Only English Spoken Here

dolphins

It was NASA funded.

It happened for ten weeks in the 1960s at Caribbean-situated Dolphin Point, often called the Dolphinarum.

There was inter-species salaciousness.

And it ended in dolphin suicide.

When we tuned into the middle of the documentary “The Girl Who Talked with Dolphins,” it almost immediately felt like (for me) the villain here was Margaret Howe, the untrained 23-year-old who took it upon herself to teach English to Peter, an adolescent bottlenosed dolphin.

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Invited by Gregory Bateson, an eccentric counterculture scientist and the director of the lab, Margaret dove head first (pun intended) into the experiment, inventing such techniques as painting her lower face white but her mouth black so that Peter could “read her lips.”

Peter was having trouble pronouncing the letter “M,” you see.

Although one had to ask: should Peter be trying to pronounce the letter “M”?

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Skirts Weighty With Water

“The iron pump-handle was cold, and even with her mitts on, her chilblains flared as she heaved the water up from the underground dark and into her waiting pail.”

The opening paragraph of  Jo Baker’s 2013 “Longbourn,” strikes like a wave, immersing one immediately into the world of 19th century British working-class life.

I miss words. What were chilblains? I had an idea but wasn’t sure.  Cold iron. Water pulled up from the underground dark. I was watching an old game show from the ‘50s a while ago and someone said, “Is it a loge?” I had no idea what a loge was. Had to look it up.

I know times change and so does our vocabulary, but  even though we don’t use the word “loge” anymore today, doesn’t it seem like those words haven’t been replaced with better words? “Loge” has disappeared, replaced by slang and acronyms. Yeet. GOAT. And a liberal use of the word “like,” like, you know?

But here we have none of that:

The pails hit the ground and bounced…startling the rooks cawing from the beeches.

Swaddled in the old blue pelisse and snaffled drink…Sarah blundered on into the woods.

She opened a drawer and stared down at its contents– jam-cloths, a scalding-dish…

Sarah smiled as she blackleaded the break-fast room grate, on her knees…

Mrs. Collins had held her new dove-grey reticule on her lap, in the hack-chaise: this augered well.

Beside him, the ventsman glugged water, wiped the bottleneck with a filthy palm…

The latest craze in fiction lately seems to be endless offerings of alternative “Pride and Prejudice” retellings.  Maybe it’s me, but are Mr. Darcy and the Bennets that fascinating?  Though “Longbourn”  is technically another one of these retellings, it comes from behind, painting the same scene from a very different angle by focusing on the servants, the cogs in a well-oiled machine that keeps the Longbourn manor house running smoothly, more like a business than a household.

Orphaned Sarah, the main protagonist now of marrying age, fueled perhaps by the cold dark and physically painful morning, alertly focuses an unflattering spotlight on the family, particularly the sisters, when she says: 

“The young ladies might behave like they were smooth and sealed as alabaster statutes underneath their clothes, but then they would drop their shifts on the bedchamber floor, to be whisked away and cleansed, and would thus reveal themselves to be the frail, leaking creatures that they really were…She had scrubbed away their sweat, their stains, their monthly blood; she knew they weren’t rarefied as angels.”

In discussing a lady’s monthlies, Jo Baker ventures into territory that Jane Austen was forbidden to even approach, much less enter. But yet, this was obviously the stark reality that buoyed up the unremitting dream of eternally white china, always-crisp linens, and perpetually polished brass fittings. The illusion of effortless order amid back-breaking labor.

Imagine this is your day: the washboard, the chamberpots, the lye, the hog shit, the ewers in the bedchambers, the sweeping, the polishing, the scraping, the blackleading, the chopping, the stitching, skirts weighty with water, the rank smell of old mutton fat…

This fascinating peek at the muscular diligence of varied personalities combining in Transformer-like  effort into a solid, dependable entity that performed their duties while enduring emotional and physical suffering is a beautifully written and elucidating journey behind the velvet rope of any manor house at the time, but of Club Bennet in particular.

The novel begins with the quote, “What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant?”

But for Sarah, who at one point obtains her own private space “with a view of elms, a place to sit, a tray set out for her tea…” it’s not enough.  In her quest to become more than a servant, to remove herself from that specific box, she chooses to unhitch her intelligence from the will of others and loose it into the wider world of self-determination and autonomy.

The author, Jo Baker, hailing from a lineage that at one time engaged in service, paints the landscape of servitude—travail, loyalty, regret, heartache, dignity and longing–in black and white and all the beautiful colors in between.

Hand Resting Comfortably on Thigh

The George Floyd trial has started here, as many probably know, so we’re being inundated by the tragic details and overall sense of doom stemming from that day.

In seeing video up closer, I realized that the killer cop’s hand wasn’t actually in the pocket of his pants. His black gloves make a clean straight line across his wrist in such a way that it appeared the rest of his hand was in a pocket. But it was actually just resting on top of his thigh.

All this is to say I’m correcting the title of my post from a year ago, Hand In a Pocket to Hand Resting Comfortably on Thigh instead. Both of which, in the end, are equally condemning.

Moon Base 7

I was going to do a review of the 2020 movie “Antebellum,” but I’m not sure enough time has gone by for people to have seen it (or if people even intend to see it) and the problem of spoilers and all that.

So I guess I’ll wait a while (although I’m frothing at the mouth, and it’s not good froth) and do it later this year and instead take you—drag you–kidnap you—down a special rabbit hole with me. Concerning what? My job.

I stumbled across a closed captioning ad in the UCLA job center one afternoon. It was completely unexpected. I visited the center regularly, never thinking I’d actually find a job. In fact, I was on the verge of full-blown panic when I discovered the captioning ad.

I’d majored in English and ruined my life. I didn’t have the drive to work for a newspaper or to compete for those coveted publishing house positions. I was too shy (and unorganized) to be teacher. And this was before there was any social media or web content available to write, edit, or proof-read from the anonymity of one’s home.

But closed captioning looked doable. It said something about “creating subtitles” for TV shows and movies. Being detailed oriented. A good speller. Blah, blah, blah. I was actually a terrible speller, regardless of my major, but I figured that’s what dictionaries were for. (Yes, this was before spellcheck).

I applied in Hollywood at Gower Studios and passed the test but ended up turning that down when I realized there was a New York office. I’d been hankering to live somewhere where I didn’t have to drive anymore, so that, along with the thought of snow and actual seasons, sent me to the east coast.

I’d glimpsed the captioning equipment in the Hollywood office, but that hadn’t fully prepared my psyche for the monstrosity that awaited me. The only thing missing from this photo was the nob control that we used to operate the video.

Captioning turned out to be pretty rewarding. Instead of getting fired, as I had predicted upon arrival, I picked up the process pretty well and was pounding out Jeopardy! like a maniac within a month or so. And there were other shows, where I learned a lot, and movies. Who could complain? I was also enjoying NYC’s seasons, despite almost giving myself a hernia while slipping on ice in Manhattan or feeling my DNA unraveling beneath the immense humidity of summer.

I learned to spell at this job. I discovered (embarrassingly, pathetically late) that airplane hangar was spelled differently from a clothes hanger and beaucoup was not spelled boo koo. After a while, I became a senior editor and mainly did proofing and quality control, which…meh. I’ve always preferred the actual captioning. Among some of the best and most infamous errors caught over the years (not by me) were:

The rings of Saturday

The abdominal Snowman

And the best one: Hi Hitler.

I’ve signed a NDA, wherein I’m not allowed to talk about anything concerning the shows I do, much less the job’s inner workings, so I’ll have to use alternate words for everything here.

So basically, you walked in, grabbed your show (on videotape) and spent your entire shift doing a 20-minute sitcom or 25 minutes of a movie. You exported a Buddha button in XX frame rate on a soft floppy disc. A few years later, it would be a hard floppy disc.

You printed out long sheaths of paper with your entire file on it, shamelessly murdering generations of trees, so that your supervisors could circle missing commas and typos. It was the ‘80s, after all, and “Wall Street” was playing. The environment was still not a concern. Greed was still good.

You turned off the computer and went home, wide awake, energetic, happy to be alive.

Fast forward in time many, many years.

Videotapes are gone. Discs are gone. Simplicity is gone, along with understanding. This is the setup now, more or less.

You walk in. You clock in on the computer to show you have arrived, you’re ready to work. The one sit-com is there. But so are eight other varying items too. You must set a clock every time you start a job. The email pings constantly. You search for information. A response turns reality upside down. What? It has to be done in X0 and not 0X?! You wander a labyrinth made of cipher and higher math that you haven’t revisited since the tenth grade, all the while with the clock ticking like a time bomb.

Speaking in code again, you no longer export a simple Buddha button. You export a Buddha, a Rock, a dictated Soda, an undictated Soda, and a Nail in XX frame and then engage in some light calculus and first-year IT coding in order to complete the assignment.

Here’s an example of instructions that I’ve rewritten in the special language especially for you. Just skim it unless you truly enjoy torture:

After running final inventory, remove the original NO WORDS PLACE.

Export an XX Rock button.

Convert your button to XX0.

Add a SpaceX space and fantasize discreetly about Mars.

This should be the last Frog and have a Beta Male Life Cycle with the Initiator being jacked directly following the last Frog with content.

Export with the Moon Base preset.

Drop all buttons into Moon Base 7.

For the Poster button, go through and re-calibrate all bells and whistles.

Retain Raindrops on leaves.

Remove Tech Word for NOISE (Keep the Tech Word on Alphabet. Because of this, you can’t do a Piledriver now. Also, removing the Tech Word may distort items, so don’t count your chickens).

Export Rock, Buddha, and Razor buttons (In the Tech Word reappearing box, uncheck Gladiator and use NO NUMBER as Initiator to retain the NUMBER Life Cycle in the Razor button.) Double-check in Magic Paper to make sure Razor has NUMBER initiators and that Space Time Continuum has been retained and is still Resonating at X0-21-21-01.

My name is Stacey, and this is my story.

I used to carve messages in stone with a sharp tool.

Now I program the space shuttle, whether I want to or not.

But I know—think—am pretty sure—that after I drop all buttons into Moon Base 7, everything will be fine.

First Love – Endless Love

I was searching for a topic that might interest some of ye bloggers out there to whip up some thoughts on–large or small–as a guest post on Laughter over Tears. Glen of Scenic Writer’s Shack blogged this on his own, and besides being wonderfully poignant and also subtly comical, it seemed like the perfect subject matter for some of you writers and experiencers out there to expound on. Please enjoy Glen’s artful entry, and don’t be surprised if I show up at your door one day soon, hat in hand….asking you to recall YOUR first love… even if it’s one paragraph….
unless you approach me first, of course, which is wholly welcome also!

Scenic Writers Shack

This is not a film review of the movie ENDLESS LOVE (1981). Though it almost could be. This post is intended as a personal memoir of sorts of myENDLESS LOVE. My first love. I’ve been wanting to tell this – for me – magical story for some time now; before it faded from memory altogether. It’s probably already forty years too late.

In a lot of ways, the events and feelings connected with the story, to borrow an ancient chestnut of a phrase, feel like they all took place only yesterday. Five seconds ago, actually. Seen from another tack, it all feels by now so long ago I sometimes whether any of it really happened at all. Time makes a mockery of memory, afterall. But your first love is something you never forget. Not really. Not this first love anyway.

Details are what make a story. I know that…

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It’s Time

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It sneaks up on you out of the dark, sometimes in broad daylight, and you never see it coming. “Oh, it’s you…” you may say. After all, you recognize it. It’s no stranger. It’s just been a while. “What are you doing here?”

Or more likely, more to yourself, “Am I ready for this?”

When it comes barrelling like a train around the bend, you’re just standing helplessly in the middle of the tracks. “Get off the tracks!” the audience yells, but by the time you react, the train is upon you, over you, through you….

It’s also something you may seek, peering into corners, under tables, even plumbing the depths of the past. And a lot of us find it there, surprisingly, nestled against the bosom of time. You also may know exactly where it is, and spend your time nurturing it with poignant tenderness. Or wrestling it with reckless fervor.

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It’s difficult to describe and hard to define. But call it an idea. A wild thing. A philosophy. A chemical reaction. A monster.

Love. Love is all of the above, and then some. Love and romance. And even better…time-travel romance.

There’s nobody here, but you don’t have to admit it out loud if you’re into romance. In case your scientist friends deem you a fool because it’s been incontestably proven that ‘love’ is an abstract concept derived from chemical interactions, or the other lion tamers snort in disgust since any notions of ‘love’ will have the big cats clawing your back open because they can smell ‘weakness’ in the air.

Angry-Lion

But I see no shame in the well-crafted romantic time travel story, or in romance in general. Not the crappy ones. The good ones. Of which, unfortunately, in my opinion at least, are few and far between. I might be toeing the PC line here to suggest this is largely not a guy topic, generally, but if you know someone who’s into this kind of thing,  guy or girl, I have three gems for you to share.

In time travel romances, there’s a variety of ways that the heroines, usually by accident, trigger their leap back in time.

In an earlier blog, I complained about these tropes endlessly and also outlined how I would write a time travel book (if I had the cajones to actually do it and not just talk about it):  https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/106774177/posts/2314. (My heroine would be a 45-year-old bodybuilder with a rotator cuff injury and no patience for men in kilts.)

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Two books which transcended, in my opinion, not only the mechanism by which they time traveled but the usual story, too, are “Beautiful Wreck” by Larissa Brown: larissabrown and “Transcendence” by Shay Savage: shay savage.

Dive into “Beautiful Wreck”–or tell someone you know to dive in–for its luscious writing describing the stark imagery of an ancient Viking civilization. Yeah, I know. Vikings. Ha ha. But this one’s well-researched and elaborately detailed. It’s moody and dark. A genuine attraction between the two main characters unspools gradually and unhurriedly in the midst of a strange mystery  later brought to light. And I adore the title. Because I love opposite words that are shoved together.

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“Transcendence” also bypasses the usual touching of a mysterious gem/locket/necklace/ring, car driving off a cliff, into fog, into a bog, partial concussion or other bodily damage by scientific means, and believably so.

But the amazing thing about “Transcendence” is its point of view, which comes entirely from the male protagonist, who is pre-lingual, and therefore verbal communication between he and his potential mate is nil, resulting in only universal sign language and lots of eye contact.

savage

The male’s internal monologue is repetitive and hilarious, casting the much of the story in a light, comical air, and is more than worth reading, in my opinion.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone about Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander,” the OG of time travel romance, from 1991, the one that started it all and which has been made into an extremely popular series on Starz. The extent of Gabaldon’s historical research pretty much outshines almost everyone else in spades, along with Jamie and Clare’s careful evolution as a couple.

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I love to love love. That’s not a typo. I love love. Love to love it. Especially in the unexpected and unusual circumstances that altered reality presents.

It’s time. Go out back, right now, jump in the time machine where you have it hidden behind the shed–or take that person with you whom you know will love this stuff–and set your coordinates for these stories.

time machine

I’m personally so happy I found them, because it makes me love love even more. The monster, philosophy, wild thing, expected, unexpected, past, present, future: I love them all. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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MOBOCRACY

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I try not to get into Facebook discussions with people about politics because I’m not into S&M. At least not yet.

Once, years ago when I told a co-worker that and my husband and I hardly saw each other because we worked on different shifts she said, “That’s good. It’ll keep the marriage fresh.”

She was right, too. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and all that. So who am I to say S&M might not be the next thing to “keep the marriage fresh”? No one. I’m no one to say it. So, like Vice President Pence and the 25 Amendment not being taken off the table, neither is S&M off the table. Except for the social media table.

sado

A recent example of the kind of rhetoric I’ve seen online was someone responding to the fact that the Air Force veteran who was killed during the riot on the Capitol building had been deemed a “terrorist.”

Part of what they wrote was, and I quote: “This UNARMED woman was in a buildkng OWNED BY THE PEOPLE. PEACEFULLY protesting an act OF SEDITION perpetrated by our vice pres when he IGNORED HIS CKNSTITUTIONAL MANDATE to reject votes counted from ststes where governors had violzted their OWN Constitution…”

Crazily, out of everything they said, was the statement “peacefully protesting.”  I’m sure that people believe that the election was stolen. I’m sure that they think Mike Pence was complicit for not “going along” on Wednesday.

But what I’m not sure of is if the writer has used a dictionary recently or even knows what one is. Last I heard, the definition of peaceful was holding hands and singing “Kumbayah” or lying flat on the ground and chanting “I can’t breathe.”

george

Some kind of force—An extremely determined spirit guide? A guardian angel with celestial hand restraints?—kept me from responding. I DID, however, take the time to click the laughing emoji.

Immature, I know. But I think everyone’s aware at this point that Facebook has contributed greatly to increasing isolation and retarding emotional growth, along with 20 years of reality TV and every new menu item at Taco Bell.

It started with the Walkman. Remember the Walkman? That’s when tuning out began in earnest, wasn’t it?

I guess I’ve succumbed somewhat, too. What did “laughing” at the person’s post accomplish? Nothing. So I do practice non-participation as much as possible.

I DID respond once, a few years ago, to someone on FB who said they thought that people who killed police dogs should be charged with murder.

dog

I mean, I’m not taking that idea off the table. I mean, look at that puppyyyyyy! Maybe 100 years from now, 200, we can think about that? But let’s start with people first. Right?

There’s a lot of anger in this country that can’t be ignored.

Once we get past the arrests and trials and punishments and justice, if the half of the country that would not riot at the Capitol building doesn’t start talking to the half that did—and would again, and will likely do worse—to find out what’s going on, it feels like it’ll be a slow (maybe fast) escalation to certain doom.

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I mean, they’re not all xenophobic entitled racists wearing Nazi paraphernalia.  Some people just want jobs, right?

Meantime, if I DO get into S&M, it’ll be the “keep the marriage fresh” kind, not the FB kind, packed tight with the myriad accoutrements of protest and tribulation but sans any ultimate satisfaction or relief.

I’ll take some light spanking and maybe one wrist tied to the bed with a really, really soft ribbon over that any day. Safe word: kumbayah.

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How To Avoid Happiness

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Once in a grocery store in Brooklyn the cashier seemed sad and preoccupied. When I asked her how she was doing, the story came out that she’d felt a lump and was about to go see the doctor.

She then reached over and pulled my hand onto the side of her breast and said, “It’s here, over here.”

It was winter and she was wearing a thick sweater, so I couldn’t feel anything. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure I was sympathetic.

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Several weeks later, I asked her how she was and I think she answered  distractedly that she was fine, seemingly forgetting that I had felt her up just a few weeks ago and she had practically been crying in my arms. I saw her periodically over the next year whenever I needed coffee or pickles or vast quantities of beer, and everything seemed to have returned to “normal.”

A more humorous encounter involved an older woman crossing the street with me one afternoon. I don’t know how we got into the topic of marriage, but her husband was dead, she was good with it (she lived in a 55 and older *active* senior building) and she summarized marriage this way: “I was a maid, a cook, a slave, and a hooker.”

maid

In a completely different situation, how I got on the bad side of Mrs. Bacchus, the elderly woman who lived in our old apartment building, is still a mystery.

She was like a human version of a parrot. Evidently, if a couple buys a parrot, the parrot will generally end up bonding with either one or the other, but not both. So it’ll only talk to one, accept snacks from one, sit only on one’s shoulder, and spend the rest of its life ignoring the other half of the couple.

parrot love

Mrs. Bacchus made it perfectly clear that she was a human parrot when my husband was emptying her trash for her one day (she was always asking him for favors) and she passed along some unexpected advice: “You need to get a better wife.”

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The only problem was, I hadn’t bought her, and neither had my spouse, but yet somehow the weird, unpleasant bonding had happened anyway.

There was a missed opportunity at Smart & Final going on a year ago. A woman in a Rascal came racing up to me out of the baking aisle saying, “What’s going on? Isn’t it crazy?”

I was like, “What’s crazy?”

“Everything!”

“You mean…politics? Or just in general?”

“In general! But politics too. Oh, don’t get me started!” And then she added, “Trump’ll get re-elected.”

Assuming she was saying this in a doom and gloom manner, like an Oracle of Negativity powered by Rascal, I said, “Oh, God, I hope not.”

There followed a long, pregnant pause…after which she said slowly, like something had just occurred to her (which it obviously had), “Oh….you don’t like him.” And then, “Why don’t you like him?”

I was like, “Why? Do you like him?”

“Yes, of course!”

this is air

She answered me impatiently, as if I had just asked, “Are we breathing air?”

Looking back, I realize I should have stayed there, probing,  performing an impromptu autopsy of her psyche, but I was in a hurry and wasn’t in the mood to explain that I would dislike anyone  who ran for president because they were jealous of Gwen Stefani’s salary on “The Voice”.

better gwen

Strange how so many of my encounters occur at the grocery store, and usually always with women.

Do I keep forgetting items and have to shop constantly, and do women always outnumber men three to one at Ralphs and Pavilions? If so, that would just confirm that 1., Mrs. Bacchus was right on target recognizing me as a bad wife and 2., the woman whose marriage consisted of furniture polish and unwanted sex was also correct in that women’s work is never done.

better lazyPop Art Tired Housewife Washing Dishes at the Kitchen. Vector illustration

I was walking through the Ralph’s parking lot a week ago and a woman passing me by said, “Are you happy?”

Immediately I was like, oh, my God, here we go. I smiled and said, “No.”

She pointed at my shirt and said, “It says ‘Happy.’”

I had, indeed, forgotten that I’d thrown on my black T-shirt that had the word “Happy” written across it in white letters.

“You’re not happy?” She seemed fairly confrontational. “Your shirt says ‘Happy,’” she reminded me again.

“I guess I’m trying to convince myself,” I said.

happy

And that was true. I remember seeing the shirt in the store and thinking, “Ha. Hilarious.” Maybe through osmosis happiness would melt through the material and leak into my skin. Maybe its aura would douse my personality in a bath of beauty and joy.

Woman underwater-floating

That Happy shirt is kinda old now, though, and I don’t think that way anymore. I feel like happiness is overrated. It’s too fleeting, like trying to catch the wind. Being satisfied is better. Satisfaction is achievable, and durable, like a sturdy pair of comfortable jeans. I’m sure this is old news to a lot of people.

My lady encounters all have one thing in common, though (besides being weird): the search for happiness and the reasons why it’s so hard, in a moment, in a lifetime, in part of a lifetime, in an afternoon, to attain it. And even harder to keep it.

With satisfaction, everything might be different. It could act as an ethereal ballast for serotonin rushes and mercurial emotions.

People might bounce back faster from health scares and the world might not seem any crazier than usual and insulting someone’s wife probably wouldn’t be their first go-to and they might not care as much if they were a whore for their partner, and they’d just laugh and flip off the parrot every time it refused to acknowledge their existence.

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So…a satisfying Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it.

Pleasant, peaceful, satisfying holidays to you.

And most definitely have a potentially promising, hopeful, encouraging, favorable, enlightening, optimistic, revitalizing and satisfying 2021.

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TRICK OR TREAT?

MeaningOfHalloweenSymbols1

The other day after writing a book review, I scanned everyone else’s thoughts and came across one that said (sic), “I wish there’d been a heads up about the explicit sex scene. I wasn’t expecting that and wish there had been a warning.”

When I think of scary things, apropos to today, Halloween, ghosts and goblins and the undead do not make my list. Rotting corpses and witches intent on my destruction are nice, in my opinion, compared to the horror movie we’re in today.

What movie is that, you ask?

I don’t know, maybe Cancel Culture Dystopian Nightmare?

Wear Your Seat belt and No Smoking Outside Nanny State Regime?

Freedom of Speech Accepts Blind Date with “1984”?

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What’s the difference between former US Senator Al Franken’s tacky locker-room-humor depicting him with his hands hovering lecherously over a sleeping female soldier’s breasts, Christine Blasey Ford alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, and Congressman Jim Jordan witnessing sexual harassment on his Ohio wrestling team?

One difference is that Al Franken’s tacky, some would say classless humor, was immortalized in a photo while the others, so far, involve he said/she said only.

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And while Al’s actions may have been considered offensive and extremely sexist, one must remember that he was still a comedian then, and although I’m not “excusing” the joke, per se, when, exactly, were comedians elevated to Buddhahood-like existence?

Where the hell would Pryor and Carlin and Sykes and Silverman and Bruce be, today, in this recycled McCarthy-era world where everyone lives under a microscope, under suspicion, their every syllable dissected and judged by the Moral Thought Police, the social media version of the Eye of Sauron?

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Meanwhile, in our upside down world, the potentially much more dangerous behaviors of Kavanaugh and Jordan have been shelved and, for now, just forgotten while upstanding Al Franken simply bowed out.

This is what I’m confused about: when did we all turn into such soft, wiggly Jell-O that we need to be “warned” about sex in a book, as if coming across verbal descriptions of physical love was going to make our eyeballs implode or spur a psychotic break?

I wonder—do you think it’s possible—that the person was irked or annoyed or “put off” by the sex because possibly—just a guess here—they got turned on? And if so, since when is that a no-no?

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I’ve noticed more and more of these warnings in front of books, as I’m sure you all have. Some even go so far as to warn that there’s “strong language.” I’m sorry—are we all adults, or are we not all adults?

Strong language? Sex? Violence? Do we need to armor ourselves with emotional hazmat suits now before we even crack open a book because our psyches have become that fragile?

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What if Turing and Mandela and Newton and Margarita Neri and Socrates and Qui Jin and Galileo and Fela Kuti and Esraa Abdel Fattah and Socrates and Mother Teresa hadn’t continued in a straight line down the paths they had chosen but instead succumbed to public opinion and “soup du jour” societal beliefs and conclusions?

What if Turing was too afraid of being “outed” to crack the code? What if Esraa decided “You can’t fight City Hall”? You can’t be Jell-O when you’re trying to instigate big changes. Maybe because mega changes will reverberate a lot longer than meta warnings about profanity.

Mother Teresa didn’t “feel God” for 50 years. What would have happened to her today if that had leaked on social media? Would she have been criticized, shamed? Received death threats from Christians?

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Socrates was killed for what—“corrupting the youth”? When in reality he was simply encouraging critical thought and boosting intelligence levels from the equivalent of “The Kardashians”, say, to maybe closer to Ted Talks?

Murdering “witches” then. Cancel culture now. Blasphemy then. Burning books now. Freedom of speech? Or Conditional Freedom of Speech? There’s a not-so-fine-line between trying to consider everyone’s feelings, while simultaneously expressing yourself—but only to a point, and very, very carefully so that no one could possibly be offended–and the road to hell, isn’t there?

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Why isn’t it okay to feel torn anymore? I feel torn when I see Al Franken in that photo, because I wouldn’t want to see my niece or my daughter or my mom in that position. But it’s also just dumb, too, and part of me kind of snickers and says, “Oh, Al Franken. Come on.”

Life isn’t just black and white, right? It’s a many-colored beautiful complicated crazy thing. But it seems like we’re slowly erasing away any gray, trying to completely eradicate not just pain but even discomfort, to sanitize and Disney-fy until no unique, identifying features are left.  There’s no being torn anymore. There’s right or wrong. Yes or no. Good or bad. In trying to accommodate all, we seem to end up alienating many and accommodating very few.

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Maybe everything’s exaggerated and excessive, as with all new movements, and will eventually even out with time. But for now, though, that’s a scary haunted house that I want no part of.

(RIP, Sean Connery)

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A Walk Through Burbank In the Time of Plague

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I went on a walk a few weekends ago to my favorite thrift shop during the plague. I know it’s not really a plague. But it feels like it. It was the weekend of my birthday and I was now [cough, cough, hack, barf] years old. No, I didn’t turn 15, although I know I sound like I did. Burbank, California used to be a small town nobody cared about back in the days that Johnny Carson made fun of it. Not so anymore. It’s crowded, trafficky, houses and rents are unaffordable.

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I read somewhere once that Burbank was the headquarters for the KKK back in the day, but now I think they were referring to nearby areas like Glendale where the American Nazi Party set up camp and where a prominent KKK leader lived. Sadly, Glendale, along with Culver City, which once billed itself as “The Heart of Screenland,” both used to be sundown towns.

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By the time my husband and I moved here in 1999, all that was changing but still not quite changed. I vividly recall going into a neighborhood coffee shop called Frank’s (which is now closed but often used as a set for movies). An elderly gentleman at the counter glanced up from his newspaper, did a double take, locked eyes on my husband and would not stop staring at him the entire time we were there. We were amazed that he didn’t keel over. The force of his anger could have powered a small city for a week.

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On my birthday walk through the neighborhood, though, some [cough hack choke] years later, none of that was happening. Of course, being mixed race, I’m not as obvious a “target” as my husband, and anyway, Burbank is a more inclusive environment these days.

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Some familiar sights were ahead. I knew where the section of sidewalk was where the big red ants lived and remembered to lift my skirt up as I walked past.

The house where the man sat meditating on the front lawn was coming up and, yeah, there he was. Except this time his eyes weren’t closed. They were open above his mask and as I passed he raised a hand in hello, which I took as a positive omen. Of what? Who knows. All I know is he was always deep in meditation the other times but this time we actually made eye contact and had non-verbal communication.

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The Presbyterian church that often had interesting messages posted on its billboard outside was ahead. One of the best ones they ever had was: Come With Me If You Want to Live. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Terminator, that’s the line Kyle says to Sarah while he’s trying to save her from Arnold Schwarzenegger).

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In the parking lot two men stood next to their cars, at least ten feet apart, and one said to the other, “I would vote for Satan himself instead of Donald Trump, but…”

Unfortunately, I was out of earshot after that. I wish now that I’d stopped walking and pretended to look through my purse while I eavesdropped. ‘Cause I have no idea how that sentence could possibly be completed. That “but” was only a tiny, one-syllable word but seemed to carry the weight of collapsed stars along with its hidden meaning.

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Past the church and across the street into the next neighborhood, the sidewalk abruptly ended, replaced with about 20 feet of plants and shrubbery that evidently belonged to the circular driveway and house behind it.

Nobody else had a circular driveway in this neighborhood. Nobody else’s property line mysteriously extended somehow beyond their yard and through the sidewalk, creating an effective green shield between them and the public while also forcing pedestrians to step into the street. Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed fairly unsurprising that the political sign they’d stuck amidst the flowering weeds and bushes was “Sick of Schiff? Vote for Eric Early.”

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All the while, I was passing both the masked and unmasked. I think it was about 50/50. Many people approaching me would abruptly cross the street and continue walking on the other side, regardless of the fact that we were all wearing masks. I found that to be a tad bit extreme, considering we were outside and at other times when we were all in Ralphs or Target, we continually passed each other in the aisles with barely one foot between us. But better safe than sorry, I guess.

Once I had found a couple treasures at the thrift store and was headed back home, the last several encounters were a nice deviation from thoughts of doom and gloom (politics and race relations and the plague–ahem–pandemic).

As I passed one yard, a figure suddenly burst across a fenced-in lawn toward me. I almost screamed. But it turned out to be a friendly Dalmatian with a wagging tail. The owner called the dog back but I couldn’t quite hear the name: either Dolly or Dotty. I was thinking, oh, please, please, please, let the name be Dotty. Please. Please. Please. Please.

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As I strolled by the high school, a man behind a chain-link fence was talking to a black SUV that had pulled up slowly to a stop sign. I heard a girl’s piping voice then the man saying, “You’re driving now, huh? Well, if I didn’t have this fence between us, I’d probably step back.”

If it was [cough hack hack cough] years ago and I was learning to drive and he’d said that to me, he would have been 100% accurate. I had been terrified of learning to drive and in fact had delayed getting my license until I was 18. Before you feel sorry for my parents or my older brother, just know that unless I had to go VERY far, I walked, roller skated, rode my bike or took the bus everywhere. So I wasn’t that much of a burden on them. But I hated driving and still do to this day. Some things never change.

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One of the nice things that hasn’t changed happened when I was almost home. A little further down Dotty’s (or Dolly’s) street, a huge banner was slung across the front of a house that read: SHE SAID YES!

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During these maybe not unforeseen but not entirely expected days of disease and isolation and financial woes and political and social unrest and uncertainty and worry and fear and loathing, it was the cherry on top of my walk to see that banner and share that excitement and feel that sense of hope and potential joy that’s been so elusive lately and that so many, I’m sure, would like to experience again; a sensation rising like the lightest but most tenacious bubble imaginable, the complete opposite of collapsed stars, the antithesis to whatever brings us down low; a beautiful uproar that almost seems to say: “Come with me if you want to live.”

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