e9wS-2z) and something that resembled a quiche.

Then came a bigger change – my back wouldn’t allow me to stand at the stove and the tremor in my hands made me dangerous with a knife. So Dan took over as head chef, and I became the food consultant. His first attempts were a little sad. “A casserole needs some moisture in it – milk, stock, or something – to hold it together, especially if there’s rice or noodles involved,” I would gently suggest.

Gradually Dan came into his own. I only had to answer questions about whether I wanted my fish baked or broiled, or whether sage or lemon pepper was needed. Once I explained them, he instantly caught on to shepherd’s pie and frittata. They’re now his signature dishes, so lovely that we could post pictures on the Internet if we were into food porn, and tastier than many a restaurant meal.

I still fondly remember those days of naked Julia Child impressions, though I have no particular desire to recreate them. But since then, our cooking partnership has evolved just as our marriage has – for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, with laughter and spice, and a willingness to let each other take the lead at different times. All in all, a tasty recipe for two.

 

This post first appeared on BlogHer, on March 26, 2016.

Color My World

Pencils Abstract Background

I don’t know anyone who admits to coloring within the lines when they were kids. Coloring outside the lines was a sign that you refused to accept the rigid dictates of uptight coloring book manufacturers and compulsive kindergarten teachers. It was a badge of freedom and creativity and, for some, poor fine motor skills. It was how the more inhibited of us let our freak flags fly.

Now coloring books are back again, only this time for adults. Or at least adults who color within the lines. Elaborate rose windows and fantasy castles await, ready to be embellished with wee flower petals or swirled ribbons of psychedelic hues.

These grown-up coloring books are touted as the next best thing to meditation, so I thought I’d give it a try. My brain could use the time off from my mundane-but-still-complicated life. However, meditation (and yoga) are pretty much out for me, as my lotus-sitting days are long past and I need help to get up off the floor. Coloring seemed a reasonable, less physically challenging alternative.

I took up the hobby despite the fact that I gave up needlepoint years ago when my eyes refused to cooperate with close work and my hands began to tremble at the touch of nearly blunt needles. At least, I figured, I couldn’t draw much blood stabbing myself with a pencil.

I began coloring around the Christmas holidays – a mistake because of its sudden popularity. The store where my husband works sells coloring supplies, but he had to fight for the very last box of 72 colors. (I haven’t told him that blueberry, aruba, denim, mediterranean, and tidal wave are all the same shade of blue. Berri, wildfire, rose petal, and terracotta are all pink.)

At last, with 72 pencils and coloring book in hand, I’ve joined the coloristas. My book offers Spirograph-type geometric designs, assorted animals, and a few Rorschach-style shapes. I color them all with stunning inaccuracy and near-random color choices, producing mediterranean owls, rose petal turtles, and pages that look less like a cathedral window and more like the Grateful Dead’s laundry basket.

But I don’t care. It is soothing and sort of creative, plus I don’t have to frame the completed pages or clutter up the refrigerator door with them. They can stay in the book where only I can see my freak flag flying.

I’m certainly not going to show them to any kindergarten teachers.

Why I Hate Halloween

I have no problem with the pagan event (Samhain) overtaking the religious one (the eve of All Saints Day).

I have no problem with skeleton cookies and other trappings of Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

I have no problem with children dressing up as witches, vampires, devils, or anything else they want to be.

What I hate is the trick-or-treating. (It should really be called treat-or-vandalism.)

When I was doing the trick-or-treating, it was different, of course. There were still difficulties. I wear glasses, and back in the days of plastic dime store masks, my choices were to wear the glasses but have the mask slip around and make me functionally blind, or to wear the mask without glasses and be functionally blind.

Later on I put together my own costumes out of old clothing and other things around the house. That was fun, though occasionally baffling. I think most people guessed “gypsy” from the bandana and necklace of gold coins, but what they made of the pink flowered dress and tan plush toy snake I just don’t know. Even I don’t remember what that was supposed to be.

That was about the time when the first round of tainted candy scares went through, when children took their goodie bags to the ER to be x-rayed for razor blades and had to throw out apples, Rice Krispie treats, and homemade fudge. That took a bit of the creativity out of the playfulness. Halloween parties became a brief trend, where treats could be supervised and stupid party games involving cold spaghetti and peeled grapes could be played.

My mother loved the trick-or-treating. She would ooh and aah over the cute little kids and their costumes. What she didn’t like were the teenage boys who went around with pillowcases and didn’t even bother to dress as anything. They didn’t even smear on charcoal beards and pretend to be hobos. (Mom always kept a special bowl of last year’s left-over bubblegum just for them. It was unpleasant, but not actually poisonous.)

I think I started hating trick-or-treating when my Mom got older and couldn’t pop up and down to answer the door, so I had to do the popping and dispensing of candy and old bubblegum and describing of the costumes. But I did it for her.

Later, when I was on my own, I lived in upstairs apartments and other locales that didn’t see a lot of costumed traffic, so I had time to think it over and discover how much I disliked the custom.

Over the years I’ve grown more and more antisocial, nearly to the point of waving my cane at youngsters and calling them “whippersnappers.” We live in a cul-de-sac at the very back of the neighborhood, so we don’t get many visitors anyway. My husband always buys too much candy and we eat our favorites both before and after the fact. I have to remind him not to get Zagnuts. I hate Zagnuts.

Actually, buying too much candy is a defense mechanism for him. One year we didn’t have enough, and he didn’t even have enough loose change for everyone. As the kids were departing in sorrow, he yelled out the door in desperation, “Does anyone want some Coke?” He meant the soft drink, but the shocked look on their faces was priceless.

Now I simply refuse to participate, curmudgeon that I am. I stay in the back of the house and turn off the porchlight, the universal signal for “Don’t stop here. Keep moving.” (Though I don’t know why we bother with porchlights, as trick-or-treating is now always done during daylight hours to cut down on car accidents and candy-muggings.)

These days I’m the one with knees that don’t like popping up and down, or creaking up and down, really. I get depressed when I see how many little girls have bought into the pink princess-y thing. Opening the door makes me tense, as we have a cat who is a door-darter. Every other year my husband says, “I did it last year; now it’s your turn.” Sorry, not falling for that one. If you like it, fine. If you don’t do it, I’ll just read a nice zombie novel like Feed to mark the occasion.

This year there is a slightly encouraging trend – having a teal-colored pumpkin outside your door if you will be giving out non-food treats, such as small toys, colored pencils, glow sticks, and the like. It will cut down on food-allergy-related deaths, but it will also result in a lot of stomped-on teal pumpkins. The older kids already have made a sport of stomping pumpkins and running. Imagine their annoyance at receiving a pinwheel or a Koosh ball.

The start of the pumpkin-stomping craze was when I stopped decorating too. You can save Christmas ornaments from year to year, but last year’s pumpkins are just sad. And smelly. I suppose I could find some nice cobwebs in the basement, but getting them intact to the windows upstairs would be difficult.

Honestly, I could just skip Halloween and be perfectly happy. In fact, I do and I am. Call me a spoil-sport or a party-pooper if you will, but spoiling sports and pooping parties are my choices.

I hate Halloween!

 

 

Love, Hate, and Food Fights

I don’t watch much sports. Except on the Food Network. Those competitions are the sports I both love and hate.

I love them because they are eerily involving. Even my husband, not a big fan of cooking shows, gets caught up in the action. “Chop the woman!” he’ll yell. “She left off the Japanese eggplant! Aw, I thought the old hippie was going to win!” (1)

I love them because people actually have to do something real to win, unlike many “reality” shows. There’s no prize for snagging a millionaire or pressuring small girls to dress like floozies and perform.(2)

I love them because people get the chance to try again. Many of the shows have “Redemption” episodes, or let eliminated contestants return as surprise competitors or sous-chefs. And many of the chefs appear on more than one of the shows. I’m sure I saw the Ukrainian woman from Beat Bobby Flay on Chopped and the uppity blonde with a posh accent from Chopped on Next Food Network Star.

But I hate the food competitions for the same reasons I hate most sports.(3)

The bragging, for one. Over-inflated self-confidence is so unappealing. And you hear the same inane platitudes from food competitors that you do from professional athletes. It makes me contrary.(4)

Just once I want someone to be realistic or unexpected or at least modest:

I brought my B- game today!

I’m going to give 75 percent!

I came to prove to my family I’m mediocre!

I’m not going to settle for anything less than 4th place!

I came to lose!

The war and violence metaphors. Most of these are clearly borrowed from the vocabulary of professional sports, and most of them just sound silly. Cupcake Wars – now there’s an oxymoron! Chopped. Cutthroat Kitchen.(5) Can we please have food without blood and mayhem? At least Guy has Grocery Games, and the violence is limited to (mostly) accidental ramming of shopping carts.

The snot factor. Settle down, now. Not in the food – in the contestants. One Top Chef contestant was so bad we took to calling him Snothead the Sommelier for his incessant unwelcome lectures on wine, whether the dish called for it or not.(6) One Next Food Network Star contestant got bounced because he smirked when he was pronounced safe. A judge changed her vote and we all cheered.

Sabotage. We’ll leave Cutthroat Kitchen out of this, since sabotage is its whole raison d’être. But honestly, there’s a lot of throwing people under the bus, especially when the chefs are supposed to work in teams.(7)  Then there’s plain pettiness – keeping all of an ingredient, refusing to clean the ice cream machine, pointing out that your dish doesn’t have the flaw the judges just dinged someone for.

One last general gripe: Food Network used to show you how to cook things.(8) Now such actually useful shows are relegated to daytime hours, while prime time is filled with competitions, road shows, and “Please Save My Business” shows.(9)

Still, with all their flaws, I can’t stop watching food sports. They’re addictive, like potato chips or cookies. Mmmm, cookies. ::drools::

 

(1) Unless my husband isn’t watching because they have to prepare live seafood. Then he goes all Buddhist until the crustaceans are cooked, when he’ll dig right in. (He still calls Emeril Lagasse “The Evil Cook” and refuses to watch him since he threw live crayfish into a hot pan and laughed about it.)

(2) Think Jon-Benet Ramsey. (What narcissist father names his daughter after him like that anyway, without adding “ette,” “ine,” or “le”?) And don’t tell me that pageants build self-esteem. Only for the winners.

(3) Except the Olympics. I don’t usually hate the Olympics. Just the media coverage of them. And the bikinis they make the women beach volleyball players wear while the men wear baggy shorts. At least on the Food Network, everyone wears chef jackets and aprons.

(4) Okay. Contrarier. (I like the sound of that word. Trademark!)

(5) I actually like Cutthroat Kitchen. Goofy and evil at the same time, like most of my friends. Although the Camp Cutthroat episodes were just over-the-top WRONG! I could barely watch them.

(6) Marcel Vigneron was a close second for sheer annoyance factor – so much so that the other Top Chef contestants tried to shave his head – but he improved with a little perspective and less extreme hair styling. Now he’s engagingly weird without pissing everyone off. Still has ego issues, but for chefs, TV personalities, and sports figures, that’s practically a requirement.

(7) Hosts make this worse when they set up the contestants by asking “Who do you think should go home?” or “Why do you deserve to win?”

(8) Not that I actually ever made any of the recipes from them. Except once I tried to make The Barefoot Contessa’s triple ginger cookies. I actually learned something from that experience, too: When she says, “jumbo eggs,” she really means jumbo eggs. Medium ones don’t work at all.

(9) Here again, there’s one I like – Restaurant Impossible. Part cooking, part decorating, part group (or family) therapy. Not to mention the theatrical sledgehammer scenes, which may be a metaphor for the whole show.

 

Dancing and Sex (NSFW)

Seriously, people – NSFW.

Everyone’s heard the joke about the fundamentalist who won’t have sex standing up because it looks too much like dancing. In fact sex and dancing have long been linked.

Remember Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show? Well, neither do I,(1) but his appearance was famously broadcast with a picture showing him only from the waist up. His dancing and pelvic gyrations, along with the lustful rhythms of pop music, were sure, it was thought, to lead directly and immediately to teenage pregnancy.(2)

But there’s another connection between shaking your booty and doing the horizontal mambo. In popular songs, the word “dance” is often a code word for sex.(3) Or rather, the sex act.

That’s right. You can take almost any pop song that talks about dancing and substitute your favorite word for coitus.(4) I have here a modest list.

screw, boink, boff, shag, bonk, bang, fornicate with, do it, eff, copulate, hook up, get laid, get it on, bed, sleep with,(5) score, bone, nail, and the good old f-bomb (6)

Let’s try it, shall we?

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me”(7) becomes “I Want to Screw With Somebody Who Loves Me.” “Dancing in the Dark” translates to “Fornicating in the Dark.”(8)

Some translations seem perfectly natural. for example, “Come Dancing” shifts easily and appropriately to “Come Boinkng.” All She Wants to Do is Dance” becomes, quite understandably, “All She Wants to Do is Shag.”

Other combinations get a little weirder. “Boffing on the Ceiling” sounds strange and difficult, yet somehow tantalizing.(9) And “Save the Last Copulation for Me” is neither romantic nor sexy.

Of course the theory breaks down after a while. I’m pretty sure that “Dancing in the Streets” is surely not code for “Getting Laid in the Streets.” And “Land of 1000 Hookups” can’t possibly be right.

On the other hand, “Flashfuck: What a Feeling!” adds a whole new dimension to the song.

Here are a few more choice specimens:(10)

“Scoring With Myself”
“Safety Bonk”(11)
“I Can’t Stop Screwing”
“Private Boinker”
“Your Mama Don’t Fuck”(12)

On the other hand, I suppose the Beatles song would become “Why Don’t We Dance in the Road?” and Jimmy Buffett’s, “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Dance?” I doubt if either would have been a big hit, but I could be wrong. At least they could be played on Top 40 radio.

(1) Oh, come on. I’m not that old.
(2) Ah, the good ol’ days, when a set of earplugs was considered a prophylactic.
(3) A little code word game: thug = _______, Hitler = _______, gun = _______, haggis = _______.
(4) A shout-out to The Big Bang Theory. Nobody else says “coitus” anymore, not even sex researchers.
(5) Which shouldn’t even be on the list. If you’re sleeping, you’re doing it wrong. (See “do it,” above.)
(6) For those of cleanly mind, just replace all these words with “freak.” There is an app that “cleans up” sexy novels. One problem: Every reference to the sex act becomes “freak.” Men’s genitals are “groin” and women’s, “bottom.” This leads to some fascinating dialogue:
“Where shall I [freak] you, Victoria? Where do you want my [groin]?”
“I want it in . . . my [bottom].”
You can read more about it here: http://www.romancenovelnews.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1167:my-clean-reader-app-experience&Itemid=53,
(7) This was an early hit for Whitney Houston, back when she’d sing things like, “No matter what they take from me/they can’t take away my dignity.” Boy, was she ever wrong on that one.
(8) Please. “This gun’s for hire”? See #3, above.
(9) “Banging on the Ceiling” could go either way, as it were.
(10) Feel free to play along at home. Send me any really good ones. Or really bad ones.
(11) Should be the theme song for Planned Parenthood.
(12) Realistically, she had to have, at least once. Unless you’re adopted. Or cloned.

I Arched Before Arching Was Cool

Sorry, Katniss Everdeen. Sorry, Merida Whatever-your-last-name-was.

You may be role models for today’s girls who, it is said, are taking up archery in record numbers.(1) But I was there first.

It all started in a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California…. No wait, it didn’t. That was Ted Baxter.(2) Rewind. Push play.

It all started down the street from our house, where one of our neighbors set up an archery target by his garage, stood at the end of his driveway, and practiced his Errol Flynn Zen.

All the neighbor kids gathered round. After all, it was way more interesting than watching the other neighborhood dads mow their lawns or build concrete birdbaths.

When I showed interested, my father, who approved of all things martial (if not artsy), bought me a kid’s bow.

And what a bow it was! What’s called a traditional longbow (though a very, very short one). It was made of pink and white fiberglass, swirled in a candy mint pattern, with a red grip and arrow rest. It was a girlie bow, but it was a real, honest-to-goodness functioning one.

I spent many happy hours taking potshots at a gun target(3) taped to he side of the garage(4). And walking back and forth to collect the arrows. This is what passed for exercise in my youth, and is more than I get these days.

Dad got me accessories too, like the arm guard and the shooting glove. The arm guard is an absolute necessity. Just whang the inside of your left arm with the bowstring once because you weren’t holding the bow properly, and you’ll know what I mean. At least six inches of burning, stinging scrape-bruise. If you don’t have an arm guard, keep lots of ice packs handy.

I .

Fast forward a decade or so, and there I was at college, in the field for my second time through a class in Intermediate Archery. (There was no Advanced Archery, so I had to keep cycling through Intermediate to make my required number of gym credits.(5))

“Who has never shot a bow before?” the instructor shouted.

I raised my hand. She rolled her eyes.

There had been a fair amount of eye-rolling on her part. One day I showed up for class wearing a forest green wool cape and a matching Robin Hood hat.(6) I did not bring the pink bow, as it would have clashed hideously. (I would still have my candy-ass pink bow today, except that over the years, the fiberglass shredded.) The school had better bows, in sensible colors.

On rainy days we stayed inside and learned to fletch. (Fletching means putting the feathers on the arrow’s rear end (the non-pointy end, right in front of the nock, which is the little notch that the bowstring fits into). (Isn’t vocabulary fun!)

We even learned to make “frou-frou” arrows(7), which a 1958 Boy’s Life magazine says have “air brakes.” What they really had were big, fluffy, silly-looking feathers. The advantage of frou-frou arrows was that they would fly a certain distance, then stop abruptly, point directly down, and impale themselves in the ground. The perpendicular shaft and fancy feathers made the arrows easy to find when you missed the target. Which we did. Often. We didn’t have those fancy modern bows with bowsights and scopes and assorted sniper-rifle attachments in those days. Which is definitely a good thing, or I might have become an arrow-sniper instead of a writer/editor.

And if that didn’t work out for some reason, at least I could always survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopia or cartoon Scotland. Who else do you know that can say that?

(1) Record numbers are not necessarily big numbers, you understand.
(2) Bonus points for identifying this reference. Double points if you don’t have to Google.
(3) We could have bought archery targets, but honestly, there were a lot of gun targets lying around our garage, just waiting for holes to be made in them.
(4) Later in life, my husband practiced with shuriken by sailing them at the side of our garage. He broke a window.
(5) In those days, universities could still force you to take gym. We had to take at least four semesters, and by the end of it, you had better know how to swim, unless you already knew how to swim and tested out of it. This was actually a reasonable requirement, since sliding downhill on cafeteria trays was a popular recreational activity, and at the bottom of the hill was a large lake.
(6) My mother made them for me. She had a definite whimsical side. Once she made me a camouflage flannel nightgown (neck-to-toes style). I wore it to the office Halloween party and claimed I was dressed as “Granny Rambo.”
(7) I am not making this up. There really are such things and they really are, or at least were, called that. Modern archers may have decided to butch up the name.

The Worst Sex-Ed Book. Ever.

Dr. Seuss is my all-time favorite author of children’s rhyming books. He did not write a sex education book.(1)

Shel Silverstein took over from Seuss as my favorite children’s poet. He did not write a sex-ed book either.(2)

IMHO, no one has equaled those two in writing rhyming books for children, though many have tried. Lord, how they’ve tried. And for the most part, failed miserably.

I once edited a magazine called Early Childhood News, which was intended for an audience of child care center owners, directors, and possibly staff. It was occasionally entertaining.(3) I got a lot of children’s books to review.(4)

Which is where the sex-ed and the poetry come in.(5)

One day an amazing book came across my desk. It was titled How Dad and Mother Made Your Brother, which should have been my first clue.

The book was obviously self-published. To say that it lacked the services of a professional editor and a professional illustrator would be a charming understatement.

The text was written (and illustrated) by a real medical doctor, so I guess that was one up on Dr. Seuss, but it didn’t help. The main characters were – I’m not kidding – Stanley Sperm and Essie Egg.

One memorable illustration(6) showed Stanley and Essie sitting on a bench, courting, I suppose. As I recall Essie had long eyelashes and Stanley had either a top hat or a bow tie. Maybe both. Behind them was the gate to a park, with a sign identifying the location as “Cervix.”

You can probably tell from the bow tie and the park bench that scientific accuracy was not the author’s primary concern. Also, Essie and Stanley were the same size.(7)

And now we get to the poetry. Here’s a sample. The author was attempting to tell where Stanley Sperm had lived, before he met the coy and comely Miss Essie. Somewhat confusingly, it seemed that Stanley had come from one or the other of two towns:

The towns are both named “Testicle”
and they look like two round eggs.
They’re not located on a map,
but between your Daddy’s legs.(8)

Do I have to say I did not review the book? (I thought not.)

I kept it for a time, though, to show disbelieving friends. And possibly as the basis for a party game, with each person reading aloud from it until exploding with laughter, when it would be passed on to the next reader.(9)

Of course, given the sex-ed books currently used in schools, there may be other texts out there that are just as bad, or at least as inaccurate. But for sheer unintentional awfulness, How Dad and Mother Made Your Brother has won its place in the annals of scary books that will make kids never want to have sex. Ever. That being the point of most sex education in schools anyway, as far as I can tell.

(1) That we know of. He did write advertising, so who really knows where he drew the line?
(2) Though he certainly could have. He’s the author/artist of Different Dances and the songwriter of “Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most.”
(3) The ad sales department once insisted I add a column about food, as they desperately wanted to attract Lunchables as a client. Yeah, right. Lunchables. For child care centers. I had no choice in the matter, except for the title of the column, which I made as repulsive as possible – “Food Digest.” Well, it amused me, anyway, even if no one else noticed.
(4) Also, sometimes companies sent me samples of toys they hoped I would promote in the magazine. Not sex toys, though. I also received, for some reason, an anti-circumcision newsletter. I used to count the number of times the word “foreskin” appeared in it, just to look busy.
(5) You were starting to wonder, weren’t you? Go on, admit it.
(6) I’ve been told that only shock treatment will erase it from my memory.
(7) Reminder: The author went to medical school and, presumably, graduated.
(8) I hope that’s enough of a sample, since it is the only verse I memorized. I do recall that the conception scene would have been a real production number, had the book ever made the transition to film.
(9) With bonus points awarded for imitating the voice of Bullwinkle the Moose or possibly Daffy Duck.