This is not a political blog. I have no desire to rant and rattle on about my political views and why you should or should not vote for this one, that one, or the third one who really shouldn't even be running because he's just mucking up the chances of the second one. There are plenty of blogs exactly like that, though, so if that's the horse you want to ride, well, do a search and saddle up, cowboy.

This is not a blog about the short-comings of the American education system or the stupidity of the next ( or any) generation. If you think the school system failed you and you can still read this, then congratulations,Kilroy! You managed to rise above it. Kudos to you.

This is absolutely not an anti-American blog. I may have named it "Stupid America", but as corny as it sounds, I really do love this country. I will, however, admit I am often embarrassed by it. I just don't understand how a country that once gave us Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman could now be serving up Real Housewives, teen vampires, info-mercials, Humvee limousines and all things Kardashian. Where, exactly, did we go off-script? This blog is my journal of musings on American culture and mores as I try to find some answers.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Torch

     In 1996 I was working for the New York State Museum's Cultural Resource Management  Anthropological Survey division. This is a fancy way of saying, I was on the archaeology crew and we dug a lot of holes in a lot of towns all over New York State that year, and for many years to come. We hoisted our Razorback brand shovels and holstered our Marshalltown trowels and wore our boots proudly ( and necessarily, according to OSHA) as we made our way across pretty much every dinky little town in the Empire State, from Athens ( Greene County) to Paris ( Oneida County) to Warsaw ( Wyoming County), like some badly thought out, cut-rate international tour. I could tell you where to get the best turkey dinner plate in Watertown, and the best IPA in Alexandria Bay. I could direct you to the diner in Keene where they  made their own strawberry preserves, and the Korean restaurant in Syracuse with the fantastically good bibimbap. There was merlot ice cream in Corning and farm fresh produce in Manlius. A barn sale full of old farm tools  in Sharon Springs and a second hand shop with the best vintage salt and pepper shakers ever, on the  outskirts of Herkimer. I could give you the lowdown on the many, many hotels and motels and extended stay lodges that served as my home away from home for days or weeks or months at a time; which had the most comfortable beds, the nicest showers, the best coffee ( sadly, none had the best coffee, by the way).  And I could tell you about dozens of clean, accessible bathrooms in as many gas stations, diners and convenience stores, should you need to use the facilities in any given New York county if your current project necessitates  you  work in public, with no available sheltered woodlands in which to, shall we say, "go".  There are things you learn, as an archaeologist out in the field, that stay with you, even when the field is actually a semi-urban streetscape. So, not only can I look at a clearing in the woods or a patch of grassy field and ascertain, by the lay of the land, and the types of plants that grew in various spots, where the 18th Century  foundation might be, or where the Iroquois midden might lurk,  I can also look at any Main Street, USA and find the basics: food, shelter, rest room, dive bar.
     That year, we had a great crew, not only in the field, but out of it. Instead of retiring to the privacy of our various hotel rooms when the working day was done, we tended to socialize. A lot.  We would go to movies, microbreweries, malls. We often went out for dinner as a group, and we absolutely went to many happy hours within walking distance of our hotels. We would explore every town and city we found ourselves in, searching out quaint shops, pool tables in dives with great jukeboxes, nature preserves with lovely lakeside hiking trails. We would look for local must-try food stops, like the Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse ( before it expanded to its several locations) and Voss hotdog and ice cream stand in Utica. And if we were lucky enough to find a specal event, be it street fair or Shakespeare in the teeny, tiny park, we went, and were almost always glad we did.
     In the summer of 1996, we were working, among other places, on an extended phase II dig ( trenches and squares instead of merely spaced test pits and test squares)  at a site called the Hobby House, in Utica. We were working on this particular site for a very long time ( and came back to it the next year as well) and we were living at the Utica ( "Gateway to the Adirondacks!") Best Western. During this time, we explored pretty much all Utica had to offer, and were eager to find anything new to do, to pass the time after work.  1996 was an Olympic year, with the Summer Games to take place in Atlanta, Georgia. These would be the games at which Eric Robert Rudolph placed three pipe bombs full of nails under a bench at Centennial Olympic Park one night, killing two people and wounding over a hundred others. But on this sunny day in June, the Olympics were not even on our minds. So we wondered why the crowd of people was gathered on Genesee Street that afternoon.
     There were high school kids, little kids, business men, soccer moms and grandmothers in lawn chairs, waiting to see...what? Was there a parade? How did we not know about a parade?! Across from where my friend Suzanne and I were standing, three goth skater types slouched moodily by the opposite curb, trying to seem like they were sneering at the bourgeois-ness or the homogeneity or whatever it was about standing in the sun on drab, shuttered, "seen better days" Genesee Street in what was surely their home town that made them want to sneer.  There was surely a lot from which to pick and choose. There were two little kids who had no idea what they were doing there but were having a fine time, regardless. And there was local press. Reporters from the local television news stood waiting for the arrival of whatever was coming our way, microphones and cameras at the ready. Now we were interested. Surely this was really going to be something, either great or laughable, but defintely something.  We speculated. Could it be a tween pop star? A little league parade? Was it a mayoral speech or a high school graduation event? It could be anything. Our curiosity was piqued. We stood and waited with the rest. What in the world could it be?
      Then, in the distance, a slight commotion. A slow moving group of people, flanked by other people on bicycles, and a few police, was making its way up Genesee Street. The group was not large, but not small, either. It was hard to make out what the fuss was about, until they drew a bit closer and we finally saw. It was the Torch. The Olympic Flame, in the form of one of the many, many Torches held by many local heroes and outstanding members of their communities, was making its way across the world, to its ultimate destination in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. And here it was, coming right up the street, right to where we stood, gaping at the small flame held aloft by a man with a big, beaming smile and a look of absolute determination and pride. Torch bearer. Forever after, for the rest of his life, this man could say he carried an Olympic Torch  on its journey to the Games. All around us, people were cheering. It was impossible not to cheer. Even the cynical teens on the other side of the street were clapping and whooping, forgetting their imposed personae for the moment. We stood, cheering and clapping, as the Torch Bearer approached. Many of us didn't even care about the Olympics, but we cheered anyway. Here was tradition, and history. Here was an actual EVENT. This did not happen every day, and we had just happened upon it. Serendipity.
       As the Torch and its entourage moved closer, and then, as it was almost directly in front of us, I was seized with an idea, and turned to my friend ( and partner in crime, for sure) Suzanne with a glint in my eyes.
"Suze, RUN!!" I said, and started to laugh. She looked at me like I was telling her to randomly hit herself in the head, but then, a few seconds later, she understood what I was telling her, and her whole face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Come on, Let's RUN!" I yelled, and we both took off, running alongside the Torch Bearer, who beamed at us, and laughed. We were laughing too, as we jogged along with him for a good half mile or so, until we were laughing so hard, and getting so far from our friends, we waved our goodbyes and stood back to watch the Torch Bearer and the Olympic Flame run away from us and on to its next destination.
     After we caught our breath and walked back to our start point, our friends asked us what exactly we thought we were doing,  taking off  like two bats out of hell without a word of warning. We all had a good laugh about it over dinner, and it became part of the "legend" of the crew of 1996 ( to this day, the Museum staff still talks about that crew, and that field season), and the next day we found something else to do, and so on, and so on, for the rest of the summer. But to this day, and for the rest of my life, I can say, quite honestly, I ran with the Olympic Torch. *wink*

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dear Valentine...

dear Valentine
you are my favriet boy in MISS Gambitsky’ s class ever. I love you so much I love when you are playing kickball and we were the winners and I love when you digged up the class pet lizard that died. It was fun to see what it looked like all dried up. You are a very cool boy and I love you. Do you love me to ? I hope so. Also even when your frend ate the paste you did not so that is good. Love love love love
your valentine

Dear Valentine!!
You make school FUN! Except when I got caught passing notes to you and Mrs Karr made me stay late and she talked to me about how I should not be passing notes in class. She is such a loser. Hope you have a GREAT day and I hope you like the gift I made you. I never have baked cupcakes by myself before but I did and they came out good! I made yours extra special because you are AWESOME!  LOVE LOVE LOVE,
Your valentine!

Deasr Vsalentine
Hope your day is full of fun
Hope that I’m the only one
who makes your heart feel happy and good
just like your only valentine should
love love love
your Valentine! (I wrote this myself )

Dear Valentine,
Wow! I can’t believe we have been together for so long already! Since Linda’s Halloween party!!! It is like we have been together for a million years and it just feels right, you know? And even though we are probably going to go to different colleges that is ok because we will be together 4 – EVER!! I think that is true, don’t you feel it? Like we are so good together and it all feels just so right. Even yesterday in the courtyard at lunch I was thinking about how we will be together even in college even if you do go to California and I stay here in New York and go to NY U! ! ! ( Best school ever, hahahaha!! You should still go there! There is still time to change your mind since you don’t even know anyone in California!) But I want to tell you how much I love you and I love hanging out with you and love going to the park and to the museum with you and also that I feel like we have so much fun and we can really be ourselves together and that is cool, because we just are so good together. Sometimes I think you are the only one who will ever get how I really really am. And I know that you feel the same way so I just want to tell you I am so incredibly glad you are my best ever boyfriend and I LOVE YOU!!!! Love love love love love, your Valentine!

Dear Valentine:
I want you to know how special you are to me. I thought I would never ever love anyone like I loved my high school boyfriend but after we parted ways and went to college, things just changed, and I thought I would never love anyone again. But how stupid, right? Because I found you. Or you found me, I guess, at Boss Tweed’s that night back in  November and even though I hate  ( HATE) beer I let you buy me one because a) you were so cute and b) your fake ID was way better than mine HA HA!! And we all know how things went after that!!!!!!!! Crazy times!
     So, anyway, I am glad we are together, and I hope we can last. I think we will, it just feels right to me! And we are older now, so we know how things feel, when they feel right. We are older and wiser but we are still YOUNG and IN LOVE! So I will be wearing your gift to me later tonight, you will have to see for yourself… Can’t wait for you to unwrap it! (and me, ha ha xoxoxo)
Love love love, your Valentine

Dear Valentine:

Just a quick email to let you know I am thinking of you, even during this dull day at the office. Thank you for the flowers! No card but of course, I knew it was you.  Cannot believe we have managed to keep our romance secret for this long, since it seems so obvious to me, but then, I guess we are just both really good at keeping secrets. Sometimes I wish we could just be more open about our love, office policy be damned. But that is ok. We will persevere. Do you want to have lunch together, or do you just want to wait til tonight and go to dinner? I think we should probably wait since Bill just came in waving some stupid report and I have a feeling I am going to have to work through lunch. Again. TTYL!
xoxo, your Valentine

Dear Valentine, or should I say, Dear Fiance!?
Can you believe it, this time next year, we will be husband and wife! I still can hardly believe it. Like, what? When did THAT happen? When did I grow up? Wow, I remember, four years ago I was still dating that jerk in my office. After that fiasco, I cannot believe I was fortunate enough to find someone as wonderful and thoughtful as you, my dearest. I am staring at the ring RIGHT NOW. I love it, did I mention that yet today? Oh, probably only about a million times. It is so fantastic to be engaged and in love and happy on Valentine’s day. I know there are lots of people who say that they would not even bother getting married since so many couples just get divorced, but that will never be the case with us. We are meant to be, I know it. I just know it. You are the only one for me, my love. I hope you like the gift. I never know exactly what to get you. After all, you already have my heart. Love love love, your Valentine ( and future wife!) 

Dear Valentine,
Want you to know, before I met you, I thought I would never find love again. Seriously, this is the first Valentine’s day since my divorce that I feel happy. And that is no mean trick, my dear. Cannot believe I found someone so great on a blind date! I hope, maybe, you are thinking the same thing. Who knows if we are meant to be, I mean, how can anyone know? Even when something feels right, it may not have staying power, but I think, maybe, if we are willing to work on it, we have a beautiful thing here. Here’s to possibilities!
With love, your valentine

Dear Valentine:
So. Another Valentine’s day is upon us. Time goes so quickly, you know? It feels like just a few years ago we were sitting in grade school depositing those stupid cards in the “class mailbox” and getting boxes of conversation hearts for our best friends. And now here we are, a million years later, all of us still wondering when we are really going to feel “grown up”, when the real adult thing kicks in. As for me, I’m still that kid delivering heart postcards to her classmates, despite all the personal emotional baggage.  I have said before, I am just so over it. I decided to just quit trying. It seems like every time I think I have found love, it slips away into the night and leaves me with  an empty, hollow feeling that takes years to fill again. But then I think better of it. I think, well, maybe this time, it will be different. Maybe this time it will be real, and forever. I think it is just human nature to want to love and be loved. It is the great, connecting force that has lifted us up through the ages and made us who and how we are.  Or maybe it is just our fear of being alone. We are social creatures, after all.  Whatever it is, I can’t just give up, it seems. So, wherever you are, whoever you turn out to be, Happy Valentine’s day!
Love, love, love,  your Valentine….

( please note, this is, for the most part, a fictional account of a life through letters. I have never been married or divorced. I have had workplace romances, and I have definitely met guys over a beer in a bar at college. Also, I love beer.  But I plead the fifth in regards to the matter of digging up the class lizard with my 2nd grade crush. That is all I'm gonna say.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

10 of 10

      Been a while since I posted. It's been about ten months, to be exact. I thought it had been about eight months, but nope, ten it is. Well, I'm back. Got a problem with that? No? I didn't think  so. Now, let's get on with it. Not sure how to go about this, you know, getting my blogging mojo back and all, so I will turn to the tried and true format writers have been using for ages to waste time and fill space when they are trying to think of something to actually write: I will make some random lists. Writers have been making lists since writing began. Famous lists include the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, and Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. So I will go ahead and make some lists. Ten, to be exact. Ten lists of ten things each, and away we go:

10 things I did in the past ten months instead of writing this blog

Went to coastal North Carolina. Last April. We got there about an hour before the tornadoes did. We were fine, but some very nearby areas were devastated. We were very, very lucky.

Grew a garden. My first. It was great, I grew tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers aplenty. Tried to grow zucchini but for some reason that crop failed. However, thanks to the very mild weather this year, I had fresh salad fixings all the way through October. Can't wait to try again next Spring!

Had surgery. It was supposed to be just simple arthroscopic surgery to fix a torn meniscus in my left knee, but it turned into an invasive procedure to remove a piece of bone that was  wedged under a veil of connective tissue, between my patella and my femur, I believe. Two scars, knee still numb in parts, and puffy. Fun times. But I can bend it without problem now, and that's what counts! Thanks, Doc!

!6 weeks of intense physical therapy, three times a week, about an hour and a quarter each session. I did it all gladly. My physical/sports therapist was awesome. I am forever in his debt. I walk without even a limp. There was a time not so long ago when I thought I would need a cane forever. My advice to you all: don't injure yourselves if you can help it. It blows.

Met some new and interesting people, which is always a good thing in my book.

Watched an entire season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills". Hey, do NOT judge me.

Played online Facebook games, most especially, "Glory of Rome". This actually merits a whole blog entry of its own. Talk about your odd little cyber-microcosms! ( Go on, talk about them!)

Sudoku, baby!

Got a really really bad case of food poisoning. The kind where you go to the doctor and then the hospital. The kind where the Board of Health is notified. The kind where they take more blood out of you than a vampire would, and run all sorts of tests. The kind where you think you feel ok and eat half a saltine, and then you wind up in agony like that guy in the movie, "Alien", when the creature burst through his abdominal cavity, and it keeps on bursting through it, again and again, for weeks. The kind where the doctor says,"Your system probably won't be normal for several months", before she runs even more invasive tests. ( I can vouch that the doctor was right, too).  Yeah, that kind.

Read a few good books and lots of mediocre ones. Which leads me to:

10 books I've read at least twice

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. The World According to Garp by John Irving
3. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
5. The Complete Short Stories of Saki by Saki ( H H Munro)
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
7. The Long Afternoon of Earth by Brian Aldiss
8. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
9. Madeleine's Ghost by Robert Girardi
10. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery

10 celebrities who shouldn't be famous

Justin Bieber
Paris Hilton
Kim ( or any) Kardashian
Katy Perry
Jennifer Lopez
Nicole Ritchie
Ashlee Simpson
La La Anthony ( seriously? that's her name?)
Anyone from "The Bachelor"
Pretty much anyone from "Saturday Night Live" past the early '90's, except Tina Fey

10 historical figures I'd go bowling with

George W. Bush   Come on, he would be a hoot. As long as he's not running the country, that is.
Oscar Wilde  Think of all the charmingly witty ball jokes he could make.
Dorothy Parker   See above.
Albert Einstein  Well, wouldn't you want to go bowling with him?
Gandhi   He would let me win.
Napoleon Bonaparte He wouldn't.
Elizabeth I  She would probably play a good game, unless the ruff got in the way.
George Washington  Didn't they play ten pins at Mount Vernon?
Leonardo DaVinci   Of course.
Mae West  Of course!

10 places I've never been but would love to visit

The Serengeti
Australia, especially the Outback
French Polynesia

10 fictional characters who would make lousy roommates, and why

Sherlock Holmes  His penchant for practicing violin at all hours is one thing, the opium kept in the toe of that Persian slipper is another...

Travis Bickle, ( Taxi Driver)  Do I really have to explain this one?

Patrick Bateman, ( American Psycho )  Again, do I really have to explain?

Captain Kirk,( Star Trek )  If the constant stream of Space Hoochies doesn't drive you crazy, the Star Fleet issue space girdle draped over the sofa will. Not to mention the bulky captain's chair does not fit with any decor, really.

Chewbacca,( Star Wars)  Two words: Liquid Plumber

Tarzan  not a good choice if your apartment has a "no pets" policy.

Captain Ahab, Moby Dick  OCD does not begin to describe it. Also, peg leg would ruin the finish on your wooden floors.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark ( Hamlet) Too moody!

Gollum ( Lord of the Rings) Hide your valuables...

Godot,(Waiting for Godot)  You'll never know when that guy is going to show up.

10 things I have never wanted to do

Climb Mount Everest
Get breast implants
Go on a cruise
Play anything at all on an Xbox or PlayStation
Go to the Superbowl
Have a baby
Drink champagne in the back of a limo
Watch the movie, "Rocky"
Be a contestant on "The Price is Right"
Get a body piercing ( other than my ears, that is)

10 episodes of television shows I could watch over and over, and they would still make me laugh

The episode of M*A*S*H where Frank Burns commandeers a tank and runs over pretty much the entire camp.

The episode of All in the Family where Archie is going to be on Walter Cronkite, but the TV conks out

The episode of The Office where Dwight thinks the newly launched Dunder-Mifflin website has become cognizant and is in direct competition with him for sales

The Monorail episode of The Simpsons. "Donuts. Is there anything they can't  do?"

The episode of Frasier where Frasier's boss thinks he is gay, and they are on a date

The chocolate factory episode of I Love Lucy

The episode of 30 Rock where Carrie Fisher plays a crazy writer ( almost any episode of 30 Rock, really)

The episode of The Odd Couple where Oscar takes out his aggression towards Felix while walking in his sleep

The episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus where they go to visit Jean Paul and Mrs. Sartre

The episode of Chapelle's Show with "I'm Wayne Brady, Bitch!"

10 statements culled from contemporary music lyrics that not so neatly sum up my outlook on life on any given day

"Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage" -Smashing Pumpkins

"Where is my mind?" -Pixies

"Don't wanna be an American Idiot"  -Green Day

"It's better to burn out than it is to rust" -Neil Young

"Turn and face the strange changes, pretty soon now you're gonna get older" -David Bowie

"Dance to the Music" -Sly & the Family Stone

"I'll keep this world from draggin' me down gonna stand my ground, and I won't back down" -Tom Petty

"Let it be" -The Beatles

"Ev'ry little thing gonna be all right" -Bob Marley

"I will get by, I will survive" -The Grateful Dead

10 dark thoughts that creep into my head in the bleak hours before dawn as I lay silently awake, trying desperately to get back to the oblivion of sleep

My life is in ruins

I will never succeed

I am alone now, and no one else will ever love me, so I will be alone for the rest of my life

I have made all the wrong choices

I am such a loser

I am good at absolutely nothing. I have no talent and no skills

I am so hideously ugly

I will never reach my goals

I will never be happy again

I am a failure

Now, I know I said ten lists of ten, but there is just one more I have to add:

One thing I say, in the bright light of day, to counteract the dark thoughts

"That's not true!"

Not much of a list, that last one, but it's to the point.