a little less class, a little more kitsch

If we’re lucky our homes will never look precisely decorated, because along the way we’ll accumulate campy pieces of kitsch,  treasured objects that speak to our hearts, and we’ll have to display them.

Ah, FranciscoFor me, it was an ashtray given as a joke by some family member, probably my mom or brother. It had a black plastic base with a hand-painted metal flamenco dancer screwed into the middle. Joke was on them. I loved it.

I don’t smoke, and guests in my home aren’t allowed to either, so instead I loaded it with red cinnamon candy and proudly set it on my coffee table.

No one, but no one, saw the beauty in Francisco the Fleet-Footed Flamenco Dancer that I did. It was frequently suggested I replace him with something a bit, shall we say, classier. I really didn’t see how Francisco fell short. (Okay, I did, but love is kind.)

Then I got a roommate. She was appalled, and went as far as trying to enlist my mother’s help to “get rid of that thing.” Mom warned her it was useless. Thus began a minor battle between my roommate and me.

“People will think it’s okay to smoke,” she’d say.

“That’s why there’s candy in there.” I’d reply.

“The colors aren’t right in this room,” she’d try later, standing in the living room as I walked down the hall.

“It’s so small, it’s an accent piece, it doesn’t matter,” I called back.

I never feared for Francisco’s safety, however, until I came home one day while she was on a business trip. He lay on his side on the coffee table, completely twisted off the base.

“Ooooh NOOOOO!” I cried. She forever denied it, but all the evidence said that woman had hired a damn assassin to do her dirty work while she was away.

I immediately called my friend Bud and asked if he could solder the pieces together. Within hours, Francisco sat upright in his proper place again. But I was resigned to the fact he needed a new home, at best somewhere safer in the apartment.

My kitschy little ashtray went into a box and stayed there for I don’t know how many years. He resurfaced every time I moved, but never made it onto the coffee table again. Eventually he disappeared.

I miss Francisco. Everything in my living room now is so…classy. It could use a little lesser art.


Image credit: (shadow image) © adrenalinapura – DollarPhotoClub.com

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but I want you to like me

Am I an Ugly American? I certainly recognize it in others.

travel to Europe lrBack before the Euro was in circulation, it could be a challenge for American tourists & business travelers to rid themselves of one nation’s coins before entering another country. You couldn’t trade in coins internationally, and tended to spend them at the border.

My boss and I were traveling from France into Germany, and we stopped at a bar he was convinced few Americans knew about.

“Bonjour,” I said to the bartender, who winked at me as he gestured to us to sit at the bar.

As we paid for our drinks, I started to pull out any French coins I had. We were about to end up with a fair amount of money that would be useless to us.

“Don’t do that,” my boss said in a loud whisper. “They’ll know we’re Americans.”

“So what? We’re Americans,” I replied. “I can’t change that.” He looked furious.

“Trust me,” I went on, matching his stage whisper. “They know we’re Americans. They spotted us the minute we walked in. Right?” I looked to the bartender, who gestured to the crowd behind us. I turned and most were smiling and nodding their heads.

I asked the bartender if it were a problem paying in coins. “We have currency,” I told him, “and we really don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“It’s not a problem,” he said, “Money is money. And tourists, we understand.”

“’L’argent est l’argent’?” I replied. I’d studied French. “Or is it, ‘l’argent c’est l’argent’?”

I wasn’t sure if my grammar was right, but the words were correct.

“Parlez-vous français?” he asked with a grin.

I rattled off a phrase I’d memorized in French saying, basically, I’d studied French for six years but now I’ve forgotten most of it. “Actually,” I continued in English, “I’m having a hard time understanding what people are saying here.”

© canicula - Dollar Photo ClubWe went on to have a conversation I’m sure he’d had a dozen – or a hundred – times before, how it’s one thing to learn a language in a classroom, and another to speak it in a native environment. How Americans who study French have little opportunity to actually practice it anywhere outside the classroom. And so on.

I felt so burdened NOT to be the Ugly American, I was afraid I was becoming one.

My boss was fuming. “They hate Americans,” he told me, again with his not-so-subtle whisper.

“Well, I can’t do anything about that,” I said, not even pretending to whisper, and turned to the bartender. “I hope I’ve been respectful. It’s hard sometimes, not knowing how you’re perceived.”

Immediately I was pretty sure I knew how he perceived my boss. We both seemingly deliberately weren’t looking at him.

“If I didn’t like tourists, all tourists, I’d open a bar somewhere else,” the bartender said, and winked again.

We got up to leave. “Au revoir,” I said.

“A bientôt,” the bartender replied, and moved toward another customer, American, I guessed. A few others seated at tables nodded at us as we walked out, and I smiled at them and nodded back.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” my boss said. “Americans don’t know about this place.”

Sacré bleu! Oh wait, the French don’t actually say that.

Image Credits: (top) Map © Teiteosia – Dreamstime.com Airplane graphic © Paul Herbert – Fotolia.com; (bottom) Eiffel Tower graphic © canicula – DollarPhotoClub.com

toggled togs

Just Between Friends

Monday
Dear Lauren:

Got my new running togs today. I’m going to start practicing for the 10k tomorrow. It’s in three months! I’m so excited! He’s sure to really notice me then!

Love,
Mindy

Tuesday
Dear Mindy:

Not again. Honey, don’t start running unless it’s really what you want to do. He may notice you, but remember what happened to me when I tried to impress a guy by running. Remember? I told him I LOVED IT when in fact I’d never run before, and threw up fifty feet into the run. He noticed me alright, but I never saw him again.

Love,
Lauren

Later Tuesday
Dear Lauren:

I know, I know. But this time I am so sure he’s so right for me. We have so much in common. Like, we both like the James Bond movies with Sean Connery in them. I mean, who else do you know who likes those?

Only thing is I saw him staring at some blonde the other day, so I think I’ll dye my hair blonde. It’ll go better with my new outfit anyway.

Love,
Mindy

Wednesday
Dear Mindy,

If you dye your hair blonde, I’m flying 3,000 miles to dye it back red. And I like Sean Connery just as well as you do. In fact, I introduced you to those movies.

Love,
Lauren

Thursday
Dear Lauren,

Then I won’t dye my hair because if you come out here and he finds out about you & Sean Connery he’s going to like you better!

Love,
Mindy

Saturday
Dear Mindy,

When you’ve actually talked to this man, let me know.

Love,
Lauren

Later Saturday
Dear Lauren,

It’s not like we’ve never talked. Just not much!

Love,
Mindy

Thursday
Dear Lauren,

I just got some new boating togs. I’m sending you a picture showing you why! 🙂

Love,
Mindy

Later Thursday
Dear Karen,

If history is any predictor, you’re about to get some running togs.

Love,
Lauren

no cat in hat, nor cat in cap, has sat in my lap

One day at work, I was grumpily recounting the tale of a tug-of-war with my cat Paco from the night before over a rather expensive skein of yarn (he had good taste).

Two black cats

He wanted to play with it in a big tangled mess, I wanted to make a sweater out of it. We both won our battle but lost the war. It was a big tangled mess by the time I rescued it, and after a few futile hours trying to wind it back, it remained the same. Frustrated, I stashed the yarn away with plans to finish later.

No sympathy from my co-worker. “You took yarn away from a cat?” he asked incredulously.

“It makes a pretty expensive toy!” I shot back.

“You don’t take yarn away from a cat,” he replied, shaking his head.

Cats in HatsYes you do, only now it appears there is a way to appease your kitty. You use the yarn to make a hat for him, with 30 knitting & crochet patterns from the book Cats in Hats, by Sara Thomas (Running Press, May 2015).

Okay, good chance I’ll buy the book, just for the camp value.  However, my time knitting will most likely be spent on other projects. Unless…I mean, these are really cute hats.

If I truly believed I could get Paco to model anything I knit for him, I might make one. On second thought, I don’t want to be one of those pet owners. I understand dog sweaters during freezing weather, but hats for cats? Good grief. Not even if he looked as cute as the cat in this picture…which he would…nope, still not happening.

© Liz Coleman/Running Press/Quarto, Inc. via AP
© Liz Coleman/Running Press/Quarto, Inc. via AP

Regardless, ultimately you can’t take yarn away from a cat. Nothing mine likes more than plotting to nab that little ball of leftover yarn in the bottom of the bag…he can smell it a mile away…wait, it’s just enough to make a cute little cap for him, isn’t it?

A Halloween costume of some sort, perhaps…I’m turning into a true cat lady… but just think how darn adorable he’d be.


Image Credit: (cats and yarn) © © Kamaga — Fotolia

less about the dress

Today one of my friends posted this on Facebook:  “I’m thinking about doing a capsule wardrobe. Anybody tried it?”

It turns out a capsule wardrobe is basically a small wardrobe, where everything coordinates.

The kind you have when you have no money. Like mine, today.

Back in the day when I focused on dolling up (me in the middle).
Back in the day when I focused on dolling up (me in the middle).

I’ve never been one of those women who has clothes in her closet with the tags still on them, but there was a time when I had a closet packed full of clothes, some of which I rarely wore. Today, the only things that come under that category are my two dresses, because I don’t have many occasions that warrant wearing them.

Plus, since pantyhose are no longer acceptable, it’s a three-day routine to get my white-washed legs to a decent point. (Or I wear black pantyhose. Looking forward to the day when I’m too old to care about such things, but I’m not there yet.)

Time changes things. When I was in my twenties, I worked part-time at a department store in addition to my full-time job, in part because I wanted extra money to spend on clothes. My older co-workers would shake their heads at how much I spent, but I told them, “I’m never going to care as much about what I wear as I do now.”

Turns out, I was right. I still care about what I wear, but it doesn’t do the same for me now that it did then.

I no longer want to be tied down to an hour of prep work before being presentable. I’ve learned how to look good day-to-day with less.

I do care enough about my appearance that I was flattered when a transgender woman from my congregation told me I was an example for her as she was learning how to dress as a woman. It’s an odd compliment, perhaps, for some, but when it comes right down to it, as good as it gets.

I also care enough to do everything in my power to keep from looking “mature.” Like I said, time changes things. Some of my best features twenty years ago are betraying me today.

So capsule this: as long as what I’m wearing today makes me look my best, I (almost) don’t care if it’s the only outfit I’ve got. Makes sleepy morning decisions a lot easier.

if only I could curse and fly and eat pumpkin pie

Disney had a few things right, For example, Dumbo. His experience rings true. I’m quite certain if you get drunk and learn to fly, you will in fact become popular, and probably won’t be bullied anymore.

How did they get away with that? A different time, I guess.

movie ticket angled smWait, that movie was released in 1941, the height of strict standards in film known as the Motion Picture Production Code. You’d think sending that message to children would be borderline, at best, and the Code didn’t tolerate a lot of borderline at that point.

I guess drunk cartoon characters weren’t taboo. Or perhaps because Dumbo didn’t intend to drink champagne, the message is different.

Warner Bros. cartoon characters used to sing, “no more cursing, rehearsing our parts” at the beginning of each show. Now it’s “no more nursing, rehearsing our parts.” Nursing, of course, as in nursing something along — a pretty outdated expression, but nothing else rhymes.

They were cursing from 1944 to 1964. Well, not on camera, and saying you would curse met code standards for adults, so I guess no one seriously questioned it for kids. And frankly, that change irritates me. Unless Bugs Bunny actually cursed, big deal. Of all the battles to pick, petitioning for new wording there seems useless, and the difference sounds weird to boot.

(Bugs was a bit of a wise-ass, and Elmer Fudd was a grouch, so it’s easy to imagine them swearing, but that would leave me disillusioned.)

raw vegetables in wicker basket isolated on white

Standards are a funny thing. I have a friend who’s a vegetarian, and endlessly wears us out preaching about the horrors related to eating meat, particularly what it does to your body over a lifetime. Still, she has no problem ordering dessert, as long as it’s “vegetable based” (her words). Like carrot cake. Seriously.

No doubt we’re all guilty of something similar, something we probably don’t recognize anymore than my friend sees that her choice to eat carrot cake but not beef isn’t logical to most. I tried hard to think of my own such inconsistency, but couldn’t come up with anything. Well, given my logic that we’re blind to our own conflicting behavior, that makes sense

Ooooh. Was calling Bugs a wise-ass inconsistent with the sentences immediately preceding that comment?

Okay, let my friend eat cake, and I’ll eat my words.


 

Image credits: (top) © Elena Baryshkina – DollarPhotoClub.com; (bottom) © monticellllo – DollarPhotoClub.com

in honor of you whose name was mine

My great-grandmother was Jewish. Loosely (and I realize it doesn’t quite work this way) that makes me 1/8 Jewish,

which is important to me primarily for one reason: it would have been enough to put me in Auschwitz had I been born a generation earlier, had my forebears emigrated a generation or two later.

For in addition to that scant Jewish heritage, I come from good Polish stock. I could have been there, and not-too-distant family members no doubt were.

I plan to visit Auschwitz, hopefully sooner than later, and before I go, I needed to confirm this information with an expert. I found several, including a rabbi well-versed in the topic.

After telling me I did indeed have correct information, he went on to say that immediately surrounding that camp of horrors, shockingly, to me, was an ordinary neighborhood. Imagine, little girls played with dolls, men drank beer and neighbors gossiped, a mere few feet away. Steps away.

We’ve all heard the stories; there’s nothing I can say here to bring it home. It haunts me, this stripping of dignity, logic and humanity. Turning the unimaginable into the routine.

I can’t distance myself from this simply because I’ve learned of it as history rather than current events. It is too close in time for that. The buildings stand, survivors walk this earth.

For some the generations between my one Jewish ancestor and the distance in space & time from the home of my heritage (I am, after all, fully American) would seem too great for an emotional connection to the victims of the Holocaust.

But little doubt someone who perhaps looked like me, because she was a cousin of some sort, spent her last days in an agonistic, surreal yet all too real world of shame and torture.

Or perhaps she survived and was living in this country while I grew up as children should grow up, for no matter what pain I suffered as a child, it is surmountable. I can lead a full life without whatever hell they carry with them every step of their lives.

I’m writing this now in anticipation of my visit to Auschwitz, as a prologue of sorts to my thoughts then. I have little frame of reference to imagine what I’ll find or sense, but I hope to record all of it, in honor of you whose name, perhaps, was mine.


Image credit: Crow © Lasha Kilasonia; Hourglass © kuzmafoto; Candles © Ekaterina Garyuk; Book © Vladimir Prusakov; Background © Pampalini. All: DollarPhotoClub.com.

light of time