Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Penny In The Purse...

...or the wallet.

My daughter Bridget and I went shopping today.  She needed a new purse.  Her old purse was growing mold.  Ewww.

She chose a darling bag.  Red on the outside.  Little red bows at the ends of the straps.  Blue interior with white polka dots.  Very much her personality.  I would love a bag like that, but it would just look silly on me.  And I don't think my kids would allow me out of the house with it.

Anyway, we came home and Bridget was removing all of the tissue paper with which purses are generally stuffed.  I imagine there are people in all the Asian purse factories who spend their days filling handbags with tissue paper.  I think we could save a lot of trees by calling a halt to this practice, but I guess the ensuing increase in worldwide unemployment would not be healthy for the global economy.

After she was done with the task of un-stuffing her new purse, Bridget reminded me of something.  That my mother always placed a penny in a handbag or a wallet whenever she gave one as a gift.  She told me as I was growing up that it would bring good luck to the recipient -- and she never, ever, not-even-once neglected this practice.  And my mother gave a lot of handbags and wallets as presents, including to her grand-daughters.   So, Bridget fondly and laughingly told me that the first time she bought herself a purse, she went through all the tissue paper and pockets of her newly-purchased handbag looking for the penny.  She thought they all came with one tucked inside by the purse-factory people.  (Wouldn't that be nice if it were true?) 

This story just brought a smile to my face.  And maybe my mom, hopefully in Heaven above, heard Bridget tell it and had a good laugh herself.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I Was Ben Sherman...

...but, thankfully, I was not armed. 

Season 5 of "SouthLAnd" started this past Wednesday.  If you have read this blog at all, you know that I am a "SouthLAnd" fanatic.  It's my favorite show since "Dragnet", "Adam-12",  and "Emergency". 

Anyway, one of the main cop characters in "SouthLAnd" is Ben Sherman (played by Ben McKenzie), who is partnered up with the slightly older and far wiser Sammy Bryant (played by Shawn Hatosy). And Ben has been dabbling in some rather shady cop behavior lately.  Engaging in some "ends justifying the means" type of reasoning.  And he has been having a little "walk on the wild side" in his personal life.  Decompressing in ways that may not be so healthy -- physically, mentally, or spiritually.

Now, Ben Sherman is a really good guy inside.  He has a very strong sense of justice.  He joins the LAPD with a soul full of compassion, a desire to do good and make a difference.  He is a highly intelligent and capable man.  He probably took a lot of AP courses in high school and went to a well-respected university.  In the first season, we learn that he took a college course in Black Studies, which seems to have touched his heart.  So, he enters the world of police work expecting to have good relationships with the people he encounters.  And perhaps (a bit pridefully), expecting them to respect him because he has come to help them and the communities in which they live.

Ben reminds me a lot of myself when I was hired to teach high school right out of college.  I had taken all the advanced courses at my own high school.  I had gone to a well-respected university, where I learned all the latest in liberal thought.  I was full of good intentions and compassion.  I wanted to do good and make a difference.  And perhaps (a bit pridefully), I expected those I encountered in my work to respect me because I had come to help them.  The school at which I began my teaching "career" was in suburbia, but there were many, many kids bused in daily from some rough neighborhoods.  There were gang members, wanna-be gang members, drug dealers, drug addicts, baby-mamas, baby-daddies, and a lot of kids who couldn't read or do math at anywhere near grade level.  And I was tasked with teaching science to these young people.

I was 23 years old at the time.  Five feet, three inches tall.  One hundred twenty pounds.  Not in the least bit intimidating.  Here is what happened the first day of school when three confident, formidable young women were sitting in my classroom, listening to me talk enthusiastically about the Scientific Method.

     Girl #1:  DID YOU KNOW I HAD A BABY?!?!
     Girl #2:  YOU HAD A BABY?!?!  I DIDN'T KNOW YOU HAD A BABY!!!!
     Girl #3:  WHAT KINDA BABY YOU HAVE?!?!

Now, of course, they were playing with me.  They wanted to see what this little teacher in the flowered dress, who looked like a teen herself, was going to do about this.  And, naturally, I had no idea what to do.

This is what happened the third day of school:

     Boy (who was eventually arrested for drug dealing, after being observed on campus wearing a fur jacket with wads of cash sticking out of the pockets):  I need to go to the bathroom.
     Me:  You can go after class.
     Boy (unzipping pants):  If you don't let me go to the bathroom, I'm gonna shit on the floor.

I honestly have no memory of what happened next.

These are the kinds of experiences I had, day-in and day-out, in my teaching "career".   Let's just say I started to become a bit cynical.  I started to feel a bit hopeless.  These kids were not interested in all the good I wanted to do for them.  They did not want my help.  My youthful pride was injured.  I also felt exhausted and grief-stricken at all the sadness I saw around me.  And sometimes -- I admit -- I got very, very angry.

I got angry when I saw lovely young women being pressured by self-centered, cocky young males into having sex, and then being left alone and lonely when they became pregnant.  I got angry when I had rocks thrown at my back by a group of adolescent males.  I got angry when a kid high on coke got in my face and called me a bitch.

Was this anger justified?  Sure.  But, it was also dangerous.  It was dangerous because it caused me to become more and more cynical.  It caused me to lose hope.  And it even caused me to feel rather aggressive at times. 

So, when I see the development of the character of Ben Sherman, I don't approve of all the stuff he does.  But, I can understand it.  I can relate to it.

And it makes me thankful for the following:

     1.  That I had a nice boyfriend, so I was not tempted to drown my sorrows in a wild and crazy sex life.
     2.  That even if I had not had a nice boyfriend, I would not have been clever enough to figure out how to have a wild and crazy sex-life.
     3.  That I would have been too embarrassed to hang out in a strip club.
     4.  That I was, as I said up-top, unarmed.

I am also thankful that the teacher next door to me was a bit like Sammy.  He was older and vastly wiser and more experienced.  He was also kind enough to mentor me, even though it was not his job.  He taught me, like Sammy is trying to teach Ben, to have realistic expectations of myself, of others, of what I could actually accomplish.  And he taught me to see the humanity in people, to look for the good -- even when it is extremely difficult.  And he taught me the importance of self-control.

I hope Ben learns these things from Sammy.  I hope he learns them before he ends up in an orange jumpsuit -- or loses what is left of that good man who was described as having "kind eyes" by the mother of the lost little girl.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


In my family, we are not beyond reading children's books.  Even though the "children" in this household are 24, 22, and 20 years old.  I suppose I could use as an excuse the fact that there are small nieces, nephews, and Godchildren in our extended clan.

Recently, we came across a delightful story: DUCK AND FRIENDS -- THE DINOSAUR BONES, by Donna McFarland.

Why is it delightful?  It is like no other children's book I have ever read.  And I have read many, believe me.  Except to my son.  He only allowed me to read COMBAT AIRCRAFT RECOGNITION to him when he was small.  If I tried to read anything else to him, he would cry and smack his head on the floor.  Although, even he might have tolerated this DUCK AND FRIENDS thing.  It is a tale that seems to have come straight out of a child's imagination.

It is a story that is not bound by reality, in any way shape or form.  Just exactly the way small children play.  If you need a blimp, you can get one.  No questions asked.  And you will just automatically know how to fly it, naturally.  If you need $200,000 worth of building materials?  No problem there, either.

And the characters?  Delightful.  They are such good friends to each other -- caring for each other, respecting each other, helping each other, and having fun together!  A good example in this day and age.

This is a wonderful read-aloud for kids who have not yet learned that skill.  It is also a great book for reading instruction, for those in grades K-3, as the words are quite manageable.  I really admire the way Donna weaves together such a fascinating adventure using vocabulary that will not frustrate the young student.  And older brothers and sisters will delight in reading this story to their younger siblings.  A good thing for all those in the family, I believe!

You can get this book from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.  Here is the link:


Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Very Own Personal 49ers Story

Once upon a time, there was a glorious decade known as the 1980's.  And during this glorious time, the San Francisco 49ers were in Super Bowls, too.  Super Bowls which they actually won.  Because Joe and Dwight and Jerry and Hacksaw and Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were there.

And I was young then.  Young and sorta kinda maybe a little bit prettier than I am now.  I was also rather bold and brassy.  And the 49ers practiced every day about 5 minutes from our house.  They did not practice in the fortress-like, high-security facility in which they practice today.  No.  They practiced in a field at the recreation center in the town in which I lived.  There was a rather lame fence around the field, which it was pretty easy to see through.  There were also holes in the fence separating the community pool from the area where their locker room was.  When I was on a girls' swim team and we practiced in said pool, we used to sit atop this fence and look through the holes within it.  We could see right into their locker room.  We greatly enjoyed this and we would tease the young, muscular football players as they paraded around in their towels.  (This pool stuff actually happened in the late 1970's, when nobody gave a rip about the 49ers because they lost all the time.  So, they were just grateful for some attention.)  The wondrous football players also had to park their cars in the main parking lot where all of the rest of us regular people parked.  And this is where my story unfolds.

It was during the time of the playoffs, and it was pretty clear that the Niners were going to get to the Super Bowl.  One of my younger sisters was home with me one day, and I knew the team was having a practice over at their low-security facility, parking their cars in the lot with all the mommies and preschoolers and other regular folk.  "Let's go over and get autographs," I said to my sister.  She was pretty mortified at my idea, but I persuaded her with my bold and brassy attitude.

So, we drove over to the recreation center and awaited the arrival of our team.  And arrive they did, one by one, in their fancy cars.  And I criss-crossed the parking lot, with my sister in tow, chasing them down and collecting signatures in my Autograph Book.  Yes, I have an Autograph Book.  It was given to me by Santa Claus in 1974 and it has a an odd, 70's-era picture of some kind of striped cat on the cover.  A picture that might have been drawn by somebody who was on one of the many drugs that were popular in 1974.

I got many autographs that day, and the players were all really fun and nice.  Except for Joe.  He parked his car close to the building and made a bee-line for the door.  It's not that he was mean or rude or anything.  He was just a very shy person and was intimidated by us bold and brassy types.

Not long after this the 49ers moved to their new, locked-down facility.  But, it doesn't really seem to have helped them any.  They were just as good, and maybe better, practicing on the little field with the dilapidated fence around it.  And I'm just very glad and grateful I got to be a part of those 49er Glory Days.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Of Ash Trays, Picnic Benches, and Horror Movies

With the passing of my mom, my sisters and I have naturally been doing some reminiscing as we look through her photographs and possessions.

In her china cabinet, I found two very old ash trays.  One was actually quite pretty -- made of what I believe is called "milk glass."  Now my mom had not smoked since about 1972, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins' disease.  My mom really loved to smoke.  She started when she was 14 years old (1947).  She and her friends used to sneak down to the creek behind their Catholic high school to indulge themselves in this past-time.  Upon being diagnosed with a disease that was most often fatal in those days, though, the doctor unceremoniously told her, "Quit, or die."  Quit, she did.  And took up incessant gum-chewing instead.  Eventually, she gave that up, too.  Dental problems, you know.  Anyway, finding these ash trays, which nobody had used for AT LEAST 40 years, made me laugh.  Why?  Because my mother was anything but a pack rat.  My mother did not keep useless things.  She tossed old stuff with a vengeance.  Finding that she had kept these ashtrays was, therefore, quite intriguing to me.  Remembrances of a carefree, slightly rebellious youth, I suppose.

And hanging out with my sisters, remembering our childhood, brought back memories of incidents long-forgotten.  Like the time I purposely dropped a picnic bench on my foot to avoid getting in trouble with my mother.  I was probably about 8 years old.  My younger sister and I were playing in the back yard of our home, when I did something that made her extremely angry.  I don't remember what I did, but it was most likely mean and nasty.  My sister yelled and cried, announcing that she was "going to tell Mommy."  I was terrified of this.  This could not be allowed to happen.  My mother could be pretty fearsome when we got in trouble, and I wished to avoid her wrath at any cost.  "Don't tell her," I pleaded.  And then I got an idea.  "I'll do something to myself, and then we'll be even," I told my sibling.  This was agreeable to her.  So I took our picnic bench, which was made of solid wood, and tipped it onto the top of my foot.  Man, it hurt like hell.  But, my sister was satisfied that justice had been done, so it was worth it.  To me, anyway.  What I did not count on was an absolutely enormous bruise forming on the top of my foot, which of course was quite visible to my mother when she spotted it one evening as I was getting ready for bed.  She demanded to know what had happened, and the whole story ended up coming out.  I think I got a spanking.  So, in the end, I guess I got two punishments instead of one. 

As I looked through the house with my sisters, I also recalled all the great parties my parents gave.  My parents loved parties.  I remember New Year's Eves as a little girl, when us kids were put to bed and then all my parents' friends would come over.  There was wonderful food laid out on the dining room table -- stuffed veal pocket, lovely rolls, salads, salami and cheese, olives and pickles.  And in the kitchen were all the makings of any kind of "high ball" one might desire.  In the living room, swing dancing would be going on.  My dad was a kick-ass swing dancer.  Now, you might wonder how I know all about what went on at these parties if I had been put to bed.  But, I ask you, why in the world would I stay in bed?  I used to quietly sneak out of bed and down the hallway, where I would take up my post.  The end of the hallway provided a great vantage point to see all the action.  I would sit there, curled up in a tiny ball so as to make myself less visible, for what seemed like hours on end.  I also used to take up this secret hiding place in the hallway when my mother would watch horror movies on the TV in the living room late at night.  My mother absolutely loved horror movies, and I was quite curious as to what they were all about.  My most vivid memory is of a scene in which some woman was being buried alive by being covered with large stones by a bunch of mean men.  I really didn't understand why this woman didn't just whomp the asses of those mean men.  They didn't seem to be armed or anything.  To this day, one of the things that most pisses me off in movies and TV shows is when women get grabbed by men who really aren't that formidable- looking, and they just scream and flail around.  I guess they are waiting to be rescued by Ben McKenzie (See?  I found a way to talk about him.  Ha!)  Somebody needs to talk to these women, though, because Ben McKenzie just might not show up.  But, I digress.

In some ways, this past week has been really hard.  I have missed my dad greatly since he passed away about two years ago, and I am now missing my mom.  I am really blessed to have had them as parents.  They were really good people, and tried to teach their kids to be really good people.  But, they were also a lot of fun and a little bit edgy -- and that makes me smile.