Masel Tov

 

I live in a senior apartment complex and the people here range from 55 years old to the upper 80’s (God bless them). One thing I’ve learned about getting older is that if you last long enough you’ll end up with one thing or another – if it’s not arthritis or diabetes it’s heart disease or cancer – not counting a wide variety of lesser known and unpronounceable maladies. These complaints not only provide a limitless source of conversation among the residents but a sense of camaraderie if not compassion.

Which leads me to tell you a story about Beverley who is a feisty little Jewish lady on the downhill side of 70. Beverly has some exotic malady in her brain that periodically affects her speech and throws off her sense of balance, often leading to falls.

She spends part of everyday sitting on the bench outside of the community center in conversation with other ladies and enjoying a good gossip about who is doing what to whom and how often. On all of these occasions she is accompanied by her little black dog Masel Tov who in dog years is neck and neck with Beverly and grudgingly keeps to the pace of her walker as they make the regular circuit from apartment to center.

Our current triple digit temperatures have pushed back everyone’s strolling schedules to take advantage of the cooler evening air so the other night while watching America’s Got Talent from the comfort of my easy chair I was not surprised to see Beverley ambling by with her walker and Masel Tov at her side.

As I watched them through my patio door, Masel took the pause that refreshes on the lawn. Beverley, conscientious neighbor that she is, pulled out the ubiquitous plastic bag, hooked the dog‘s leash to the walker and bent down to pick up the offending deposit with one hand.

But then not being quite close enough to capture the prize, Beverley took another step forward and in doing so carelessly let go of said walker. Before you could say “Whoops” the walker, with Masel Tov trotting smartly by its side, was rolling down the sloping sidewalk, over the concrete edge of the parking lot and heading for points west at quite a clip.  Masel, no doubt delighted to finally advance at a brisker pace than Beverley could provide, was wagging his tail and stepping high.

Meanwhile, Beverley, still bending down and viewing this drama from an upside down perspective, called peremptorily, “Masel, Masel, come back here this minute,” which the dog pretended not to hear as the walker had by now crashed into the perimeter wall of the complex and he was busy smelling the bushes to identify the scent of each dog that had passed that way earlier in the day.

I must admit that by this time, I was leaning forward in my ringside seat to see what new wonders might unfold; I hadn’t long to wait. Beverly began to straighten up to reclaim her errant walker and delinquent pooch but being upside down must have activated that glitch in her head. Her knees started fold up like a flimsy lawn chair and before you could say “Uh, oh” she slowly swiveled around like a plump top and very gently sat down in the grass.

Because my conscience was saying “Shame on you for laughing,” I hurriedly grabbed my cane and hobbled to the patio and inquired of Beverley if she was okay to which she replied, “Yes,” and would she like some help, to which she answered, “Please.” With my duty now plainly before me and my mirth firmly under control, I scurried out to her. Since I couldn’t lift her up without joining her on the grass, we agreed that I should first recover the walker and the dog which I did.

With the walker locked in place getting up was easy peasy and Beverly rose like the proverbial nymph from the sea. Once she was dusted off and ready to roll again, I ventured to say, “I’m glad you’re not hurt, but I must admit that it was pretty funny from my point of view.”

“I’ll bet it was,” she replied with a hollow smile, which is like a hollow laugh but quieter. As I walked back into the house, I thought I heard Masel Tov offering some canine song and dance about how he never heard her when she called him.

PS I’ve added a new page to the site titled, Events, which lists the various classes I will be teaching this fall. Join us if you can.

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TAKE YOUR MEDICINE

Laughing Buddha
Laughing Buddha

Earlier in the week the subject of laughter waded into my mind stream and I thought what a funny word it was all on its own. It should be spelled lafter which is like rafter only not as wet or high; or be pronounced altogether differently with a lot of huffing and gargling in the middle.

After chuckling an embarrassing amount of time at my own joke, I noticed that my headache had disappeared. I pondered on. Is it true that laughter is the best medicine? According to Norman Cousins who studied the biochemistry of human emotions it is.

When told he had a terminal illness, Cousins developed a recovery program that focused on love, faith, hope and laughter. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported.

Norman called laughter, inner jogging. Laughter is said to be the only activity that can exercise your liver, one of the most important organs of the body that charged with cleansing impurities. Not only that but the old complaint, feeling ‘liverish,’ meant to be bad tempered or unhappy. (Do I detect a link here?)

Perhaps laughter, in exercising the liver, jiggles it into a faster production rhythm and a more energetic cleaning cycle, kind of like speeding up the agitator in a washing machine, or setting the idle on high in a car. Maybe it’s a joke a day, rather than the apple, that keeps the doctor away.

Further proof of the efficacy of this treatment approach can be seen in the figurines of the laughing Buddhas where the typically enigmatic smile and meditative pose is replaced by a roly-poly fat guy laughing. It reinforces the position that one cannot be enlightened without understanding that absurdity of it all.

While I was pondering the more sober aspects of laughter I came across some great quotes. Here’s a few:

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. Voltaire

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. Kurt Vonnegut

When the highest type of men hear Tao,
They diligently practice it.
When the average type of men hear Tao,
They half believe in it.
When the lowest type of men hear Tao,
They laugh heartily at it.
Without the laugh, there is no Tao. Lao-tzu

So in closing my suggestion is, tell a joke and save a life.

(There’s a new post on the art site at http://MarieTaylorArt.wordpress.com)

A REAL STINKER

noseWhen is it that we begin to understand the difference between right and wrong? When does our sense of sin develop? For me, it happened when I was about four years old. It must have been a holiday because the whole family was gathered at my Aunt Anna’s house.

I was born ‘between generations’ and at this time was the only child in the family. The adults ranged from my cousins in their late teens to my grandparents who were in their sixties. I remember a number of them were sitting around in the tiny parlor that housed the floor model radio console on a sunny afternoon.

Suddenly, unexpected, unbidden, unwelcome, I emitted a little frrrp! The adults in the room threw accusatory glances at each other. “Who farted?” said my Uncle Vince. “It wasn’t me,” countered my cousin Mary who began holding her breath.

In unison, everyone began sniffing the air seeking to identify the source of the noxious odor that now permeated the small room. My Aunt Anna waved a hand delicately in the air and edged the window open a bit higher.

“Whew,” said my father, “that was a real stinker.”

My cousin George the Clown grabbed his throat and gasped, “I can’t breathe,” then tumbled on the floor. Uncle Rocco batted him along the side of his head and said something in Italian after which George shuffled into the other room.

My mother, whose olfactory sensors were keen, swiveled towards me. “Marie, did you make a noise?” This was our family’s euphemistical reference to passing gas.
A hot flame of embarrassment shot from my toes to my head, providing a rosy backdrop for my white blond hair. Eyes wide and stricken, I was stung to retort, “No!”

Above my head I could feel the smirks and smiles forming and I sat down covered with confusion – which is a lot heavier than it sounds – and considered what had just happened.

I had not only broken one of the basic social taboos but had then lied about it. I could no longer consider myself courageous and all hopes of one day joining the Texas Rangers were from that moment dashed.

What had started out as a mere embarrassment had quickly escalated into guilt which was followed by shame. I wondered if this was the original sin I had heard discussed recently. Were Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden for aromatic reasons? After all, they had lied too.

This small event was my first introduction to guilt and shame, two of the real ball breakers of life. I was only to learn the painful embrace of remorse in later years after I had had more opportunities to be selfish.

But this early experience would serve me well until I could start catechism at the local Catholic Church and learned what real guilt was all about from the professionals.

The psychologists say that shame is just one step above despair on the ladder of negative emotions and since I can still vividly remember that day of more than sixty years ago I find I must agree to its power.

As someone once said, “Life is one long lesson in humiliation.” Now if I could only stop buying whoopee cushions.

CAT TALES

Cat #4

This morning I was in the kitchen buttering my toast when I heard two of our community residents passing. I knew they were locals because I heard the thump of walker wheels as they clicked down the sidewalk.

“And that’s where Sweetie Pie lives,” chirped one little voice against the syncopated beat of a cane. “Oooo,” another piped in response.

“She must still be sleeping,” informed the first with a titter. “We better be quiet then,” giggled the second and the pair moved on.

So it had finally come to this I thought. To all and sundry of our little complex this was no longer identified as my apartment but Sweetie Pie’s! I was her incidental roommate. In the way of all cats, Sweetie Pie has become mistress of the house and all without saying a word (she is a silent cat and never meows.) She has fulfilled her karmic role as dominatrix.

By the time I went out to the patio with my toast and coffee, Sweetie had taken up her position near my chair awaiting her morning treat. She is quite satisfied with dry cat food but she does like a dollop of milk in the morning accompanied by a small piece of thinly sliced lunch meat. I rotate her menu among ham, turkey and baloney but her absolute favorite is olive loaf – but only after I pick out the olives.

After breakfast, her tail twitching in a queenly wave adieu, she returns to bed for the first of the sixteen naps she will enjoy today. Her tail has always fascinated me because it never bends. Unlike prior cats I have known whose tails whipped and wiggled like a boneless snake, Sweetie’s tail is as rigid and unforgiving as an Old Testament prophet.

Instead of curling around her feet when sitting or wrapping around her nose when sleeping, Sweetie Pie’s tail is short and sturdy like a bottle brush. It does not curl but lashes back and forth like a furry windshield wiper. It is an exclamation point, never a comma or question mark.

I wonder if there is a correspondence between this preference for punctuation and her uncanny silence. There is something mysterious and potent about her meow-less state but like many feline mysteries this one may never be solved in my lifetime.

I repair to the corner of the dining room I refer to as my artist’s studio and prepare to begin another round of painting. The rice paper I was waiting for has finally arrived and armed with two new and untried brushes I will pounce upon its virginal whiteness and unleash the inky blackness of my imagination.

I glance into the bedroom and see Sweetie Pie enthroned about the satin comforter in the midst of her morning ablutions. I smile contently, peruse my cd’s and consider the musical environment in which I wish to create. Is this a morning for Rachmaninoff or Cesaria Evora? The soft thud of a black tail thumping on the bed catches my attention. Sweetie’s golden eyes transfix me like a pinned butterfly. Perhaps it may be better, I think, to maintain a Zen-like silence until her nap is over.

WHY WOMEN CRY

Weeping Woman by Picasso

I expect that woman will be the last thing civilized by man. George Meredith

So a male friend of mind says the other day, “Marie, women don’t seem to have any self-control. My girl and I had a small disagreement last night and the next thing I know she starts crying. I just don’t understand it. Why do women always cry when they get angry?”

“It’s obvious,” I replied. “The reason your girl cried was because she was frustrated that there was no gun nearby with which to shoot you.” When I saw the puzzled look on his face I realized that this simple explanation required further elaboration.

From the time that women are little girls certain gender patterns of behavior are set and reinforced. For example: Little Marie is outside playing in the sand box and Tommy the neighborhood bully takes her bucket and shovel.

“Waaaa!” she cries and runs to Daddy who says, “Did that mean bully take your toys. You wait here. I’ll get them back for you.” And he does.

Notice that Daddy did not say, “Punch the little brat in the nose!” Little girls are taught not to fight – just as little boys are taught not to cry.

Marie learns that tears can often produce the desired result when she wants something – and all without much effort on her part. Her satisfaction and delight are boundless but short-lived because…

Sweet, helpless Marie is at the playground and that mean bully Tommy takes her shovel. “Waaa!” she cries. But Daddy is not around.  There is no rescuer in sight.  What to do?

Marie bops Tommy the Turd on the head with the bucket and loudly yells, “Give it back, sucker,” as she twists his arm and kicks his ankle.

Tommy snivels and wails loud enough to attract the attention of the kindergarten teacher who tells Marie, “Nice little girls don’t do that!  They don’t punch other children. Now go stand in the corner until you learn how to behave.”

Over time Marie learns many variations on these themes. She learns that crying is good for getting your own way but only if you have some solid back-up such as your dad, brother, or an old boyfriend. She learns that if nice little girls swear, fart, burp, yell or hit others nobody will like them.

So what can a girl do when she gets into an argument? As we have seen, tears will only work in certain situations. Taking action brings her into direct conflict with the directive which says Do Not Hit Others. Meanwhile, she gnashes her teeth and is accused of being too emotional by the overbearing, logic-dominated, anal-retentive opponent.

There is nothing left but poison for the patient ones, or a 357 magnum for those of a more fiery disposition. But often times when Marie reaches for said equalizer, she comes up empty handed. This results in tears.

You see, women are the more deadly of the species. When we are angry it requires all of our will power to restrain our natural inclinations. Fortunately, we are wise enough to know we have a responsibility to keep the race intact long enough to produce the next generation. If we didn’t, who would be around to put air in our tires?

Women are the gates of hell.  St. Jerome

3 LAWS OF FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

Because of the economic challenges of the times, I thought I should I share my hard-earned understanding of the world of financial management.

My first law of financial management is extra money generates new bills. For instance, get an extra couple of hundred in the bank and you can predict the future. The car battery will die on the freeway, the tooth you’ve been babying will turn on you like a wet cat, you’ll find that your boss looking at you with an unhealthy speculation, or you’ll find that you added wrong in your check book.

There seems to be some magic point, say about $500, and if you can get over that hurdle without have a major expense, you’re okay for a while. About a year ago I had extra income for a while. I knew that this wouldn’t last but I learned how it felt to be wealthy.  That giddiness was not enough to prompt me, however, into making more money because if I made more money, I’d generate more bills and that is not the way to the black side of the ledger.

Now, my second law of financial management is closely related to the above and is this: no matter how much you make it’s never enough. This has something to do with the cost of living. In other words, the more you make the less you can afford. Now, this does not mean if you make less money, you can buy more. It means that no matter what you make your bills are higher. I think that this law is so self-evident it doesn’t require a lot of explanation.

My third law of financial management is: the faster you spend it the further it goes. I derived this law by careful observation and a little Aristotelian logic. Here is how it came about: I noticed long ago that when I was driving and ran low on gas, a natural tendency arose within me to drive quickly to a gas station.

“What ho!” I thought. What I discovered was this. When I am low on gas and drive quickly, I use less gas and therefore make it to the gas station. If, for example, I kind of dilly dallied, do you think I’d get there without a tow? Not likely! Need more proof?

Pay close attention. This next part is unproven but relying on my mostly infallible intuition I can attest to the following observation: when adrenaline surges within our bodies, an adrenaline of another kind is created within our psychic body in the metaphysical world. It is this astral adrenaline that gets sucked up in the gas tank and gives the car the extra push it needs to get to the station. If you drive slowly and meander along the way you’ve just short-circuited a sure thing.

Applying this same scientific principle to the world of finance and I think that you’ll quickly see the obvious correlation. If you’re running short of money what you’ve got to do is go out and spend some fast. This is an unwavering rule in the in-and-out box of my life. When a check comes in I pay all of the most urgent and abrasive bills and then I go out.

With check book in hand, I pick up a few treats to keep my money-producing engine oiled– a book here, a cd there, a trip to Victoria’s Secret somewhere else. This not only raising my spirits considerably, it makes me feel rich which then obviously feeds that psychic energy reserve in my astral organ and it’s away we go.

That’s enough financial insight for one day. Let me leave you with these final words of wisdom:

“Let us all be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow money to do it.”

Artemus Ward, “Science & Natural History”

(From the Archives @ 1999)

APPLES? ORANGES?

He that would have the fruit must climb the tree.

 Thomas Fuller

I went to the market the other day in search of sustenance of the sweet and juicy kind. My mouth was set for oranges, succulent and plump. Imagine my dismay to discover that oranges were in short supply, so short as to offer only the hard, yellow, sour, seeded varieties. It was too early for good oranges, the white capped produce clerk sniffed, oranges were for Christmas.

And he was right, for it was oranges that had finally revealed to me the non-existence of Santa Claus when as a girl of seven I had cannily counted the number of oranges in the refrigerator on Christmas Eve only to find on the following morning the count was one short, due, no doubt, to the missing fruit nestled in my Santa stocking. I had my parents dead to rights but confronted with the evidence neither of them would cop a plea and I was left knowing I was correct but unacknowledged – a state of mind I would find familiar in my later dealings with men.

Should I have wanted apples, the produce department would be my Ali Baba’s cave for there were apples of every shape, size, variety, color and price. From the “throw a shrimp on the barbie” Braeburns from Down Under, to red Delicious that came with their own little tripod feet and stood like plump ballerinas to the Granny Smiths so packed with pectin that they demanded to be made into pies. A plethora of perishables.

But I was not in the mood for apples. Apples required too much chewing and fortitude; they were too crunchy and American. I needed something more decadent, more tropical, softer and smoother and wetter. Like an orange.

As I started to get grumpy, my glance skewed around and I saw creatively piled ovals that looked familiar. What ho! Pears! Deeper observation revealed that this must be pear season for there were at least six varieties of pears – Bartlett, Asian, Red, Anjou and more. I ask myself when was the last time I really thought about a pear?

Often the subject for 19th century still life paintings, the contemporary pear seems to have lost some of its luster and appeal. The pear has become somewhat pedestrian except for the occasional holiday reference in conjunction with partridges. Once thought of as extremely provocative, the pear shared with the tomato the dubious distinction of being of an aphrodisiac.

Then I saw a small sign reading “mangoes” but I was uncertain whether the mango was the rather large globular, yellow tinted, thin-skinned, orange fleshed and black seeded one, or the even larger yellow skinned, impossible to peel, densely fleshed fruit.

As you can see, I have drawn the circle of experimentation around certain areas of my life and within those perimeters fruit has not fallen. It must also be remembered that as a native born Pennsylvanian whose comestible boundaries were stretched by tangerines, I am easily confused by unfamiliar fruit.  In any event, I think one of these fruits was mangoes and the other papayas.

Those ready for a walk on the wild side should buy a kiwi. Not only is this fruit named after a brand of shoe polish but it has a sense of humor. Looking like a miniature coconut, the kiwi is small and hairy but when bisected boasts a bright green interior dotted with black seeds, a color scheme right out of the 1950’s. It immediately put me in mind of a ’57 Ford or Thunderbird.

I considered my options. Mango rhymes with tango, one of the most romantic dances, and with fandango, one of the most liberating. Mango is also a conjunction of two common words, man and go which led me to consider its digestive actions. Lastly, among the hill tribes of western Borneo mango is the word which describes the mold on the under belly of a courting frog.

In conclusion, you can see how, within moments a simple word like mango can lead the thoughtful man or woman down corridors hinted at but heretofore undreamed of. I reviewed the alternatives and then remembered the lessons of Eden. I eschewed apples and the serendipitous charms of pears and papayas; I postponed the promise of oranges and cartoon humor of the kiwi. It was a mango for me as I hummed a tune by Astor Piazzolla.